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Monday, January 29, 2007

How to Win Respect and Influence Students



Sometimes I need to be reminded. One of the most transformational books of my life is Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People.

I came across a website that summarizes the key points of the book and was struck (again) at how the principles are at play in my classroom every day.

Take a look at the three fundamentals in his book:

Fundamental Techniques in Handling People

  1. Don't criticize, condemn or complain.
  2. Give honest and sincere appreciation.
  3. Arouse in the other person an eager want.
I have to reflect on these.

1. Don't Criticize, condemn or complain.


Face it, whiners are not inspirational. In fact, they are repulsive. I can just hear the teacher who bemoans her (or his) sorry state,

"Oh, why don't the kids mind me. Why can't I get anything done? Oh, me, oh my! Waah Wahh Wahh!"


Yes, it is tough being a teacher and sometimes the kids are tough. But I have found that "you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar!"

Stay positive. Be positive. And when you don't feel like it, take a moment.
Attitudes catch like the flu -- especially yours! If you want to have a bad day -- go into your classroom with a bad attitude. Whine a little when they walk in the door. And then complain a little -- I promise you, it won't be a good day!

This is your classroom and take charge. (And remember a little trick, you can have a good attitude but still be firm with students. I have learned that when I get onto students I must not smile at all -- teachers who master "that face" and raise an eyebrow can quiet a maelstrom.) Having a good attitude does not mean a laissez faire attitude -- it just means be positive and take care of business!

2. Give Honest and Sincere Appreciation

This is the key. I believe that every human being is made by God for a purpose that they can do better than any other person! I honestly do. My job as a good teacher is to find what they can do well and hold them accountable to do it well.

I always precede criticism with honest praise for what they've done right or something I've noticed. Then, I point out what the student needs to work on. If it is a change in behavior for the worse, I try to figure out why -- I ask if they are OK.

If I have a student who has been doing well and suddenly bombs a test -- I always call them and talk to them privately. I always start off like this,

"This is your test grade, but I'm going to tell you something -- this is not you! This grade is terrible and it is not who you are and I refuse to believe it. You are an A student -- I know you can make an A and I expect you to make an A. So, what can we do to get you back up to the level of performance of your usual self?"


Then, usually, the student will open up to me and tell me if something is going on. If they are frustrated with a particular aspect of the learning process, they will tell me. I will get feedback on what is difficult for them. But I always get positive feedback and I have always gotten improvement.

I believe that one of the reasons that students perform so well for me is that I expect them to perform well. I brag on them when they deserve it. I find the thing they do well and I tell others. I let them catch me saying great things behind their back and in front of them.

But notice that this appreciation must be honest and sincere. Old fish smells and so do lies. Kids can smell a lie from a mile off. Whatever I see that is true and right -- those are the things that I focus on. I believe that you can find something to praise about any person and the best teachers know that students often perform in the way that they feel about themselves in that subject.

I honestly believe that I teach geniuses -- and they act that way. When they don't, I correct them and tell them that I expect more. I believe in them. I see them for what I know they can be and I know that as a human, sometimes they don't act up to their full potential. I am vigilant.

No, I'm not a perfect teacher and I'm still learning from some of the best (my coworkers) but if you can't master honest, sincere appreciation, you shouldn't be teaching. Period.

3. Arouse in the other person an eager want

I just completed my most successful semester teaching accounting. Why? Well, I think it is because I took a slightly different approach. I looked at this class and said to myself,

"What will make these kids WANT to know accounting?"

I came back with one answer: land. Almost all of them are going to inherit land because most of them come from farm families and it is tough to "keep the farm." So, every chance I got I talked about the problems and challenges for fiscally managing land. I related it to what they'd need to know if they farmed. Most of them dream of farming or at least of well managing the land that their parents have worked so hard to acquire and manage.

So, although it took some convincing -- they eventually wanted to learn accounting. They saw the value in learning accounting.

You can't push someone up a ladder. You can't MAKE someone learn. Ultimately, they have to WANT to learn. And if they can EAGERLY want to learn, then you've really got something there! You've got a student! (And if you let them actively research on the Internet and they've got that passion, hold on, they'll teach you something!)

In Conclusion
All three of these are interrelated. There is a reason that I reread How to Win Friends and Influence People every year. It is because I am human and I lapse into bad habits.

I've had a few tough days lately and I heard on Tuesday morning as I biked the stationary bike the importance of doing something to make another person's day better every day! So, Tuesday. I did something for an older lady who is having a difficult time -- and I love her and she needed to know it. It made her day -- it made my day more!

Last night, I took a group of girls from the church to deliver Valentines Day presents to the retirement home and to sing a little song -- the older ladies cried as they heard the music and got a present. It made their day -- it made my day more!

Today, I had a student having a tough day. He didn't think he could do it. I gave him an honest sincere compliment and talked to him about it -- this big old strapping boy teared up. He needed someone to tell him he was smart and that he could do it. It made his day and he walked out of my room head held high and standing very tall. It made his day -- it made my day more!

So, if you're having those beginning of the year doldrums, get out and do something for someone! Adjust your own attitude. Be more!

Reading blogs prevents burnout!

Teaching is a high burnout profession but that is what I find so great about the blogosphere. I am no longer an island and am surrounded by other great teachers who love their kids and want to help them grow up to be great adults.

Perhaps we all used to get so discouraged because of all the bad press that the media seems to dish out to teachers! I am becoming profoundly convinced that the media is no longer objective and has one purpose: sell paper or readership. Media is suffering because of their inability to grow with societal change -- so negative news sells papers.

One piece of advice for you who love to talk to the media -- get out a digital recorder and record every conversation you have with the media. I have literally been misquoted or taken out of context the last two out of three reporters that I've talked to! And guess what? I can not get the flat classroom project in the paper down here because they do not understand what it was!

I find more accurate information that helps me do my job on the blogs of other teachers than in any other source. As much as I love the Wall Street Journal, if forced to choose - I'd have to stick with blogs.

My next "big" exciting post!
For the last nine days I've been working on a "big" blog post about how I think the best blogs are written. It will be posted early tomorrow on Tech Learning and here in a slightly different version. I'm really excited about it!

What's Next?
I plan to next respond on how bloggers should deal with the media, but again, I am doing my research.

I am spending much more time on fewer blog posts but when they "go to press," (or should I say, I press publish) I have a real sense of pride. I'm still working towards finding a publisher for my book. It will happen eventually, or I'll just self publish this summer!

Remember your calling, teachers!
You truly leave a legacy when you teach!

Teaching is the greatest, most thankless, hardest, most wonderful, most rewarding profession on this planet.

When you're a teacher, hold your head high because you can see past the trappings of immediate gratification in order to pour your life into that of others. You will have rewards for years to come!

Keep the faith! Remember that teaching is a noble calling!

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