Showing genuine appreciation for our students’ gifts, talents, and enthusiasms can melt away their defiant and disruptive behavior. I was taught this lesson not long ago by a high school student.
As a teacher, I’ve received numerous presents and tokens of appreciation, including countless drawings, a few daisy chains, and even a homemade snow globe or two. But one of my most unusual gifts was also one of the most heartfelt. It was a roll of gaffer’s tape, given to me by a student I had never even taught.
This student was kind of geeky. Actually, he was VERY geeky. His principal appreciated his geek skills, and asked him to come to school on his day off and be the “tech guy” for a professional development day where I was speaking.
He did a good job, too. Everything was set up perfectly and worked great. He wasn’t much on the social skills, though, and barely answered when I spoke to him. Until I asked him about the strange brown tape he used to secure the computer cables.
He immediately brightened up and told me all about gaffer’s tape and how great it is. How it doesn’t leave a residue on the floor yet holds the cord down. He told me to get the 3-inch kind, and gave me several suggestions on how to get the best price. He showed me the proper technique for pulling up the tape at the end of the day (you stand on the cable to hold it down, and THEN pull up the tape so that it won’t wrap around the cable and make a big mess.) I thanked him, and told him I appreciated his suggestions, because as a speaker I always worry that someone is going to trip on a cable.
He disappeared into a closet and reappeared with a brand-new roll of tape, which he insisted on giving me. He offered to help me pack up, and carried some of my equipment to the car.
This student’s attitude had changed totally. He went from being a bit surly to being friendly, open, cooperative, and generous. All it took was a little appreciation.
I have seen this transformation happen again and again. When students feel valued by a teacher, the defiance seems to melt away and the cooperation sets in. The key is being genuine and sincere in our appreciation. When you are fake, it will backfire.
So take a look at your disruptive students. What can you genuinely appreciate about them? Is there something they are into or good at that you can take an interest in? Sometimes this approach can take time, especially if there has been a lack of trust in the past. But sometimes it can be instantaneous, like it was with my geeky high school friend.
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