Core scripture: “Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you are also doing” (1 Thessalonians 5: 11).
Message: Last Friday I was checking e-mail after school, taking a breath from the chaos that was my day, when I ran across a message from a colleague. She had heard through one of her students that her name was mentioned in an activity in my class that day. You see, the last week of school in May my 7th graders wrote letters to this year’s 7th graders, advising them on how to succeed. One of those kids, a kid who happened to test my colleague quite often, had written in his letter how impactful Ms. Burg had been to him and how every kid should sign up for her class. Curious about what was said, she asked permission to come down to my room and read that letter. I laughed looking at all the letters tossed in the grimy recycle bin next to my desk, but I gladly fished them out and laid them out for her.
She was at my door in less than a minute after I replied. Walking through my door, she looked like a kid on Christmas morning coming down the stairs to see what Santa had left. She dawned a smile plastered from ear to ear across her face as she sifted through the letters looking for the one that mentioned her name. When she found it, I looked up from my computer and simply admired the scene. Tears welled in her eyes as she read the letter aloud to me. She fanned herself with the paper. I laughed at her giddiness and childlike demeanor as she savored every word like a morsel of chocolate. It was only about two to three sentences about her, but I tell you what. Those two to three sentences meant everything. They validated her. They assured her that she never gave up on that kid. They reminded her all over again why she became a teacher.
Have you ever come across a letter like that? How did it make you feel? Do yourself a favor and keep those letters. Pull them out when you feel run down and unappreciated. I have a whole stash of them that I have collected through the years. Some I put in my end-of-the-year scrapbook next to the kid’s picture that wrote it. Some I keep in a folder in my desk. They all serve the sole purpose of injecting me with confidence that I am somebody and that I am making a difference in what I do. It makes me think … If I am so grateful for these words of encouragement, am I doing my best to do likewise for my students? Proverbs 15: 4 states, “Kind words bring life, but cruel words crush the spirit.” Knowing this, I look for every opportunity to bring life to my students. Especially the first few weeks of school.
Compliments can come in any form. Hey, I really like that shirt! That’s a no brainier. Compliment kids on their attire, and they will love you for it. I tried this one yesterday: So, we discussed what a good listener looks like. Can I just say that Eric here—man! He really looks like he is engaged. He’s leaning forward. His eyes are on me. And he is participating appropriately. Eric, I just want to say thank you for being awesome today. Boom! Eric is suddenly on board, and there’s no looking back. The most rewarding validation came when I found the lowest of my low students. He made a comment that spurred an excellent point in class discussion, prompting me to tell him, “That was amazing, Johnny! Dude, where do you get those awesome ideas? Come on up here, man. I have an Ohana pass for you, bud, with your name on it. Go over and drop it in the bucket, because you are amazing!” The kid was dumbfounded. He truly didn’t know what to do. And it saddened me as I realized that was probably the only validation he had received in quite some time.
It is truly amazing how the power of one compliment can make a kid’s day. On the contrary, a sarcastic insult or heated word of anger can have the exact opposite effect. James 3: 10 reminds us, “Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.” When words of wrath exit my mouth, I always feel ashamed. Guilty. I suppose that is when God’s grace comes in handy. Will you have those moments? Sure you will. Nobody is perfect. God knows that, and all He wants is repentance. If you find yourself mulling over something you said out of anger, there is no shame in apologizing. Seek that forgiveness from your students to let them know how much you care. Then, take that moment to build them back up. That humility will reassure your students that you do make mistakes and that you want to reconcile yourself to them.
One of the scariest passages in the Bible states, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12: 36-37). How encouraging are your words? Do you give at least five compliments for every criticism you utter? If you were to video the most recent class you taught, where would your words fall? Assess yourself right now. Pray about it. Let God into your heart to let Him take control of your tongue. Flush anger from your system with His perfect Word. If you ever have to err, err on the side of encouragement. You can never go wrong by speaking life into your students.
Challenge:Have you found your most crusty, needy, thorn-in-your-side student yet? Maybe it’s the kid that never gets work turned in or the kid who constantly is poking at his neighbor. Maybe she never stops talking and would soon rather talk to a wall than be quiet. Maybe it is Mr. Apathy, the too cool for school kid who rolls his eyes at your attempts to reach out. Find that kid, look for an opportunity to validate them—even for the smallest improvement—and praise them in all their glory. Encourage them! And do it sincerely. Wrap that kid around your pinky finger from day one and the rest of your year will be smooth sailing.
Bonus challenge: Get on YouTube and watch a short film titled “Validation.” It is well worth the 15 minutes it takes to watch, and it would be an excellent discussion starter in class for students to watch. Our staff watched it at an inservice the other week, and it had a powerful effect on most everyone.
Prayer: Lord, take control of my tongue today. Let my words be encouraging, uplifting, and inspiring to my students. Cleanse me from any words that will tear down and destroy others, and create in me a new heart full of love. Amen.
Song to bring it home: Two songs actually come to mind, and I love letting my students listen to them to analyze the lyrics since the lyrics are school appropriate. Hawk Nelson’s “Words” and Toby Mac’s “Speak Life” both epitomize the importance of controlling your tongue. Listen to either song for a bit of inspiration today.