By Eleanore MacLean, AmeriCorps member serving on the Bank of America team
As students settle into their routines and the days become shorter as we approach the winter months, fostering positivity is crucial for students and corps members alike. Luckily, there are ample opportunities to model positivity every day:
1. Morning greeting. Morning greeting is a built-in positivity booster, and a highly visible way to model a positive attitude towards school. My team keeps our energy up by making school-themed remixes to popular songs, adding callbacks to City Year cheers, and involving our students as they pass us on their way into school. Lately, several students have joined us for a few cheers before heading inside. Seeing the energy of morning greeting help shake the sleepiness from students’ faces at 8:15 in the morning makes my morning better, and the positivity loop continues.
2. In class. Early in the year, I often heard, “Ms. Eleanore, I hate math,” from Kayla*. Though I recognized her attitude and slouched posture from my own third grade math days, I told her, “I’m sorry to hear that! I love math. Let’s work on this page together.”
She turned to me, incredulous. “You LIKE math?” she asked.
“I LOVE math! Let’s look at the first problem,” I replied. This week Kayla has opened her math book without complaint.
3. After school. The students I work with after school absorb everything I say and do. A few weeks ago, one student picked up the book I’d read aloud earlier. To my surprise and delight, she announced, “I’m the queen teacher!” and proceeded to give her peers the same directions for good listening that I’d given them all earlier (and that she probably also hears in class), hoping to entice her friends away from the blocks and into her classroom.
Knowing that students at such an impressionable age emulate my behavior, I am extra conscious of using positive framing. Last week I was tossing a football around with Aliyah*, who had trouble keeping her eye on the ball. When she finally made a catch, I cheered, “You did it! That’s awesome!” Eventually Aliyah made several catches in a row, and her grin grew bigger and bigger.
As I scooped up one of Aliyah’s trickier tosses, she threw her hands up and cried, “Yay! You did it!” just as I’d congratulated her before.
Students are excellent judges of forced versus genuine interactions, so modeling positivity also means knowing when to step back. Last week Kaya* and I had a rough Monday. Everything I did seemed to annoy her, and everything she said seemed disrespectful to me. Frustrated, I said, “Kaya, it seems like you’re not interested in working with me today, and that’s fine. The way you’re talking to me feels disrespectful, so I’m going to work with another cluster. Tomorrow’s a fresh start, so let’s both try to come in with a new attitude, okay?” Kaya didn’t meet my eyes, but she nodded.
I wasn’t sure what to expect the next morning. The day went smoothly, as if she’d forgotten about the day before entirely. Then, during last period, Kaya turned to me and said, “Ms. Eleanore, better than yesterday?” “Yes!” I replied, “Much better.” We both turned back to the lesson. A few seconds later I tapped on her desk and added, “But tomorrow’s going to be even better, right?” She nodded.
*Name changed to protect student privacy