The Power of a Compliment

When was the last time someone gave you a compliment?  A real, this-is-what-you-did, this-is-how-you-did-it, and this-is-why-it’s-important kind of compliment?

In talking with a group of teachers today about the power of a clear, replicable compliment, something made me think back to the students I have taught over the years, and it hit me (like the proverbial ton of bricks) that I bet there are more than a few who have never had a compliment like that.

The first day of the first year I taught Special Ed, two of the students told me, “we’re in this class because we’re stupid.”  The rest of the class silently bobbed their heads in agreement.  It took everything in me to not cry right then and there.  What combination of circumstances, experiences, and thoughtlessness combusted into this identity for a bunch of 9 year olds?   I made it my mission to change those beliefs and in the two years I taught those kids, I did everything I could to make a dent in that belief system.

But that experience marked me forever.  I will advocate for the underdog, cheer for the losing team, and fight for those who can’t yet do it themselves.  And there is nothing more that I love than looking at a student’s writing and finding something to love and celebrate.     Something about writing is so personal, so deep, so vulnerable, that I find complimenting one’s writing is like complimenting one’s soul.  I love finding the student who is hiding their writing under their arm, the one erasing one word for every word written, or the one who acts aloof so nobody knows he cares.  I gently ask for permission to talk to them about their writing, and watch their reluctance grow for a minute.  I ask them a little  about what they are working on, then I point out something they did, showing them where they did it and how it made their writing better.  And then something magical happens.  The distrustful, disengaged, and often disliked student grows a little bit.  They sit up a little straighter.  Their eyes glint, glimmer, or sometimes even shine.  Corners of mouths twitch and sometimes I even get a little eye contact where there hadn’t been any before.  It’s life changing (maybe for the student, too).

In a world of bans and walls and way too many lives not mattering and ignorance and hate,   this is what we want, right?

To be seen.

To be valued, recognized, celebrated.

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