Setting a Positive Example Today Gives Students Lessons that Last a Lifetime
In his classic book “The Students are Watching,” Ted Sizer drove home the point that schools send both overt and subtle messages to their students. The physical state of the school, the course offerings, the expectations for staff and students — everything that goes on in a school speaks to your students, potentially elevating or degrading their experience.
The same applies for your classroom.
Children mirror what they live
Your students will not forget you. Think of all the times you’ve found yourself reminiscing about your teachers at social function. Everyone has a story to share about their best and worst classroom experiences. Someday, you’ll be that teacher in someone else’s stories.
Now, you could always give a shrug and say you don’t care how you’re remembered. But you’re better off pausing to consider that the memories you foster today have a direct impact on your students’ classroom experience.
Taking a moment to establish high standards, couched in deep caring and patience, is essential. Being a warm and trustworthy part of your students’ lives says far more to them about how adults should act and treat each other than any classroom rule or expectation does. Your students, whether you like it or not, will reflect what you offer to them.
As I grow older, I’m beginning to realize that I’m sounding more and more like my father, but I can’t emphasize enough how strong the example of a professionally dressed and prepared teacher is to students.
Taking the time to prepare for work in the morning, and sending the message that your appearance is important to you, tells students that they are important to you. Dressing down for work (aside from the rare special occasion) has the opposite effect, telling them they don’t matter enough for you to dress up on their behalf.
Speak carefully and precisely
Emerging learners, especially at the elementary level, need to hear high-quality speech. Furthermore, all students need to be exposed to professional and academic language at all times.
Your choice of words, tone of voice and overall speaking style set examples for how to communicate that students will remember as they move on in life and school. This applies to the “big” things like the academic words you use, but also the ways you address your students and colleagues.
Stay professional when stressed
Your classroom won’t always be a happy-go-lucky place. Students will challenge your authority, lessons will fail to go as planned and things will just generally go off the rails.
These moments, though few and far between, will be the times when your students will look to you for an example of how they’re supposed to act. Do your best to keep it together, and remember that your reaction has the potential to either help or hurt your relationship with your students.
And not to belabor the obvious, but being a generally positive person is perhaps the best way to be a role model for your students. Popular culture is rife with poor choices, inappropriate behavior and generally distasteful people. You have the choice to set a different example for your students.
Always remember, though, that your students will rarely express any gratitude at the time when you’re establishing these examples. You will find, though, as you move through your career that students will return to you years later to let you know just how powerful you were in helping to form them as adults.
You’re planting seeds — not fully grown trees.