(This is part of the Slice of Life Project)
It was all about praise in my classroom yesterday. Our school is part of the Peacebuilder’s network and The Responsive Classroom, which means that we work on a social curriculum designed to foster positive peer interaction. I’m not always sure how much my students buy into it, though. They seem to just drone out our morning Peacebuilder’s Pledge that asks them to seek out wise friends, notice the hurts they cause and make ammends,etc.
It has become just words rolling off their lips. I can tell and it bothers me. It’s not that I am all into Peacebuilders program, per se, but I am into peace and the cooperative nature of my classrooms. I know that not every student is going to get along with every other student every day of the week, but I certainly expect them to respect each other as individuals.
Yesterday, I tried to move them into a place where such ideas make sense to them in a meaningful way. We began converting some of the walls of my classroom into a Praise Wall. We use colored sheets of paper where students can write notes in praise of each other. This is not about telling your friend that you like them. It’s not about false praise. It’s not a contest to see who gets the most praise. It’s about recognizing the actions of others by identifying them as people, explaining the things that make them noticed, and then signing off on the note.
As you can imagine, this is a mixed bag of messages for my 11 and 12 year olds, but most of them got it, I think. Each of my four classes spent time building the wall with their words and even those kids who seem to fall outside of the traditional circles of friends were being praised. Such things warm my heart, I don’t mind saying.
Here are a few of the words that now don my wall. They all begin with praise for an individual:
- for being there when I feel bad. You are always a pal.
- for helping me in math when the teacher is busy.
- for picking up those pencils in library when nobody else was watching.
- for always asking me if I am OK.
- for standing by me through thick and thin.
- for helping me up when I fell down into that deep puddle.
I was helping a student with some writing when another of my students tapped me on the shoulder.
“Mr. H,” she said, holding up a pink Praise Note. “I wrote something for you.”
I took the paper. She was praising me “for caring about the people of Darfur and working to help people other than himself.” I smiled and thanked her, but what I really wanted to do was give her a warm hug (not allowed, of course). She made my day.
Peace (everywhere and all the time),