A Few Words, A Huge Impact

As the Instructional Coach/Reading Specialist at a large urban high school, I’m in classrooms all day offering suggestions, proposing resources and learning from my colleagues.

The other day I was in a Science classroom, observing and supporting a new teacher.  I wanted to learn ways to offer assistance, so I listened as she explained her expectations and instructions for the upcoming lab.

She stressed the importance of safety; specifically, safety goggles.  She explained that she could not distribute the proper chemicals if the students were not wearing safety goggles.  She admitted the goggles were not “pretty” or “cool” or “trendy.”  But, in the interest of safety, they had to be worn.

As students lined up to get the necessary chemicals for the experiment, one student held out her Dixie cup without her goggles on.  The teacher said gently, “I cannot give you the chemicals necessary for the experiment without your goggles on.  I love you and I want you to be safe.”  The student put her goggles on, smiled sheepishly and received her chemicals. As she turned to walk back to her seat, she was beaming.

I watched this interaction take place.  Probably nothing more than a six second reminder, but even as the student sat down, with her goggles on, she was still smiling.  It wasn’t an ordinary smile, either.  It was something more, something deeper.  The student wasn’t embarrassed that her teacher told her she loved her; just the contrary.  The student shined because the teacher told her she loved her.

When class was over, I mentioned to the teacher the student’s reaction to her comment.  The teacher replied:

“Well, I just want all my kids to be safe.  Chemicals are dangerous and I don’t want anyone getting hurt.”

“Yes, of course.  But when you told her that you loved her, she broke into a huge grin.  You made her day.”

“Did I?  That’s great to hear.  I do love them.  I want them to love Chemistry and I want them to love learning.”

The bell rang and I had to move on to my next observation.  As I thanked her, I asked her if I could visit her room again and collaborate with her on upcoming lessons.

“Yes!” she replied, enthusiastically.  “I would love that!”

I guess what struck me about this brief exchange between teacher and student was the organic-ness of it all.  There was no initiative, no district mandate, no professional development.  It just happened – and that’s what made it so real.