“Mom, you’re the best mom ever!”
“But, if I had a different mom she’d be the best mom ever.”
She was six years old at the time, but our middle daughter recognized that a different mom would likely make her feel as loved and important as she does now. It was not to say she wished for a different mother. Not at all. It was another example for us of her amazing empathetic understanding of people and the world around her.
We all want people in our lives who will love us, meet our needs, and give us attention. Young people are no different. When students say “Ms. So-and-So is the best teacher ever,” what they’re really saying is they appreciate how that teacher made them feel. How they took time to get to know them and care about them. Perhaps even how they made their content come alive. But, ultimately, it’s about feeling loved, safe, respected, and important.
Have you ever noticed an elementary student say every year that their current teacher is the “best teacher ever?” Students do not have a deep understanding of pedagogy, curriculum, etc., but they do understand the feeling they get when they’re in a caring teacher’s classroom.
Anybody can be that caring person in the life of a child.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but below are some ways we can be a positive influence on the students we serve.
- Greet students at the door with a smile and some form of “hello.”
- Get to know them – their interests, passions, strengths, weaknesses, dreams, fears, etc.
- Talk to them about topics unrelated to school or content.
- Recognize and celebrate their achievements – large or small.
- Offer praise and encouragement.
- Show up to their after-school activities.
- Call them by their first name. As Dale Carnegie says in How to Win Friends and Influence People, “the sweetest sound to a person’s ear is the sound of their own name.”
- Give fist bumps or high fives.
I made a quick run to Walmart last summer for supplies I needed for yard work. While there, I ran into the aunt of a student who told me how much her nephew enjoyed me being his principal. The reason was because I gave him a fist bump and called him by name on a regular basis. This junior high student was impacted in such a way he shared it with his family.
When my wife and I served as house parents at a children’s home, we made a point to have dinner with everyone around the table each evening. There were no electronic devices. It was just us, as a family unit, talking about our day and whatever else may be on our minds. The girls in our home said evening mealtime was one of the things they appreciated and valued the most. Some even said they had never experienced that before.
Young people crave personal connection. They want to feel recognized, loved, respected, valued, and supported. They want to know that they matter to somebody. And, it’s best if that “somebody” is one who can be a positive influence.
We can, and should, be that influence in the lives of our students.
As Josh Shipp says, “every kid is one caring adult away from being a success story.”
Being a caring adult will make you “the best teacher ever” in the eyes of your students. And, who knows? You may just inspire a child to greatness because of it.
Doug Dunn is currently athletic director and junior high principal for the Licking (MO) School District. He has previously served as a K-8 superintendent and elementary principal. Doug can be found on Twitter at DougDunnEdS.