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The importance of importance

The deepest desire in human nature is the desire to feel important. That’s why we praise and reward work. Of course it’s not always the size of reward that matters it’s how you give it. I can give you a star and make you feel like a king. I can give you 20 quid and make you feel utterly worthless. So we should focus on how we give rewards and praise.

Read the article below written by Pivotal Education Trainer, Chris Sweeney. He talks about someone he worked with who had mastered the art of making people feel important and the knock on effect that had on everyone else. So while you read the article think about how you make your students feel important.

Giving Importance

Before I became a teacher I worked in a pub for a year. It was a “classic” country pub in an old building with a head barman who’d been there longer than the foundations. Peter was to me the perfect barman, he had a knack of working with people and putting them at their ease.

Whether it was the regulars who came in every day or once a week. Or whether it was a new customer who had just found the pub, Peter would make them feel that he was privileged that they had come into the pub.

With the regulars he would know those who liked to have a particular drink in a particular glass and that would be poured and on the bar ready for them before they asked; he’d know those who had something different each time and so would wait to check what they wanted; he’d know those who always had the same drink but were worried about being predictable or boring. He would patiently wait whilst they went through the charade of deciding what they were going to have before choosing the same drink they had every day. He would keep up to speed with their lives, their interests asking after weekends, spouses and families. But he would also know the difference between those who wanted to discuss their lives in great detail and those who wanted to keep “distance”.

When new people walked into the bar he would adjust his greeting according to what he felt would suit them best. He would get the balance right between welcoming them in without being overpowering.

He could see when trouble was brewing and would intervene early with a subtle comment, diversion or a joke to defuse the situation.

In short Peter had the skill of making every person who came into that pub feel important.

Giving importance is an essential skill in the classroom as well. Ask yourself the question how do you make your students feel important? I’m not talking here about the whole class, I’m talking about individuals. Take the time to make each student feel that you’re glad they came, you’re pleased they’re here, they’re important.

This doesn’t take a lot of time or effort but it has a huge impact. Greeting students as they come in at the start of the session - with a smile; a brief comment / question about something you know they’re interested in; marking moments with genuine, meaningful praise. Giving importance is different for everyone - we all value different approaches and have different interests.

Sadly Peter died a few years ago. I remember going to his funeral - it was standing room only. There were family and friends there but there were also large numbers of people who had known Peter as the barman of their local. They came because they wanted to pay their respects to Peter but also because he had an impact on their lives - he had made a difference.

In schools and colleges we are immensely privileged to be in the position where we can have a huge impact on the lives of children and young people - every day.

Ask yourself the question at the end of each day: Have I made my students feel important today?

This article by Chris Sweeney was first published on the Pivotal Education blog in 2010.

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This article is from the free online course:

Managing Behaviour for Learning

National STEM Learning Centre