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Power Words: Using Positive Words to Energize Your Students

Voice of ExperienceIn the classroom, positive reinforcement is easier to talk about than it is to carry out. In this Voice of Experience essay, educator, Brenda Dyck shares a classroom tradition that celebrates the uniqueness and potential of each child. Included: Web sites designed to help you encourage the students you teach.

Brenda Dyck

Teaching is full of moments of serendipity. One of those Aha! moments happened to me last year during a 20-minute homeroom period right after lunch. Once p.m. attendance responsibilities were out of the way -- before students headed off to their afternoon classes -- I wracked my brain for a meaningful way to fill the remaining 15 minutes.

In what turned out to be a moment of powerful inspiration, I publicly addressed several of my students with what came to be known as What I See in You time.

To my utter surprise, this spontaneous student/teacher moment began a classroom tradition that continued until the end of the year. It was a special time for all of us. The students waited in anticipation for their turn, for the day when I would speak about each of them in front of their peers. Students soaked up this time like a sponge!

Another Teacher's View of
What I See in You

Teacher Laurie Wasserman uses the What I See in You activity with her learning disabilities students in Medford, Massachusetts. The activity fits her yearlong emphasis on building her students' self-esteem. What I See in You enables Wasserman to turn her students' learning victories into moments of triumph.

Click to read Laurie Wasserman's thoughts about What I See in You.


During What I See in You I would choose a couple of students and share publicly whatever positive qualities I had observed in them -- positive character qualities, special abilities, and acts of kindness.

After sharing those qualities with the class, I would ask the students in the class to share ways in which those students' gifts or abilities might be used to make the world a better place. As their classmates shared their "verbal applause," the student in the spotlight sat glowing from the recognition.

When students finished sharing their thoughts, I would finish off the session.

You could almost feel the positive energy in the room as the students left for their afternoon classes.

What I See in You was a real wakeup call for me in another big way. A red flag went up for me as I thought about some students, especially the quiet ones who do not usually stand out in the crowd or the ones who don't seem to have a lot of positive things going on in their lives. I knew I would need to tell them someday "what I see in them." The thought of that was a gentle reminder. With those students, I needed to dig a little deeper, get to know them a little better, search out that hidden quality or ability so I could celebrate them too.

"When will we teach our children in school what they are? We should say to each of them: Do you know what you are? You are a marvel. You are unique. In all of the world there is no other child exactly like you. In the millions of years that have passed there has never been another child like you. You may become a Shakespeare, a Michelangelo, a Beethoven. You have the capacity for anything. Yes, you are a marvel."
      --- Cellist Pablo Casal


In the book, How Full Is Your Bucket?, authors Tom Rath and Donald Clifton use the visual metaphor of a bucket and dipper as a way of illustrating the impact that positive encounters can have on those around you -- your students. They remind the reader that every person has 20,000 moments each day, moments that for the most part are void of any positive words. Rath and Clifton challenge us to use our dipper to fill other people's emotional buckets, drip by drip. Best of all, the book's Web site offers some helpful tools to help you do this:

  • Electronic Drops
    Uncomfortable with sharing your affirmations publicly? Try an electronic message in the shape of a drop to tell your students the possibilities that you see in them.
  • Drop Maker
    Create your own printable encouragement drops by using the Web page template.
  • Positive Impact Drop
    Are you wondering what level of positive impact you have in your classroom? Answer the fifteen survey questions to find out.

Over the course of the year, my students begged me to tell each of them what possibilities I saw in them. They patiently waited for the day when it would be their turn to shine. It always amazed me how they knew exactly who I had yet to celebrate. That alone told that my students were thirsty to be affirmed. Ah, to have the privilege of doing that, one child at a time!

More Voices

Have you seen these Voice of Experience essays from previous weeks?

Brenda Dyck teaches at Master's Academy and College in Calgary, Alberta (Canada). In addition to teaching sixth grade social studies, Brenda works with her staff and leads technology integration workshops in the United States and Canada. Her "HotLinks" column is a regular feature in the National Middle School Association's Journal, Middle Ground. Brenda is a teacher-editor for Midlink magazine.

Article by Brenda Dyck
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