How to influence students

Why did you become a teacher?  Why do you choose to spend your days with kids?  Money and fame don’t generally go hand in hand with education, so that was probably not the motivator.  For most of us, we do what we do because of a desire to make a difference in the lives of children.  We want to be a positive influence on their lives.

Matt Miller -
Matt Miller –

One of the most well-known books on influencing people was written in 1936 by Dale Carnegie.  In his book How to Win Friends and Influence People there are 6 lessons that could help you to be able to better make a difference in the lives of your students.

  1. Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely – “good job” isn’t quite enough here. Give true feedback that helps students know that you value the work they are doing.  Remember that an assessment is ultimately about feedback, especially formative assessments.  Let students know what they are doing well , and let them know where you are seeing their struggles.  Work together to set goals to improve in the area they are struggling!
  2. If you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically – given that each of our students has an iPad with easy access to Google, the odds of making a mistake and being caught in it are high. Admitting to it shows students how to take responsibility for mistakes will help them do better in their own future.  Also remember that mistakes aren’t always just about the content.  Sometimes our mistakes are in how we might react or treat our students (or others for that matter).  I can’t tell you the number of times I have apologized to kids because I didn’t have the full story, or was acting on assumptions.  If the apology is heartfelt and emphatic, it will smooth over the conflict that may have existed otherwise.
  3. Get the other person saying “yes, yes” immediately – the more times someone says yes, the more positive of a mindset they are in. Ask some simple questions with yes as the answer to get your kids in a positive frame of mind.  I’m currently reading Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman.  He discusses the idea of priming the brain.  In one study, people were asked to hold a pencil in their mouth.  Different groups were told to hold the pencil in different ways.  Some held the pencil with the eraser pointing to the right.  Others were told to hold the pencil so that the tip was pointing away from them.  Try it!  You’ll find that one way causes you to frown, while the other way causes you to smile.  People were then asked to look at The Far Side comics while holding the pencil in their mouth.  People who were smiling while looking at the comics reported that the comics were funnier than those who were frowning.  What’s happening?  The fast part of your brain is taking over and telling you that if you are smiling, you must be happier, the comics are funnier, etc.  We all have probably experienced a time where we were having a tough day and we just tried to smile through it, and things actually got better.  That old adage of “grin and bear it” may actually hold some water!  If you can prime your students to a positive state of mind at the beginning of class, they will be in a better mood, more likely to work, and more likely to report that they enjoy school.  All are wins!
  4. Talk about your own mistakes before criticizing others – did you struggle with your math facts? Could you never correctly diagram a sentence?  Share your struggles with your students so that they know they aren’t the only ones to make a mistake.  Not only does it show that others have challenges too, it is another way to connect with your kids!  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve shared with students about the time I got busted cheating on a timed test in math in 3rd grade (Sorry Mrs. Langhoff!).  The kids always have a laugh, but then we are able to come up with a strategy so that they can feel successful!
  5. Ask questions instead of giving direct orders – adding the words “would you” to any request makes it seem to our students as if they have a choice. It’s a small change, but it allows them to feel as though they have a choice, even if they don’t really.  The 2 + 2 method can also help with this: If you do this then…, if you do that then…  When we list the positive choice and the positive consequence first, most kids make the choice that we want them to make.
  6. Dramatize your ideas – a visual lesson will stand out to our students much better than any lecture.  If you want your kids to learn something well, act it out!  Or, even better, have a student or group of students act it out!  It accesses a different part of the brain and leads to more long term memory transfer!

Have you ever used any of these methods without intentionally or unintentionally?  What have been your results?  Share some of your thoughts in the comments below.

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