Encouragement is Empowerment

Our local schools started several weeks ago. Almost every day on the drive home, I have been hearing stories from Ella about a boy in her class who is struggling with his behavior and schoolwork. Ella will toss her backpack in the car, jump into her car seat and say, “Well, another day and more trouble for Leo.” She will then explain one of the typical struggles. He asked to be excused to go to the bathroom, didn’t come back and was found eating candy out of his lunchbox in the hall. When a teacher asked him to get a pencil from his backpack, he left to get it and came back without anything in his hand. He forgot his math homework three times in a row. He leaned back in his chair, and it fell backward onto the floor. The daily struggle is very real for Leo.

Each week at Ella’s school, teachers give out one special ticket to a student who is doing something exceptional – showing extra effort in class discussions, displaying readiness to learn or writing an especially well-constructed paragraph are some examples. The students vie for these valuable tickets, knowing that one ticket is drawn each month for an extra special prize.

Last Friday, Leo’s day began like usual. He forgot his pencil in English. During math, he had to go to the principal’s office because he kept distracting other students (and the teacher). But then something unexpected happened during science time. When the teacher asked a question about the water cycle, another student in the class gave a summary. Leo then raised his hand and said, “That was a really great way of explaining that. I like how you helped me understand that. Thank you.”

A few minutes before class was over, the teacher pulled a ticket out of her desk and announced that Leo was receiving the ticket for the week. 

The room was quiet. A name that was never expected had just been called. The teacher congratulated Leo on being an encouraging learner. The students looked at each other with wide-eyed disbelief. Then one student began to clap. The rest of the class joined in. One by one, all the students in the class stood and faced Leo, who was beaming with happiness. Leo received high fives from everyone as he walked out. 

Wouldn’t it be nice if we all applauded each other and rooted for each other’s success rather than viewing others as competitors? What might it be like if we were each other’s biggest fans?

Author: Alyssa Forcehimes, PhD

An expert in behavior change, substance use disorders and empathic communication, Dr. Alyssa Forcehimes serves as President of The Change Companies® and Train for Change Inc.® She lives in Arizona with her husband and two daughters.