As teachers, you have many students in your class with varying degrees of self-esteem. It’s important to support their emotional growth, but showering students with praise like it’s confetti at a New Year’s Eve party may do more harm than good. If you praise for everything, they no longer have to work at anything—the accolades are already being doled out. Though immediately, it feels good, in the long run, that can prevent students from developing their own healthy self worth.

So, the key is not catering to an always-feel-good, everyone-gets-a-trophy philosophy, but rather striking a balance of acknowledging their successes, allowing failures, and supporting their ability to build their own healthy sense of self that enables them to thrive and cope with everything life throws at them.

Here are 6 ways for you to be consistent in promoting healthy emotional development for all of your students.

Be specific
Rather than, "Nice work," include specific information like, "You colored that red house and stayed in the lines perfectly!” Or “I’m impressed at how you stayed focused on your math problems the entire time."

Give undivided attention
As teachers, you are often pulled in many directions and it’s easy to get distracted, but the boost students get when they feel they are really being heard is immeasurable. Put down your pencil. Make eye contact. And let them know their opinions matter and are taken into account.

Take a brain break
Kids are under a lot of pressure at school to learn new concepts— in several different subjects, take tests in all of them, fit in socially, get good grades, and compete in extracurricular activities. All of this bogs down the brain, increases stress, and can lower self esteem. Help kids lessen the negative effects by taking a break. Get out a few board games, run around the playground, or do a little art to calm the mind, release stress, and increase endorphins and serotonin – the “feel good hormones.”

Make use of special talents
Set your class to be a well-oiled machine, where everyone feels needed and appreciated. Everyone has talents. Take advantage of the vast array. Give special badges out for goofy talents and learning achievements. Here are a few to get you started:

  • Minute Math Master
  • Super Speller
  • Team Player
  • Word Wizard
  • Master Detective
  • Expert Explainer

Classroom space
Decorate your class with projects your students have done. Make it a fun, welcoming place for your students to spend their time —where they feel pride in their contributions to the class. This may be a great way to highlight those special badges you give out!

Pay it forward
Making other people feel special has a boomerang effect. Start in your class by encouraging students to put a note in a classmate’s desk, a smiley face sticky note on someone’s locker, or a small gift of a newly sharpened, “fancy” pencil. Talk with your students about how that makes you feel when someone does something nice for you. Help them see the benefits of a pay-it-forward mentality.

You may be teaching social studies, or English, or math, but really, it’s not what you are teaching, but who you are teaching. You are teaching children and helping them become the best selves they can be. With these tips – and many more you’ve undoubtedly learned along the way – you are helping your students develop into responsible, confident people. Teachers have very unique power to educate and influence their students. Constructive, instructive, and supportive are the three pillars of power you can use to help students to leave your classroom better than when they walked in.

Take a look at our other classroom articles to help you throughout the school year.

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