Compliments #SOL23 11/31

Years ago, my colleague, Aaron Bachmann, walked into our office one day and told us that he had learned that people don’t get enough compliments and that, when they did, something like 90% of them focused on appearance. He was determined to change that. 

Aaron set about giving us all compliments – real ones. It was hilarious and cheesy, but it also felt good. And he kept it up. He gave compliments all the time, to the point where even now, years later, whenever I think of him I smile. Sure, I remember him fondly (we haven’t worked together in almost two decades, more’s the pity), but it’s more than that: when I think about Aaron, I feel better about myself.

There’s tons of research about the power of  compliments (here, for example) and, naturally, about how to do it “right” (here), but you already know the truth: voicing your sincere appreciation of someone else does all sorts of wonderful things.

Now, I have *no* research on this next part, but I think most teachers don’t get a lot of compliments – or at least not the kind we can fully believe. I mean, I love when a student gives me a compliment, but most of the time a part of me is also a tiny bit wary because students have a clear interest (grades) in telling me that they like what we’re doing. (This is why students who stay in touch and say nice things later on are really meaningful to me, even though I’m pretty terrible at writing back in a timely manner.) But the truth of our job is that  we spend most of our days alone in a room with students. We spend our days trying to meet the needs of many humans, and we are often all too aware of the ways in which we don’t live up to our high standards. Parents are rightly concerned about their child’s development and happiness, so they don’t often give compliments either: when things are going well, they leave us alone; when things aren’t going well, we hear about it. As for administrators, well, that is highly dependent on the administrator, but my experience is that most high school principals are not big on compliments.

This week, our Literacy Coach, Xan Woods, came to our school. When she wasn’t assessing students or compiling data or supporting other people, she had time to watch me teach. This is one of her go-to supports: whenever she can, she observes, then provides feedback. Xan knows that these past few weeks have been extraordinarily difficult for me, and she knows how I’ve struggled with my own concerns about my competency in the Reading class I’m teaching. I was excited to have her sit in because I knew she would have good feedback and new strategies to help me improve.

But here’s what actually happened: at the end of the day, she complimented me. She noticed that the students in the class are starting to respond to the instruction. She told me about the various ways she saw them support one another. She pointed out that they were willing to write on the board (a huge step forward), and that every student read aloud – not just in choral and echo reading, but at least one sentence on their own (a miracle) – for the first time. She was genuinely excited for me and said, “You’re amazing! You’re really doing it!” then talked about strategies that were working. Later, she posted a short video clip of me, teaching, on Twitter and outlined things that were going well. I almost blushed. She does this for many of the teachers she observes, so that we can learn from each other as we teach in our separate classrooms. It’s incredible.

I can’t even begin to express how much this meant. She didn’t say I was perfect. She didn’t say that there were no improvements we could make. She simply noticed where I was doing a good job, and for a while, the difficulties that have been dogging me felt less heavy. When I taught the next day, I was a bit more relaxed, a bit more confident in my choices. Xan made a difference.

This writing challenge, too, lifts me up. Yesterday, a high school friend, Katie, told me she loves the time of year when I publish every day. I glowed. Maybe Stacey and Melanie and the others at Two Writing Teachers knew this would happen. Maybe they knew teachers needed this space. Every March so many teachers use their precious time to write something and publish it every day. We make ourselves vulnerable in ways I don’t think we always share: Who will read (and maybe judge) our public writing? What if, as a teacher, I publish something that is not very well-written?(Um, I do this every March. 31 days in a row is a lot of published writing; some of it is necessarily not great.) Whose story can I share? What may I reveal about myself? Others? The school? It’s a lot. Yet every day, people reply to our posts and say wonderful things. We write to each other, sharing connections, observations, thoughts and, always, compliments. For one month, we lift each other high and say what Xan said to me: “You’re amazing! You’re really doing it!”

Aaron knew it all those years ago: compliments change everything. So, to Aaron and Xan, to the people behind Two Writing Teachers, and to everyone who is writing and everyone who is commenting, thank you. Your words change the world for the better.

