July 15, 2014
Teachers Talk - “I Like Your Hair Because It’s Fluffy”
Anthea Lindsey, Teacher, Deer Lake SDA School, Burnaby, BC

“I like your hair because it’s fluffy.”  “I like it when you push me on the swings.” 
These are just two examples of many of the comments I have heard in my kindergarten classroom after figuring out a way to create an atmosphere of appreciation and care amongst my students.  I know that this decision has meant the world to my kiddies, because if we miss this daily ritual, I hear about it all day long!
I believe that when students are in an environment where they feel safe, accepted, loved and cared for, their brains are primed and ready for learning.  A stressed brain is a very inefficient brain.
I want to share the way that I have promoted kindness, built self-esteem and ultimately reduced the amount of angst we all encounter daily as teachers leading groups of children who are learning to get along.
The ritual:
At the beginning of the year, I write all of my students’ names on popsicle sticks and place them in a can up at the front where we have our morning meeting time.   Each day, I randomly choose one name out of the can until the can is empty (and then I replace the sticks and do it again).  This student becomes the “student teacher” for the day.  Once we have established our student teacher for the day, this child sits up front in a special chair and all day long gets to do the “special things” such as passing out papers, putting up the calendar information, choosing favourites for singing time, and of course—getting to be the line leader (a coveted spot in most classrooms it seems).  The following morning, they get to bring a show and tell, and this is the time we honour them. 
As the student teacher is sitting at the front, the rest of the class is given the opportunity to give affirmation or “complements” to this person.   As you might well imagine, at the beginning of the year students tend to focus on externals—“I like your sweater/shoes/etc.,” but with some guidance, over time I have seen my kids learn to express appreciation for the things we all want them to appreciate about each other.  “I like the picture you painted,” “I like that you play tag with me at recess,” and “I like how you read me a story yesterday.” 
Modeling these kinds of complements is critical.  Another tip is to insist that if students want to say “I like your shoes,” they must complete the thought with why they like the shoes (I like your shoes because they sparkle.)  You might wonder “What happens if no one’s hand is raised to offer the complements?”  Although I suppose this is a possibility, I have to say that in four years of adopting this ritual I have never had that happen.  If things are a little slow to get started, you may have to jump in and offer some observations of your own.   I have found that students are honest and real (as only kindergarteners can be).
Results I have observed:
  • When students are regularly hearing that they are appreciated, it makes it much easier to get past hurt feelings on the playground when they can reflect back on comments that were made that honoured them. 
  • Positive thoughts going through heads all day long can only be helpful!
  • I believe that the process of hearing positive things lends itself to regulation—it helps calm and also aids in chasing out negative personal beliefs.
  • I know that I have students who come from homes where school may be the only place they are receiving affirmation—they will remember how school made them feel.
  • God wants us to appreciate and show love to one another and we can’t start teaching this fact early enough.
This is my kindergarten ritual.  Honouring people at any age level is always going to build goodwill and better communication.  I challenge you to incorporate the concept into your classroom this year and see what a difference kind words can make. 
If you would like further and more scientific information on why learning environments are so important, please look up Stuart Shankar and his thoughts on the importance of self-regulation.