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Show students how much they matter

By Angela Maiers
January 1, 2015
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Innovate, revolutionize, evolve. The worlds of education and technology have become forever entwined with these words of transformation. While no one can deny that advances in technology have changed classrooms for the better, computers and apps aren’t a silver bullet to improve learning.

We can spend millions of dollars on educational technology, but if students don’t have a reason to want to use it, all those tools are nearly useless. Students today are technologically savvy and see the world in a whole new way. Yet it is too often the case that students, and teachers, are using technology simply to do old things in new ways.

So how do we keep students actively engaged in new technology? How do we push our students to strive to reach new heights? The solution is both simple and complex: Introduce them to their own genius and show them how much they matter.

Two simple words — “You matter” — can make all the difference in the world. Unfortunately, most of us go through life without hearing this enough. Somehow, we begin to believe we don’t matter, we’re not enough. As educators, we can impact students’ lives by reminding them of how much they matter, and help them find their genius.

When I visit schools, I often encounter teachers who feel overburdened and pressed for time. They feel pressure to stick to curricula and lesson plans, and to make sure that their students are hitting the right educational milestones. While they want to make an impact, they feel that it’s not their job or their place to become “friends” with their students.

As the late Rita Pierson said, “Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like.”

I’m not suggesting that you have to start spending time with your students on the weekends. What I am suggesting, though, is that you start really tuning in when you enter the classroom. Ask your students what matters to them, and in turn, help them see how much they truly matter.

I know — this is easier said than done. But in my experience (and those of countless teachers who have shared their stories with me), a few simple steps can go a long way. Getting students to see that they matter is much like getting them to understand and utilize technology: It may seem like a difficult road, but once you get started, it comes easily and naturally.

The first three steps to mattering

See. Everyone wants to know that they are seen. We acknowledge others by using the word “you” when speaking to each other. I hear you. I understand you. It was great to spend time with you. This small tweak in our language can make a great shift in how our words are accepted and perceived. It can turn small sentences into impactful statements.

Listen. Do you ever find your mind wandering during a conversation? We’ve all been there, but I challenge you to focus on active and mindful listening. Listening means more than quietly nodding your head while waiting your turn to speak again. It means opening your ears and heart and making the other person the sole focus of your attention.

Ask. When our questions and conversations with each other trend toward the superficial (weather, current events, etc.), we will never engage on a deeper level. Asking meaningful questions, and in turn expecting meaningful answers, shows people how much they matter. You can show sincere interest in your students by asking: What was the best moment of your day? What are your ambitions for this year? How can I help you achieve your goals?

Mattering is a choice. You can make the choice every day to offer, thank, encourage, inspire and let others know you notice and believe in them. It could be, and often will be, the most powerful thing you do all day. A small effort on your part can have an unforgettable impact on your students.

Angela Maiers is an award-winning educator, author and speaker known for her work in education leadership, innovation and compassion-driven learning. She is the founder of the Choose2Matter movement, a global movement created to help educators transform classrooms to meet today’s technological demand, and keep students engaged in building their futures. She is also the author of several books including “Classroom Habitudes” and “The Passion-Driven Classroom.”