After last week’s article, 3 Ways to Start and Sustain a Thank-You Habit, a savvy high school teacher, Sonja Regier shared this juicy reply:
“Thank you!! We’re going to teach our kids at home this year (for the first half for now at least) and some of the skills we and others are covering will be life skills such as addressing an envelope, shaking a hand, managing money, and healthy manners such as being thankful! What do you think it could look like, based on your habit, for kids?”
With “back to school” here for some and fast approaching for the rest of us in North America, I thought this would be the perfect time to do a deep dive into Sonja’s question. How many of you, as parents or educators, have wondered “how can we encourage more appreciation and less disruptive behaviours in our schools and colleges?” Well, spreading a culture of appreciation is one of those ways.
Some of my clients have done an amazing job of this. Mohawk College’s School of Health in Hamilton, Ontario did a full-day leadership and staff development session on recognition and has run with it for all of their members including students. The positive momentum it has built in such a short period of time exceeded their wildest expectations.
In writing this post, I’ve reflected on what I’ve learned from programs like Mohawk’s, how my husband (a high school teacher) creates a culture of appreciation in his classroom and ideas from other educators. I’ve shared this as themes with lots of examples. What additional ideas do you have?
Make it Part of their Life Toolkit
Sonja raises a great point; some of the skills to start a thank-you habit are not taught or understood by kids. Do a quick audit of what is needed, and slowly introduce them. For example, if addressing an envelope is a gap, teaching students the why behind needing this knowledge – is good for letter writing, bill paying, needed in most jobs – helps them see the value of it versus labelling it just part of the thank-you card skillset. No matter the age, when people see the relevance of learning a new skill to other things they care about – getting a job, having friends, making a good impression – they’re more consistent and less resistant.
Make it Mandatory
Business and Coop teachers can give “extra marks” for every thank-you card sent. For example, a student writing a thank-you when interviewed for a co-op position or job, to a tutor or mentor, to past elementary teachers that made a difference in their schooling. Teachers could have a “thank-you day” at the school where everyone is given a stack of thank-you cards or kudos (even photocopied paper is sufficient) and issued a challenge to write as many notes of thanks in one day and the one with the most thank-you’s written and distributed wins a prize (make it extra easy for them to send them outside of the school by agreeing to post it if they address it and bring it to a special basket in the office or Guidance Office).
Make it COVID Relevant
With COVID, we see signs of appreciation to essential services workers and healthcare providers all over our communities. Create a #thankhealthheros day where students are given the challenge to express many posts (using the hashtag), create posters, make a video, do an IG Live, and write thank-you notes to local healthcare organizations. it can be specific to one person – your family doctor – or to an institution at large – the local hospital. Students of this generation believe in causes and want to do social good. Tap into this and give your appreciation a focus.
Make it a Habit
James Clear, in his book Atomic Habits, talks about the four laws of habit formation; one of them is “make it easy.” Here is an example of that: have a stack of kudos cards or thank-you cards available in every classroom, in the main office, in Guidance, and in the library. Have kudos bulletin boards around the school to make it easy for students and educators to share appreciation and the office to post external notes of gratitude as they are received. Another rule is “make it satisfying.” Issue challenges for a certain number to be used per month and celebrate what that target is reached with prizes. (PS – if you’re interested in learning more about forming a recognition habit check out this microlearning course.)
Make it Visible
Notes from outside the school don’t always get shared. People are busy. However, the problem of not sharing the positive things as much as the negative is that gossip – the bad kind – remains more consistent than “resource gossip” – saying positive things about someone or a group when they’re not present. By ensuring kudos gets back to the person or group (e.g., the supply teacher who had positive things to say about a classroom of kids, a visiting team who said the gym was clean, a superintendent who complimented the chess club, Student Council who felt the student volunteers were instrumental in the latest fundraiser), positive energy is built and the student success behaviour is more likely to continue. When left unshared, students (and educators) may wonder “why bother” or believe “it’s someone else’s turn.” We see this frequently with disengagement in the workplace, so let’s role model in our schools how to resource gossip. Plus, hearing positives about the school creates vicarious recognition; you feel better about the school you “belong” to, by hearing good things about it. The fastest way to share this is by posting on those kudos boards and printing off a copy for the individual or group is key to closing the affirmative loop. (For an exercise to teach “resource gossiping” in your classroom or staff meeting, here’s a free download.)
Make it Grow with Social Media Momentum
Encourage positive social media complimenting. Teaching cyber safety and anti-bullying is on the rise (some may say too slowly but that’s for another blog); how much do we talk about the positives of social media and how to use it to build each other up? I’m not talking about replies like “you are so pretty” that minimizes a girl or boy down to her looks, but specific self-esteem building posts (I won’t even try to suggest what the words or abbreviations should be as an example of this at risk of showing how “out of touch” I am ;-] ). Maybe create a hashtag or encourage positive sharing or a TikTok challenge for affirmative and supportive content. Have a prize voted by peers and teachers for the most positive recognition and share it school-wide. Kids will get super creative and hey, that’s what they do best. Channel “screen-time” for good not evil!
But What About the COVID Teaching Reality of Today?
Now, some of you may be thinking, but how do we do this when we’re physically distanced, so many students are learning virtual, and life is not “normal” right now? Great questions! A few things to keep in mind:
- Any new habit in a school system may require planning, budget and approvals. I hate to say it, but just ‘starting’ it may require planning. You have to start now.
- Many of these strategies can be done virtually and in-person. Get creative (teachers and students are good at that).
- Ask the kids what ideas they have to create a recognition and appreciation loop in the school. Their ideas may be better than mine or be more relevant to their classroom, learning situation and community.
- Focus on fundamental skills. If you’re road blocked by point #1 (of needing to teach some fundamental skills), start with the basics and build from there.
- Bring it into your classroom – virtually or in person. You can attach appreciation to the curriculum, classroom management, and student success easily when you sit with the question: What is possible?
What other ideas do you have to fuel a thank-you habit? How else can I help? Comment below.
And remember, there are lots of great videos you can use in your virtual or classroom teaching on my YouTube channel.
For more COVID recognition content, check out the articles listed below: