Everyone does better when they feel like they have someone in their corner, and this is especially true of school-age children. Children need to know that someone believes in them; that they have an ally. Often that person is a parent, but given that many children spend more of their waking hours at school than at home, they need a champion at school too.
In a TED (Ideas Worth Sharing) Talk two years ago, former teacher Rita Pierson shared her teaching philosophy. In describing a quiz she administered, Rita shared that one student answered eighteen out of twenty questions incorrectly. Rather than put -18 on his paper, she wrote +2 and added a smiley face. Confused by the smiley face, the student asked if he received an F. When Rita responded, "yes", he asked why she put a smiley face on the paper. She told him that he got two answers right and she knew that when they reviewed the material again, he would do better. In her words, "-18 sucks all the life of you, +2 says "I ain't all bad."
Through simple, everyday connections, you can make a difference in a child's life. You don't have to be a parent, a teacher or a coach to make a difference. By simply making children feel noticed and valued you become an ally.
As noted Child Psychiatrist James Comer pronounced, "no significant learning can occur without a significant relationship." Each time you connect with a child and show him that you will listen to him and support him; you pave the way for learning.
Children are much more likely to try when they know someone believes they can succeed. And, they are much more likely to reach out for help (if they need it) when they have a relationship with someone they can trust.
You can start small and have a big impact. Begin by:
Listening - try repeating back what a child shares with you to demonstrate that you are paying attention and focused on them. Regardless of whether or not you agree with them, validate their feelings and let them know you understand.
Comforting - celebrate their achievements, no matter how small. Did they help clean the lunch table, wait for a friend, or let someone else go ahead of them in line? Acknowledge their choices with public recognition.
Honoring differences - help them appreciate their uniqueness by praising their hobbies, hairstyles, clothes or glasses. We all share so much in common, but it is our differences that make us special. When you point out what makes them special, their peers will recognize it too.
Following up - remember to check in over time to make sure to make sure their relationships and schoolwork are ok. It's natural to have ups and downs, but knowing they have an ally increases resiliency.
YOU have the power to make a difference. YOU can be an ally. YOU can start today by connecting with a child.