Just yesterday my daughter came to me with an acorn top, handed it to me, and told me to put it on my dresser so "you can remember me every time you look at it." For years she’s been doing this with random items from nature, and my usual response is a hug and a “thank you”, and then I place it somewhere in hopes of remembering to put it back outside. But after I ran across GaryChapman's Five Love Languages series, my views on her behavior have changed.
Chapman started out with the book itself, and it morphed into one specifically for men, for parents, and even for the workplace (which I am currently reading). The word love in the title was originally put there because he started out this idea by helping married (sometimes almost un-married) couples figure out how to reconnect. After reading that book, I easily understood how the same principles can be adapted to any situation if you open your mind to the idea of really understanding other people.
Over the last year I've researched intrinsic motivation up, down, backwards, forwards, and inside out. One of the main philosophies of rebuilding lost motivation is getting to know a person at the foundation. I've discussed learning styles, intelligences, skills, and types of learners, but one thing I've never really delved into is the idea of making a child feel appreciated and (yep, I'm going to say it) loved. This may partly be because of the state of today's education system. Love doesn't really fit into the data collection and analysis equation, does it? But yet we have large numbers of kiddos who step through those doors feeling worthless and unappreciated.
Before you do anything else, take the test yourself. You'll be amazed at what knowing the results does. The basic gist of the philosophy is that any person gives and recognizes love and/or appreciation in one or more of five ways: words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time, and physical touch. To know your love language is to understand that you both express appreciation through that language and recognize it the same way - whether or not another person expresses it to you in that manner. The problem comes in when one person expresses appreciation in a language that goes unrecognized by another - not because the other person is a bad person or is unwilling to recognize it, but because the other person simply doesn't speak that language. This is how relationships break down, and this can happen at lightning speed in a classroom.
Teacher/student relationships are always rocky at the beginning. Thirty eyes staring at you the first day, no matter how veteran you are, can be unnerving. You have all sorts of kiddos in that group and from all sorts of backgrounds. There is almost no point in trying to teach a kid who is angry or upset because the brain chemistry won't allow that information to store. We need to put our students into a mindset that says they are appreciated. All of them.
So what can we do to express this appreciation? Below are some ways to shower your students with appreciation and hit all of the languages so that your students' brains are ready for learning.
Words of Affirmation
In his February Kane County teacher inservice, Rick Wormeli spoke a great deal about providing feedback to our students. The trouble is, we fall into this trap of destructive feedback rather than constructive feedback. The words good job and great work are so overused that they become meaningless. Our kiddos are seeking meaningful affirmations.
One example of this might be, "That's an interesting thought, Jessica. I heard you say that Edgar Allan Poe's relationship with his father may have impacted his writing. That shows me that you're putting things together and are really thinking about his purpose for some of his writing. I'm wondering if we can hold on to that thought as we continue this discussion." This not only gives the student an affirmation that she is on the right track in her thinking, but it also shows her you were really paying attention to her (see Quality Time below). You've now made a connection.
Acts of Service
"For these people, actions speak louder than words." Keep in mind that what one student recognizes as an act of service might not be what another recognizes. It might be something as simple as stopping by a student’s desk to help him start a paragraph or picking up a book from the library for another one. An act of service might be helping a student get organized during the last five minutes of class or helping him figure out a logic puzzle for fun.
Chapman warns his readers, however, that if you plan to serve somebody, keep a few things in mind. Always ask before you help; sometimes kids just want to do it by themselves. Be genuine and positive, but not over the top. And for heaven’s sake, do it their way. If you’re going to help out with something, don’t start dictating. That defeats the purpose of an act of service. And always finish what you start.
When Chapman suggests quality time, he means make the time that you do have with your kiddos count. Have undistracted conversations. Keep eye contact. LISTEN and don’t interrupt, and watch for body language. This is a perfect place to throw in the idea of mindfulness in the classroom.
When one practices the language of quality time, instead of focusing on what you are saying, like in words of affirmation, you focus on what you are hearing and observing.
From now on I plan to really focus on what my students give to me and each other. At Valentine’s Day some of our girls walk around giving each other cheap little stuffed toys and hearts on sticks. Pencils, erasers, and other school supplies that can be purchased cheaply at the dollar store or in August when everything is on sale are great gifts for kids who will appreciate them. Tickets for special privileges are cheap and easy as well.
The final language of appreciation is one that comes with the most controversy. There was a time in education when hugging a child or putting your arm around her was okay, but today many school boards frown on this type of touching, and some teachers have actually seen disciplinary consequences for these acts of appreciation. So what is one to do to fill the need for physical touch from the large number of kiddos whose primary language IS physical touch?
Chapman gives a few suggestions. First off, don’t underestimate the power of quality time. Closeness doesn’t have to always be physical. It can be emotional or social, and that can take on the form of uninterrupted conversation and eye contact. But things like firm handshakes, fist bumps, a high five, or a pat on the shoulder should not be underestimated either. I have even made jokes about our “no hugging” rule, and now we do “air hugs” in my classroom where we open our arms in front of each other and then wrap our arms around ourselves. It’s the feeling involved with the physical touch that makes it wrong or right, and who can go wrong with an “air hug”?
The toughest part of using the love languages in your classroom is figuring out which ones to use and when. Use them all and use them often, and you will begin to see who responds to what. Maybe even give your students choices. Something as simple as, “Would you like me to help you now during class or would you like to come in at lunch?” might allow you to understand if a student is looking for and act of service or quality time.
Can you think back to a time when you’ve noticed differences in the way kids respond to different ways you’ve shown appreciation? What new acts can you try this year to support more languages than you have in the past?