As a principal, you know there are myriad ways to motivate students. But what methods are most effective in enabling students to think positively about themselves and others, and to foster a strong sense of community at our schools? How often do you and your teachers motivate kids through the use of positive messages, stories, fables, and anecdotes?
Thoughts and Quotes
Last year at my school, we introduced the idea of the thought or quote of the day. At the conclusion of the morning announcements, we share a positive thought or an inspirational quote with the students. The goal is to inspire and motivate students to think positively and to take positive action as they begin each school day.
Once we started this new tradition, a teacher approached me and asked if he could put a visual display of positive messages and ideas on all our school television monitors. I thought it was a great idea, and now, on a weekly basis, we display slideshows on our television monitors that cycle through positive images, messages, and slogans throughout the day for everyone to read and experience.
In addition, every Friday I write an inspirational message in our weekly staff newsletter. The purpose of these messages is to share a story, fable, or anecdote to inspire staff. In turn, staff members share these ideas and messages with their students. Teachers turn these messages into teachable moments for their students to drive innovation, creativity, positive thinking, and kindness in the classroom and beyond.
Here are some excerpts from these messages:
Paying It Forward
In Philadelphia, there is a pizza joint with an interior wallpapered with Post-it notes and letters from customers who gave $1 so that homeless members of the community could come in, pick up a note, and exchange the note for a slice of pizza.
Acts of kindness, both in the classroom and beyond, may not yield an immediate reaction, but in the long run, a simple act can have a tremendous impact.
As educators, we often get emails and letters years after our students graduate about the effect we have had on their lives and their education. That is the beauty of teaching. We are never sure what effect we might have or what positive impact we might make; however, we teach from the heart to pay it forward for our students.
Although we may not own a pizza shop with messages of gratitude written all over the store, we do work in a building where graduates come back time and time again, eager to say thank you and wanting to let the community know how this school, a specific staff member, or a special moment changed their life for the better in some way or another.
The Black Spot Story
Ask your students, “What do you see when you look at this blank piece of paper with a small black dot in the middle? Do you see bright white spots around? Or is your eye drawn mainly to the small dark spot that sits in the middle of the page?”
Encouraging our students to shift their perspective and look at a situation differently can allow them to focus more on the bright parts—their strengths and successes—rather than on the dark spots-their challenges and obstacles. We need to recognize both; however, if we focus our attention only on the dark spot and fail to notice the brightness that surrounds it, it can lead to negative self-perception and, over time, to giving up or to a loss of motivation.
I recently tried this activity out with a group of individuals, and the outcome was the same as it was for the professor who was referenced in this wellknown experiment.
Inviting our students to change their perspectives can create positive outcomes and solutions.
Coca-Cola’s Laughter Mob
Recently, Coca-Cola Belgium created a video called “Laughter Mob,” in which the company planted a “laughter” man on a train to demonstrate how contagious laughter is, as part of the #ChooseHappiness campaign.
Teachers often try different and new things with students in their classes. The response that it yields and the energy it creates are often amazing. We may not be creating laughter mobs, but the outcome we hope to achieve when we do something different is the same as that which was desired by Coca-Cola. We hope that the energy we create is infectious and that the positive impact has a ripple effect.
Challenge your students to create a positive change in others through their own actions. The impact that a simple smile or bout of laughter can make is truly astounding, even in the most unlikely circumstances and environments.
Half Full or Half Empty?
Do you tend to see the half-filled glass of water as half full or half empty?
In classrooms, this notion is in play all the time. Two students will get back the same grade. It could be a 50, a 75, or a 90. However, the reaction to seeing the results, and the actions that may follow, may be totally different.
Student A may show a look of surprise when she sees a mark of 50, tear up the paper, throw it in the garbage, and pretend that the test never happened, or even blame her poor test results on another person. Student B, on the other hand, may show the same look of surprise when he realizes he got a mark of 50, but chooses to go through the test very carefully, looking for questions to ask his teacher and for mistakes and comments from which he can learn.
How do we help move our students to be more like Student B and to look inward for solutions and reasons, rather than outward toward the half empty glass?
Motivating students through positive messaging isn’t just a nice idea. It’s a true difference maker not only in the lives of your students, but in your entire school community.
Renee Cohen is the principal of the Anne & Max Tanenbaum Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto, Kimel Family Education Centre, in Toronto, Canada.