Positive Affirmation in the Classroom

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The subtle ways we help kids grow

When I was in grade 11 or somewhere around then, I had my first purposeful encounter with positive affirmation. It was during that critical moment when a decade of slacking off in math class finally catches up to you with all the subtlety of a midnight swim in December. My days were filled with panic, prayer and a newfound willingness to try pretty much anything to pass math.

So, when one day I stumbled across a CD promising to solve all my trigonometric problems though subliminal messaging while I slept, I thought, “Finally! The wonders of modern science have come through for me just like I kept telling myself they would.” Not even the $1 price tag, or the fact it was in the bargain bin could convince me otherwise. 

The results of my subsequent math exam were the sole reason I could not study architecture the following year…

My own failed experiment aside, the concept of positive affirmation has become increasingly interesting to me and, it seems, to the world as a whole. It has popped up in various forms from Freudian theory all the way through to best selling books like The Secret. Youtube alone is littered with motivational compilation videos that are essentially these same exercises in positive affirmation, just narrated by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. 

So how does it work and where does it come into play in the classroom?

The simplistic view of positive affirmation (so simplistic it can only ever be found in a blog and probably should not be used to impress your psychologist friends at dinner) is this: your brain is brim fill with all sorts of information. From important stuff like your debit card pin number, to inexplicably random stuff like the address of the pharmacy you visited in Barcelona 20 years ago because you had sunstroke. In order for us to remain sane, most of the information we collect is forgotten or stored away and becomes part of our subconscious. But while we may not recall much of this information consciously, it’s still very much involved in our decision making processes. Our subconscious acts as the subtle influencer, the voice in the back of our head that we are usually too busy to even hear.

Many of our decisions are driven by the influences of our subconscious.

Like Dwight.

In the online learning environment, including messages of positivity and encouragement in the classroom helps shape the learner’s subconscious to become increasingly confident and positive. When struggling to learn a new language for example, it is easy for feelings of doubt and failure to fill the subconscious. However, by actively praising and encouraging students, we greatly affect the ways in which they see themselves and even how well they react in stressful situations.

If you have been teaching with VIPKid online, you’ll find that many positive affirmation laced interactions happen all the time in your classroom, and usually in one of two ways:

VERBAL

  • Congratulatory remarks when a student gets something right
  • Words of encouragement when they are struggling with a problem
  • High fives upon completing a particularly difficult challenge

PHYSICAL

  • Using a reward system
  • Grading the student in a constructive and positive manner
  • Leaving stars for the student after class

While employing positive affirmation techniques in the classroom, it’s also important to guide the student in how they refer to themselves. Are they very self-critical? Do they speak in a way that holds a lot of negative connotation or are they self-destructive?

While your primary role is an educator, being a teacher (online teacher or otherwise) naturally encompasses an ever broader range of mentor-like responsibilities. Your student looks up to you not only as their teacher, but as someone they respect and can take direction from.

As you think about positive affirmation in your classroom, remember this powerful proverb:

Be careful of your thoughts, for your thoughts become your words. 

Be careful of your words, for your words become your actions. 

Be careful of your actions, for your actions become your habits. 

Be careful of your habits, for your habits become your character. 

Be careful of your character, for your character becomes your destiny.

— Chinese proverb, author unknown