Six Ways to Inspire Your Students

4613_1176710255018_6425669_nThis past weekend I had the awesome opportunity to be a speaker at the NCATA (North Carolina Association of Teacher’s Assistants) conference and speak on the topic Six Ways to Inspire Your Students. Here’s a brief recap of the weekend event:

From preschool to college, we all have memories of our favorite teacher…and the worst. Teachers have a powerful ability to build a student up or tear him/her down. They have the ability to inspire many students…or one student at a time.
As Harry Wong put it, “Good teachers teach. Great teachers inspire”

What do I want my students to know? I want them to know the same things I want to know about myself! I want to know that I am:

  • Special
  • Liked and accepted
  • Treated fairly
  • Forgiven
  • A light to those around me
  • Cared for in stressful times

These six inspirations help improve self-confidence, motivation for learning, self -esteem, friendships, and ultimately academics.

1. Show Students they are Special.
Before we can make children feel special a teacher must know how special and valuable he/she is. Let’s look at your worth from the educator’s point of view.

  • Children who attend high-quality early childhood programs begin school ready to learn, have a better attitude toward school, are viewed by teachers as more likely to succeed, rise to the level of these higher expectations, and complete high school.
  • For eight billion dollars we invest in early childhood education, we get $75 billion in returns. This makes investing in low-income preschool children the greatest investment opportunity on the planet.
  • Grace Chen writes, “The elementary school years play a formative role in shaping a child’s self-esteem and confidence. Children with high self-esteem typically tackle new challenges more effectively, achieve more success in school and generallyexhibit fewer personal and behavioral issues.” (Five Ways to Boost Your Child’s Confidence and Esteem, Feb.18, 2009).
  • Education provides the tools and knowledge to understand and participate in today’s world
  • Life expectancy rises by as much as two years for every 1% increase in literacy.
  • Education is essential for eradicating poverty and helping people earn a better living

This makes what you do extremely valuable.

To help children feel special you can:

  • Celebrate each child’s life and worth by making a special “All About Me” book for him/her.
  • Make a Love Myself Alphabet. (A-all right, B- bubby, C-creative, D-delightful, etc.)

2. Show Students they are Liked and Accepted

  • Speak encouraging words to every student weekly. This is not positive reinforcement for good behavior; it’s encouragement despite any behavior.
  • Serve bland popcorn. Discuss the taste. Flavor with butter and salt. Decide and commit to be flavor to your classmates this school year. Plan ways to do this.
  • Read Bambi (1942) Thumper’s father said, “If you can’t say anything nice then don’t say anything at all.”
  • Ask open-ended, creative type questions that allow every student to be a successful problem-solver.
  • Simply smile. A smile says, “I like you” and “I accept you.” Try it the next time you meet a stranger in the mall or on the elevator.
  • Listen intently. Make eye contact. 30 seconds of listening makes a huge difference.

3. Show Fairness to Your Students.

  • Students, like grown ups, are different. Find out what works with each one. To truly be fair you need to meet the academic and disciplinary needs of individuals.

4. Show Students they are Forgiven.

  • Model for your students that it’s okay to make a mistake. When you do say you are sorry. Then when a student makes a mistake it won’t be the end of the world. They will come to understand that there isn’t an expectation of perfectionism. After they apologize show them they are forgiven by allowing new starts and not rehashing old mistakes. Jacques Turgot (1727-1781) said, “The entire point of education is to teach by example.”
  • Demonstrate that each new day offers us the opportunity to begin again. A teacher can start by smiling at the student when they come into classroom. The smile says, I’m not holding the past mistake of yesterday against you. Today is a new beginning!
  • Discipline at the time of the infraction. Starting new day with the consequences of yesterdays poor choices is difficult for younger students to understand.

5. Be a Light to Those Around You.
This means that you can be a positive influence on the parents and extended family of the students you teach, which has a direct impact on your student.

  • Write a special note to a parent emphasizing the student’s positive attributes. Parents will appreciate this and be more willing to work with and support you when they see that you really care. Additionally, a note is a very thoughtful gesture.

6. Be Compassionate in Stressful Times.
Recently it was reported on ABC news that stress is catching. So before you can help a student de-stress, make sure you are. Do what works for you. Maybe go for a walk, read a book, exercise, or pray. Then you are prepared to help your students relax.

  • When your students are tired or frustrated, stop everything. Gather the students for a relaxing story.
  • Read stories with characters who are experiencing the same things they are (like divorce or death of a pet). This helps them not feel so alone.
  • Read Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, by Judith Viorst. Make it personal and discuss how to put a positive spin on the wrong things that can happen to us during a day. Discuss how we can solve problems appropriately and even be thankful.

4613_1176712575076_1854725_nAnd here’s a final quote for teachers that truly emphasizes the powerful difference we make in our students lives:
“I’ve come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized.”
Dr. Haim Ginott

If you are interesting in hosting this session at your school to hear the full teaching session ( 1.5 hours in length) complete with stories that will make you laugh and cry, leave a comment and I’ll get back with you. There is also a Christian version of this same teaching session. Please visit my website

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