In India, people use the sanskrit word, Namaste, as a greeting. It has a few translations, but a common one is “the teacher in me, honors the teacher in you.” As a classroom teacher, I appreciate this. My core value as an educator centers on the idea that students and teachers are on a journey together. Learning is a dynamic dance of give and take, not a one-sided process of receiving information.
As the year comes to a close and I look around my classroom, I see the artifacts of academics. The Mayan Temple, the diagram of the solar system, the poster of geometric shapes. I reflect on the hours of planning and preparation that went into my instruction. I also think about what I have learned this year. I think about what my students have taught me.
I think about bravery.
I think about a student who was incredibly shy. English is her second language and she was self-conscious about possible mistakes. At the beginning of the school year, she wouldn’t share more than one-word answers. At lunch, she would sit and listen, never directly responding to conversations.
Around mid-year, I gave her a journal. By the end of the month, she had filled every single page. So, I gave her another journal… and she filled that too! One day, she asked me if she could share some of her writing. With a clear and confident voice, she read a poem she’d written. It was beautiful. I showered her with praise and through a smile she said, “Writing makes me feel brave.” This is the student that inspired me to rediscover my love of writing! It’s because of her that I am sharing this story.
Reflecting on this student, I felt the need to share with her what she had taught me. However, my thoughts began to multiply as I realized every student had somehow made an impact on me. We had all made contributions to each other. They needed to be recognized. From here, I launched a class-wide compliment challenge: write a high-quality compliment for each student in class.
This got me thinking… what makes a good compliment?
I began by bringing the class to a place of stillness. With our eyes closed, we envisioned our community. The healthy relationships we had built over the year rested on communication, teamwork, and social engagement.
Working through the CASEL standards for social emotional learning, students were able to demonstrate their understanding of community. I brought in the ELA standards and connected the compliments to the character traits we had been applying during our literacy block.
Side note: if you’re aligning academic and SEL skills in one project or assignment, you can use Kiddom’s free tools to track and monitor student growth across academic and social emotional skills, which is ideal for this type of project.
To teach the compliment process, I used the acronym “ACT.”
A is for ACTION
Think of a specific positive action you observed.
“I observed Nora return her library books.”
C is for CHARACTER TRAIT
Think of a character trait that would describe someone acting that way.
“Nora is responsible.”
T is for TEACH Me
Think about what that action can teach you.
“This taught me the importance of staying organized.”
“Nora, I noticed that you always return your library books. I appreciate your responsibility and it has taught me the importance of staying organized.”
My students crafted compliments for each other using this technique. I encourage you to give it a try as a way to honor students. Take the time and make space to give and receive meaningful compliments. Life as a teacher begins the day you realize you are a learner along with your students.
Here is the compliment I wrote to my writer:
I see before me a girl with a story to share. I watched as you filled two notebooks with your writing. I notice you are always listening. You are always thinking and aware of the world around you. When you shared your writing in front of the class, I connected with your bravery. You taught me the importance of sharing my story. You inspired me to rediscover my love of writing. You taught me to be brave.
Love, Mrs. Kennelly
As I watch the bus pull out of the parking lot, I see my students’ smiling faces through the window. I am thankful for how much I have learned this year. The teacher in me, honors the teacher in you.
Stephanie Kennelly is a third grade teacher in West Saint Paul, Minnesota. Contact her here for comments and questions.
Guest Post by: Stephanie Kennelly
Wellness Advocate, Joy Seeker, Public Education Defender, Peace Promoter