We’ve reached the middle of April–I didn’t remember this month moving quite so quickly! Maybe it’s because my school doesn’t resume until Tuesday, when I will be participating in IEP meetings and bragging about my students’ progress over the last year. Time also movoes quickly when I get to share my students’ strengths. I don’t know if you know this, but I have some of the hardest working elementary schoolers you’d ever see. That said, there is a character trait that all of my students, and very often myself, aspire to be: confident.
My articulation students want to feel confident when speaking to their teachers, friends and families. My students working with language comprehension want to feel confident when they’re reading word problems in math or asked about the main idea of a story. My students with Autism want to feel confident greeting their peers and having a conversation. I want to feel confident ALL. THE. TIME. My students would never know this about me, because I’m able to act through the day and provide therapy and take data and make it look like my job is easy (SPOILER ALERT: It’s not).
My students all want to be included. My students all want to belong. This is no different than anyone else, because we’re all human and we all crave the human connection. Everyone I know has a support system, and I know you do too. I have found that it is easy to feel included within the four walls of a speech room, your home, or your school. It’s a lot harder to feel confident outside of familiar spaces. It’s easy for my students to feel confident around one another, just like it is for me to feel among my staff, in meetings with families, and with my friends. Why? Because this is familiar. This is safe. I know how to navigate these spaces and people.
What’s unfamiliar to my students? A new teacher. A newborn sibling. Auditioning for the school play or sports team. Making new friends. The key word here is “new.” What’s unfamiliar to me? This website, and what I have planned for it. As a result, both my students and I have the tendency to sell ourselves short. Today, I’m going to share some of my confidence-building strategies that you can use for either your student or yourself.
- Be specific
With my students, I like to tell them what they did differently that helped them in today’s session. Example: “You did such a nice job turning nad looking at your friend before you asked if you could use the toy he was playing with!” Why does this work? My student heard verbal praise, which will likely increase her ability to repeat the action, which leads to generalization, which leads to mastery. Everyone wins, and everyone is validated. Bonus points if you credit the other child for active listening skills.
- Talk less, smile more
Yes, that’s a Hamilton reference. When I or my student become frustrated or upset, I ask them if they’d like to take a minute to collect their thoughts, organize them, and then decide how they want to go about the rest of the session. If you let the kids run the show for bit, they get to own their skills and take responsibility. Let them be the SLP for the session; it’s a great way to see what they’ve picked up from you and for them to grasp that you believe in them enough to let them take control of what is usually yours. They’re proud of what they’re learning, let them show off. When I’m the one upset, I ask for a minute to get myself together, and use the moment as a teachable moment. This gives you both a moment to calm down.
- Progress, not perfection
A friend of mine recently told me to “be human and forgive yourself for glitches and then soar.” This was exactly what I needed to hear and I hope everyone has at least one person in their life who will remind them that we are only human and perfection isn’t achievable. I find it useful to remind my students that their best is always more than enough, and as long as they’re trying, they’re doing their best. They also know that my expectation is for them to do their best, and my older students know that they’ve all come so far from where they began in speech. That reminder of “Do you remember when you had the hardest time with _____? You just told me this was easy!” lights up their faces and brightens their entire day. Do this for you, too! “Remember when your fellowship year was hard and everything was life or death? Now you laugh at the things you used to worry over! Look how far you’ve come!” Works like a charm.
- Meet them where they are
If your student just isn’t performing the way they want to be, or if you notice something may not be quite right, ask them what’s going on. It’s okay to stop your lesson to connect to your student. Maybe something happened over the weekend that is still occupying their brain. Maybe the teacher was about to turn on a movie and you needed to pull her out of class. There is a reason for every behavior and every response. This is usually when I go back to tip number two and let them run the show. If I’m the one having the hard day, I will start my lesson by telling my students so. It usually goes something like this, “I’m not really feeling my best right now, but if you give me your best effort, I will give you mine. We’re a team. Do you think we can work together in speech today?” WOAH. You just made your student your EQUAL. You told them they had an important role and now they’re going to do their best to fill it. You also get to show them that you’re human, too, and even grownups have hard days! Who knew?!
I hope you found these strategies useful, and are able to put them into practice. I’m always open to feedback, so feel free to leave comments and connect with me and each other.
Keep playing with words and see what your message creates!
–Stef the StageSLP