You Have to Show Kids That They Matter

I recently spoke with Nicholas Provenzano and Timothy Gwynn on #Nerdycast and Hooked! on BAM Radio Network. CLICK HERE TO LISTEN.


Nicholas and Timothy are passionate teachers so I loved speaking with them about the importance of  letting students know their contribution is valued.

“If we do not secure their hearts, we do not have a shot at their brains.”

Nicholas and Tim asked me to introduce the work I do with You Matter. I explained it is, like teaching, a labor of love.

“The root word of passion …  is to suffer. To be willing to suffer through any challenge because the work that you’re doing and the pledge that people are making to you and you’re making back to them is so sacred there is nothing that breaks it. It’s that binding and that’s what we need to cultivate in our classrooms.”

Students need to know they matter; the need to know that one matters is in our DNA–it’s that important.

Last year we asked a half  million kids, “What would you pledge yourself to?” and “What would make you run to school?” It boiled down to twelve things, such as “I want to be noticed, I want you to smile at me, I want you to say my name.” The need to hear one’s own name is why two hundred million people are sending Tweets everyday, because someone’s noticing them.

“My job is to teach, not to be their friend.”

Nicholas said that he’ll often hear teachers in the faculty room say that they are not their students’ friend. I responded:

“Anybody who teaches pledges to change lives … give me a year of your life and I promise you that you will walk out of here better, stronger, smarter, more confident, more beautiful. So anybody who does that kind of work would never ever pledge that they want to be your friend because there’s no way that you can grow without the appropriate conditions and feedback. Cultivating genius is a really difficult endeavor.”

For fellow teachers, I’d love to hear from you and start a conversation about the following questions:

  • What kind of pledge do we make to our students when we begin the school year or even every class?
  • Do you think that you can be your students’ friend and teacher?
  • How do you make your students feel that they matter?
  • How do you make your students feel noticed everyday? In every class?
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  • Jacqueline Stone

    My daughter’s high school is facing a serious problem now precisely because the staff have not shown the kids that they care. The students did not report serious incidents until they escalated to the point that one teen terrified 3 others so much they were crying at school and afraid to return. He gave teachers encoded notes that referenced the book of Jihad and the teachers gave the notes to his targets without hesitation. One teacher even joked about a note being from a student’s stalker, then gave her the note. The same teen has pulled a knife on another student and last week joked about blowing up the school. The leadership is trying to convince concerned parents like myself that the kids are exaggerating but is not talking to the kids who could enlighten them. The teen was given in school suspension. That is all. No support whatsoever is being offered to those he targeted.

  • Marci Laevens

    I always tell my students that while we might not be “friends” that hang out and call each other on the weekends, we CAN be friendly.

    A great way to show kids that they matter is to apologize when I make a mistake. It helps them to feel valued and models the behavior that I am asking for in them. A friend of mine told me once that his mentor teacher told him ” never apologize, you lose power when you do that”. I couldn’t disagree more.

  • Peggy Drolet

    I am an on-line math teacher and I always thank them for asking a question. I always say “I am glad you asked that question because it is a common mistake. You are helping yourself and your classmates. Thank you! ”

  • Amanda Christopher

    I believe your outlook on helping kids to feel valued and acknowledged should be highly valued. We all do have a natural desire for recognition and understanding. I believe kids try harder and are encouraged when they are valued. I wish more teachers felt this way. Thanks for sharing.

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