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8 Ways to Keep Communication Positive and Why It Matters

In my experience, the greatest positive outcomes arise organically. Last year, after witnessing some difficult behavior in one of my classes, I decided we should play a new game for modeling positive behavior. I called it, “The Thank You Game.” Here’s how it worked: you have to thank anyone or anything that is bothering you for a real reason, even an enemy, but something truly bothersome. I went first to model how to play. I thanked the mosquito that bit me. Why, the kids asked. Well, it got me to the store to buy bug spray, where I ran into one of my friends, who invited me to a cookout.

Some of the kids still didn’t get it. I went again. I had a job interview a few months before in Austin, Texas that didn’t work out. Thank you, I illustrated, Mr. Principal, because now I was super happy living in Fort Collins, Colorado. That wouldn’t have happened otherwise, I explained. Ah, they saw what I was getting onto. They all went ahead and shared their experiences. The game became so popular that they didn’t want to stop playing the “Thank You Game” even after playing it day after day after day.  

I believe in the power of positive thinking, but I’m not saying it’s easy. Overcoming obstacles can be tiring, especially for kids. For many people, it’s actually a lot easier to think negatively. There are lots of educational trainings and seminars on infusing a positive classroom environment, and these are certainly all good ideas, too. More than ever, it’s critical that teachers not only preach the power of positive thinking. You’ve got teach what you preach, too. The most engaging classrooms encourage positive thinking by infusing it into their lessons. To combat negativity, teachers have to BE positive thinkers, too

As we think about how to best communicate among a community of learners, there is really strong evidence showing teaching positive thinking is the single-greatest influence on producing a generation of positive-minded individuals. Teaching children how to think of a difficult situation before it unfolds is the key to change our experiences and our perceptions of them. But, positive thinking is not just talking about peace, love and understanding. It can require communicating some difficult concepts, but positively. One of the more undervalued ways of producing positive thinking is by advertising successes. As all educators know, when students feel successful, the sky is the limit. Here are a few ways that have worked for students I’ve taught.

 1. Schedule some time with your students to get to know them on a one-to-one basis. They’ll surely be on their best behavior, showing you what they are good at.
2. Go to their school sporting events, art performances, or club competitions. The next day, be sure you congratulate them on their effort, win, lose or draw.
3. Have a joint parent/student conference focused on what’s going well. Parents often have the notion that a conference means it’s time to talk about what’s not working. Have the student share what’s working, and reinforce everything he or she said over the coming weeks.
4. As writing warm-ups, have students compile gratitude journals. During conferences, focus on character development, both figuratively, and personally. 
5. Send a quick photo, email, or text (per school rules, of course) to a parent when a student does something particularly well. You’ll be amazed at how quick parents respond to this positive reinforcement. 
6. Compliment a student’s work in front of teachers, administrators, or staff. They’ll immediately light up. 
7. Maybe most importantly, guide the student, rather than saying no. “No” is too easy, requires little effort, and offers little reward for kids. Yes might require more work, but it will ultimately teach self-motivation
8. And, finally, remember that grandparents (yes, grandparents) want to know about successes more than anyone. Be absolutely sure to include them in all of the above as often as possible. The effect is more than profound!
Remember, knowing they are being thought positively about is often all kids need to change their self-perception. With that, they’ll contribute positive ideas, too. 
About The Author

Chris Coomey is a teacher, writer, and community engagement specialist. When not working with students or writing about education, you can find him on his bike, on the basketball court, or out on a long hike on the incredible Colorado trails.