17 thoughts on “Compliments #SOL23 11/31

  1. I love, love, love this post. As a teacher, a lit coach, human, your words are echoing around in my head. Thank you for this. I truly want to do better as a result of this post.


  2. I appreciate that you keep this blog and dare to share your life and writing. I also love your photos on Instagram. I agree with you on not enough compliments. And since there are not so many we sometimes don’t know how to accept them. I have practiced how to respond with thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Amanda, This is a beautiful and important post. There is so much truth in what you say and I love that you shared the whole story of how your Literacy Coach supported you. I’m actually going to share this with my daughter who is the Director of ELA in suburban school district. Your last two paragraphs are my favorite. This challenge is such a gift. Each day it prompts me to write, to be vulnerable, and put myself out there. That’s not easy for anyone, but in this community, it is worth the effort. Like you, the compliments and comments lift me up and help me to believe in myself as a writer. Thank you so much. This is a keeper!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. We had an amazing staff developer years ago and she said that one of the goals of a small group was to say to students, “I see you”…because at the end of the day, we all want to be seen. I carry that with me and it’s one of my favorite parts of being a literacy coach…seeing people and letting them know I see them. I agree that teachers need so much more of this. I love this post and how you shared your own experiences. I also agree that this community allows for that being seen piece.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow…this is quite a story of support and growing in community whether it be in the classroom, in schools, or in writing communities. And now I have to go to Twitter (a place I’ve been avoiding A LOT lately) and search for that video! Yay! Well done, Amanda!

    And this: “We make ourselves vulnerable in ways I don’t think we always share: Who will read (and maybe judge) our public writing?” Getting feedback here has changed the ways that I give students feedback permanently.


  6. Well that hit me in the gut. Especially when students give a compliment you are wary. So true. It drives my husband bonkers when I do this (“Well, it was nice of them, but…I think they just saw I was having a bad day…”).
    I do my best to show appreciation for my students, both as a collective and individually, and publicly and privately, as often as possible. It is exhausting, but it means a lot to me that I do that. Could I do it better? Of course. Could I do it more? Yes.
    I did see the video of you on Twitter and gushed. I was like, “I internet know her!” and just your on-camera presence it’s clear you are an amazing educator.
    This always makes me wonder how this can tie into feedback — where do we affirm and appreciate, and then nudge forward? Or are those two totally different things, and can’t be intertwined? (just thinking out loud…clearly too much for a Saturday night).


  7. Ananda,
    You are doing it—the blogging, the teaching reading, the commenting and complementing, and l the other stuff a teacher must do, a mother and wife must do. Bravo! It’s not easy, and the comments make it sustainable. I think we (me) get something g here we don’t get elsewhere very often: validation. My family does backflips when my brother writes something (a play at Christmas) and yawn when I tell them about my published poetry. Forget reading my blog. Anyway, Aaron is a letter in the friend column.


  8. Another thoughtful entry. I echo your other friend. I really enjoy hearing from you regularly, as I enjoy your lovely nature photography. Perhaps you could combine them?


  9. This is a powerful post. I had not really thought about compliments being based on appearance, but that is really true when I think about it. You have given me something to think about. I think you are amazing and your photos are exquisite. And I really think you need to publish these somehow, somewhere.


  10. Cool connecting of complementary dots, from past and present professional doings to the travails and benefits of this writing community in March.


  11. I love that you got complimented. It feels great to hear words of affirmation!
    Compliments are essential in conferring with young writers, but they’re often overlooked. I love the research you provided here… I think I need to read it and weave it into an article to remind everyone how powerful the compliment part of a writing conference.


  12. It is powerful to been seen and validated. I am glad that you got positive feedback for your lesson. We can be our own harshest critics.


  13. Such a thought-provoking and powerful post, and it got me thinking about how rare it is to be affirmed and appreciated in our work and how encouraging it is to receive that affirmation and appreciation.


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