They were just one of those classes. Low motivation. Low academic ability. Low self-confidence. They dragged themselves to class, plopped down in their desks, and meandered through the various activities like they were dragging behind them a ball and chain of low expectations.
I’d always been able to arouse such sleepwalkers in the past, but this class refused to wake. After a couple months, my frustration began to bubble within. I tried a variety of new approaches to shake things up, but no matter the accommodation or innovative lesson, they just would not budge. I was at a total loss.
What I said wasn’t them. What I said wasn’t me. But alas, I couldn’t reverse time, and I couldn’t take back the words. So after much soul searching and personal research, my mind caught hold of an idea, a course of action I’d yet to try to its fullest, an idea that had just as good of chances of success as it did of failure.
I began the experiment. For several weeks, I determined to utter absolutely nothing but gushy compliments. I oozed optimism all over the class. I completely ignored any undesirable behavior, and chose to recognize all semblance of anything good, exaggerating each compliment to be more than what it was worth in reality. I set out to recognize individual students through friendly notes, phone calls to parents, and even pick-up basketball games during lunch break. I did anything and everything I could to sever the ball and chain they had dragged behind all year.
The results? Well, wouldn’t it be great to boldly proclaim they magically morphed into superstars? That they became the envy of middle school teachers everywhere? Alas, I cannot say as such; however, I can in truth relate that their motivation and subsequent performance grew mightily. If they had been a three, they quickly became a seven. If they had been two stars, they quickly became four. If they had been mediocre, they quickly became a solid excellent.
Though such a gushy approach may not be fitting for all, it helped my lumbering class to identify themselves as a group that could. They could do it. They could work hard. They could learn. They could succeed. Eventually, I backed off my over-exuberant oozing of positivity and became my normal yet naturally happy self once again, where my students and I enjoyed several more months of fast-paced learning – without the drudgery of a ball and chain.