One of the most important responsibilities that all teachers have to manage successfully when they meet their students for the first time is to create a positive and welcoming atmosphere where students are made to feel valued, capable, and eager to return for a second class. This responsibility becomes even more crucial if you teach students who have not been successful in the past or who struggle to succeed. Often this unpleasant past experience will result in classes and students who view themselves in a negative way. While changing this mindset may seem daunting, it can be made easier with just a bit of thought and effort.
One way to guarantee that your students will leave their first meeting with you with an optimistic attitude about school and your class is to deliberately give the entire group a positive identity. Here is a brief excerpt from The First-Year Teacher’s Survival Guide with advice on how to give your students a positive group identity right from the start.
“Unless you create a positive identity for your class, students may take your smallest correction of their misbehavior to mean that you think of them as troublesome. This will happen even more quickly if students in your class have struggled with school in the past. Once a group starts to think of itself in a negative way, it is almost impossible to change the group’s self-perception into a positive one.
Sometimes students have been dragging this negativity around for years. If you can eliminate the negative image and give your class a positive self-image, you will all benefit. This is no easy task, however. What you must do is make a conscious effort to praise and reinforce your class’s positive group attributes. Thus, you will promote the group’s desirable behaviors and extinguish the group’s negative ones.
Even difficult classes can have positive attributes. If a group is very talkative, for example, you can put a positive twist on it and praise the students for their sociability. To create a positive group image, you must find and reinforce students’ positive attributes. Here’s how:
Step One: If you learn that your class has a negative self-image, let students know that you disagree with it.
Step Two: Observe two things about your class: how your students interact with each other and with you and how they do their work. Find at least one positive attribute that you can reinforce.
Three: Begin praising that positive attribute as often as you can. In a few days, you will notice that your students will accept it as truth and will start to bring it up themselves.
Think of a positive label or two for each class and use these labels frequently. Students in each of your classes should believe that their class special place in your heart. Here are a few positive labels your students should hear you use at the start of the year:
Caring Motivated Intelligent Prepared Successful Friendly
Polite Accurate Efficient Reasonable Adaptable Reflective
Energetic Creative Studious Realistic Cooperative Industrious
Likable Helpful Dependable Ingenious Determined Thoughtful"
Punctual Curious Inventive Unique Trustworthy Adventurous