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Students are some of the most influential members of society. Many of them are still trying to figure out who they are, what they want to be, and what they want to accomplish in their lives. Many struggle with peer acceptance and peer pressure. Many have hard home lives and need positive role models outside of their homes to prune them into becoming well-adjusted, responsible adults. As a teacher, you spend at least several hours per week with each of your students. While you may not be their primary influence, you are probably a close second in terms of the time you spend with them and the impact you can have. Don’t take this responsibility lightly—remember that many kids have challenges at home, and school may be the only place that they are loved, talked to, welcomed, and taught. Yes, you are responsible for educating them in a number of academic subjects, but you also have the capability of becoming a friend, a mentor, and a lifelong influence. Here are some of the best ways to be a positive influence on your students.
Set Standards and Stick to Them
Kids need consistency. When expectations are clearly set, they have an easier time meeting those expectations and they tend to do better when they know exactly what is expected of them. These standards and expectations should include behaviors in the classroom as well as in academics. When you tell your students that late homework assignments will get a zero but then cave the first time it happens, they notice and they will move forward acting accordingly. It’s a huge problem in our society today that people say things they don’t mean. It causes others not to take you seriously and you come across as unreliable. Believe the best in your students at the start of each year (that goes farther than you probably realize, too), and stick to upholding those expectations all year long. This will benefit your students in huge ways because they will thrive when they know what is expected of them, and they will understand that you’re serious. Students are more likely to see you as reasonable, reliable, and trustworthy when you say what you mean and mean what you say.
Walk the Walk
If you preach anything to your students, you need to make sure you’re sticking to that yourself. The whole idea of “do as I say, not as I do” is not effective in any way, and it doesn’t help students learn or grow. If you can’t walk the walk, don’t talk the talk—that’s the saying we should be focusing on. This applies to a number of things, from small, simple things to larger, more serious ones. If you talk about how important it is to drink water but are always drinking soda, students notice. If you talk about staying on top of studying and not procrastinating but then take two months to get a test back to your students, you’re not helping them learn to trust you or learn how to be a responsible member of society. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t be honest with your students about some struggles, but be careful what you tell them about your life outside of school when it doesn’t line up with the things you’re constantly telling them in class.
Be Real but Professional
Teachers used to be completely distant from students, where even talking to them about the weather or a sporting event was unacceptable. Teachers taught, students listened, and that was that. Nowadays, teachers are more approachable to students, which, when handled correctly, can be very beneficial. You need to be careful not to cross any lines by sharing too much with your students, but being real with them can help them grow a great deal, both as empathetic individuals and as students who are learning about the world. If you had a terrible weekend and didn’t get to grade their papers like you said, it’s okay to say that. You don’t need to go into all the details of why it was horrible, but it’s important for students to understand that their teachers are human too and that they have lives outside of school. Keep it professional, of course, but a little vulnerability can go a long way when it comes to helping students learn about compassion and understanding. It’s also beneficial for them to see that teachers aren’t perfect. It’s easy to put teachers on a pedestal, especially when they always seem to have it together perfectly during each and every class. But being real and honest when necessary and appropriate can help students realize that every single person has struggles and challenges, and that is okay.
Positivity in the classroom is absolutely vital. Whether you’re learning something new, working on a project, or talking about the weekend, using positive language and encouraging positive thinking and speaking will go such a long way with your students. The world is a very negative place and with all the pressures of life weighing down on students and their families, they may not experience a lot of positivity. Speaking positively can radically transform a student’s life. Even if your students already have several positive influences in their lives, they’ll know that you can be trusted to encourage them and help them work through a problem with positivity at any point. Don’t allow negative self-talk in your classroom and encourage negative thoughts to be shifted into positive ones so that students can improve their self-esteem and self-belief.
Teach and Demonstrate a Growth Mindset
Growth mindset is all about teaching kids how to overcome hard challenges and push positively towards growth. It’s helping students shift their thinking in the midst of a struggle. It goes hand in hand with speaking positively, but it focused more on specific problems that an individual may face and overcoming that problem with hope and a lesson learned. First, you need to make sure you embrace the growth mindset yourself when you’re in your classroom. Working with technology, dealing with a difficult student, or facing a pile of paperwork can be enough to overwhelm anyone, but work on your own positive self-talk and growth mindset focus, and you’ll demonstrate the concepts for your students without them even realizing it. You talk about how learning is the goal—not the task or concept itself. You embrace the fact that the process of learning and the effort you put into it makes you smarter and stronger. Help them to see the value in the process and in the learning, and they will learn to apply the growth mindset to a number of other areas in their lives, such as relationships, athletics, other classes, jobs, and more.
Respect Their Opinions
Everyone is allowed to have an opinion and as long as students are respectful of others, they should be allowed to express that opinion. By showing respect to your students, they will trust you more and will be more open to learning from you, both in academic subjects and general life lessons. Respect is a two-way street and students should learn that, but lead the way by showing them that you respect them as individuals and that you care about them.
Your classroom should be a place of respect, positivity, growth, and learning, and all of that starts with you. As a teacher, it’s your job to not only educate your students, but also provide a positive influence on their lives and help them learn how to be responsible and kind adults who contribute to society in a positive and helpful way.