The upside of encouragement

Photo by Peter Kratochvil https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/

Photo by Peter Kratochvil https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/

It’s that time of year again. Autumn leaves have turned colour and fallen without a care to the ground. Halloween candy supplies are at seasonal lows and sugar fuelled misbehaviour incidents are subsiding.

There is a love-hate feeling attached to this time of year. A love of the beauty that nature has bestowed upon us, and a hate for the extra work it adds to the lives of many. How we see this season may define our perspectives in many areas of our lives. I will not be raking this year, but always take time to enjoy the changing colours.

Fall is also a time for appreciation and reflection. For many educators, it means time to write Progress Reports. It can also be a time of mild anxiety on both sides of classroom.

Teachers might be asking, “Have I assessed enough?”
“Did I give students enough opportunity to demonstrate their understandings?”
“Did I do everything I could to foster success?”
“Did I catch it when they were successful?”
“What will parents think of my assessment of their child?”
“What are the next steps in my class before the next reporting cycle?”

Students are probably wondering how they are doing too?
“Did my teacher notice that I am trying my best?”
“Did I do everything I could to succeed?”
“What marks will my friends get?
“Am I below, at, or above average?”
“Will my parents be happy with my marks?”
“Am I happy with my marks?”

Come to think of it, I have been thinking a lot about assessment lately. Educators assess for, as, and of learning. We use conversation, observation, and product to quantify student achievement and qualify our instructional methods. We have achievement charts, success criteria, and demonstrations of understanding all orchestrated to associate a grade, mark, or secure a checkpoint before moving forward. There is however, another key catalyst to move our students towards success. And that is encouragement.

Think of it this way. Have you ever been complimented by someone after something you did? I’m sure it was encouraging? Of course it was because you were noticed and validated for your efforts by someone else. I always value when someone takes the time share their appreciation for something I’ve done. Even when I didn’t see it myself. Each time I receive encouragement makes me want to work even harder. Our students respond this way too.
Why wouldn’t they?

When I look at what educators hold in their actions, words, and interactions with students – it is the power of encouragement that can make the biggest impact. So how can we use it to empower our students to succeed? Have you ever seen a student happy after receiving a mark, or feedback that only magnifies what was wrong with their work? How about after you complimented them after a job well done?

Students, usually, know where they stand in the classroom, whether they are budding on the tree, or withering. This could be emphasised for the better every time educators choose to acknowledge the good that is in each of their learners. Bandura shared that, “Teachers should also encourage students as a way to enhance their self-efficacies and thus improve their learning.” Some might call this Strengths Based Learning. For me encouragement is a simple, yet crucial instructional tool which promotes a positive outlook on effort, learning, and assessment.

When students are encouraged they are free to become risk takers who are safe to try, safe to make mistakes, safe to fail, safe to try again, and always safe to learn. As the marks fall on this year’s progress reports, with encouragement, students will see the beauty in their efforts instead of being raked over for their work.

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Updated: November 13, 2016 — 8:43 pm

The Author

Will Gourley

Grade 5 lead learner and SERT at Adrienne Clarkson PS in the YRDSB. Focused on disruptive, divergent, and modern learning. Member of the global TED-Ed(Club) movement, 1 of 90 TED Ed Innovative Educators, and Global Math Project Ambassador. Twitter @willgourley Proudly blogging here and at https://escheweducationalist.wordpress.com/

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