A few weeks ago I shared some activities you can use to help build a classroom culture that helps your students to know, as Rusty Berkus says, ” they are not a xerox of anyone else-that their life is an original work of art.” In a world where all too often our students do not feel they have worth, our classrooms can be places that go counter to the culture in which they live. I don’t know if you are like me, but after my first week of teaching I realized my students were living in homes that were not like the one I grew up in.

Many of my students came from poverty and some experienced things I had never known-living with a grandparent; having one parent who worked crazy hours; having to take care of their younger siblings. After a year in that environment, I realized my calling was not just to teach my students to seek understanding of God’s world through the processes of science, but to teach them they each had value and a purpose. Matthew 10:31 reminds us that God considers us to be more valuable than many sparrows (Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrow).

Sadly, many of my students felt they had no worth or value. In conversations, my students would share with me the isolation they felt at home. They shared how they felt pressure from the responsibility of getting their siblings ready for school in the morning. I also heard stories of how they just wanted their parents to talk to them instead of talking (or rather yelling) at them. While I certainly was not a substitute for their parents, I learned I could create a classroom environment that would help them to thrive. I learned from research I could be a significant influence in their lives (watch this video!!). In today’s blog post I want to share two things I did to create a culture where students realized they had worth! Be sure to come back later this week as I share more ideas that worked for me!

1. Hand-shake:  I am sure you have seen the video-you know the one, where the teacher has a personalized handshake for each child in his classroom. While this is really cool, you don’t have to be that elaborate!  During my second year of teaching I started shaking my student’s hands as a way to greet them and to welcome them to our classroom!

I introduced it by telling them I wanted to greet them in the morning. Because I taught secondary students, many of the mornings I was still prepping for the labs we would do. But shaking my students hands forced me to be ready each morning to greet them. I can still remember the groans from my Biology students when I introduced the concept to them. While some of my students rolled their eyes, they went along with my idea.

Each morning I stood by the door and greeted them. For those that were not feeling well, I told them they had to at least make eye contact or smile. For me, I found the entire exercise to be refreshing and uplifting! The activity immediately gave me insight into which students were entering my classroom after a rough start.  This gave me a chance to talk with them and diffuse the emotions so they could focus during class. I also found myself looking forward to the greetings! It made me feel good to have my students at least acknowledge I was there!

I had no clue whether or not it was making a difference in my students lives until the first day I was out of school.I was out for two days due to the flu and when I came back, still not 100%, I found my students waiting by the door to greet me! They all mentioned they had missed the handshakes-so much so I had several of them who wanted two-one on the way into class and one on the way out!! I encourage you to try this!!

2. Standing Ovations: Our church has been doing a movie series and the last sermon focused on the movie “Wonder.” If you have seen it, then you know it is an amazing movie. One of my favorite quotes from the movie is this- “I think there should be a rule that everyone in the world should get a standing ovation at least once in their lives.”

Every  one needs a standing ovation!! In fact, I used to do this in my classroom and it was amazing! To introduce the fact everyone would get a standing ovation in my classroom, I just told my students they were born inherently worthy. As I explained to them, ‘inherently’ simple meant it is not something they had earned; their recognition was based on the simple fact they were born fearfully and wonderfully made. That each of them has unique talents and abilities that sets them apart from their classmates and thus makes them worthy of praise!

In explaining the process, I told them that at various times we would recognize one student for their worth to our classroom.  To recognize them, we would give them a standing ovation. I explained when I called a name, that student would come to the front of the room and for 15 second, we would hoot and holler while everyone was on their feet. I had one student demonstrate the process. When the student got to the front, I simply said on the count of three let’s give _______ a standing ovation!! That means I want you to hoot and holler.

At first my students couldn’t believe I was giving them permission to yell in the classroom-but I did (note-be sure to let your fellow teachers who teach next to you in on what you are doing!).  I kept it short-just 15 seconds worth, but the look on the student’s faces was priceless.  To make sure I got to everyone, I put their names on index cards and throughout the year I or a student would randomly pull each child’s card.  But here is the best part, over time, my student’s started asking to give each other standing ovations for things they did-like doing well at the school’s track meet, or making the choice to walk way from a fight. It was magical!! Be sure to include your name!! Even we deserve a standing ovation!!

I hope these ideas are something you will use to make your students understand they are fearfully and wonderfully made and bring great worth to your classroom!

Published by Jenny Sue Flannagan