Some lessons on positive teaching

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 10, 2014

A positive attitude is infectious.
Teacher of the Year Cassie Thompson reminded us of that last Thursday as she spoke at the New Teachers Breakfast sponsored by the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce.
Thompson, a first-grade teacher at Woodleaf Elementary School, advised the new crew to keep a positive attitude. Starting the school year with a positive attitude is easy, she said. Maintaining that outlook is the tough part.
Though her message was aimed at the teachers in the room, just about anyone could come away from this talk with some useful advice.
So here goes:

1. Be positive with students. Greet every child by name. “We control the climate when they walk in the classroom,” she said. “Let them know they’re important to you.”
She recommended getting to know students; “find out what makes them tick.” Praise them for good acts both big and small. Students will repeat behavior when someone takes the time to notice.

2. Be positive with each other. Find reasons to laugh. School should be a happy place, Thompson said. Compliment fellow teachers. Teachers are a family, both within their schools and across the district. “Remind each other each day why we became teachers.” Pick each other up. Speak up. Be heard being positive.

3. Be positive with parents and community members. Parents often expect a call from the teacher to bring bad news. Comment to parents about the positive, and they’ll be more willing to talk when there is a problem. Parents love to hear stories about their children doing things well, and they like to be kept in the loop. Thompson recommended teachers communicate with parents via Twitter and a program called Remind, which helps them send text messages to students and parents.
As for communicating with people in the community, Thompson urged the teachers to brag on their students and their schools. People read and hear about the negative. If teachers don’t tell them about the positive things going on at school, she said, who will?
People are often surprised to learn what material is covered in first grade now, she said, and think students still take naps. There’s no time for naps, she said.
Get community members into your classroom to see what school is like today — and get your students out into the community as well, she said.
“Be proud of what you do.”

Positive thinking gets a bad rap sometimes. Fake happy talk can be more irritating than inspiring.
But Cassie Thompson never suggested teachers overlook mistakes or hide problems. It’s their job to deal with and improve those things — and to speak up when action is needed.
Talking about only the positive would be like reporting only good news. Is it the teacher’s job to make everyone feel good, or to bring about positive change? How do you know which problems to address if everyone pretends there aren’t any?
Instead, what I took away from Thompson’s talk was a reminder not to let negatives and challenges bog you down and permeate your thoughts and words; sometimes you have to make a deliberate effort to remember the good things that are going on to encourage yourself and others.
Note to self: Work on that.

Here’s one way teachers can make the public more aware of good things going on at school: Send us your news. The Post publishes a section devoted to education news each week (currently published on Thursdays), and we like to fill it up with shout-outs and features about local schools and colleges.
Send all-A honor rolls, good citizen lists and other items to And if you have story ideas, contact education reporter Jeanie Groh at or 704-797-4222.
I’ve been told that getting through the last few weeks of school is like being on a long car trip that you’re ready to end. Everyone just wants to get out of the car.
Then the beginning of the school year must feel like starting out on an exciting adventure. You’ve mapped out the trip and are ready to go
Safe travels, teachers. The community is proud of what you do. The trip may be long, but we know you’ll accomplish great things.
Elizabeth Cook is editor of the Salisbury Post.