Encouraging the Heart for Teachers

Posted by Mercy Alarid, With 18 Comments, Category: Leadership, Tags: , , , ,

I recently heard a story about a soldier who had just returned from a tour in Iraak. He was asked by his local church to share about his experiences in the battlefield. He gave his talk and when he was done, he directed everyone’s attention to the pew where he had been sitting in. He had left his bullet-proof vest laying on the pew for anyone who was curious about what he wore to protect himself.

After the service, people lined up to see this bullet-proof vest and see if there were any signs of combat on it. Somebody had left a magic marker laying near the vest and when the soldier returned from greeting people as they left the church he found his bullet-proof vest covered in magic marker. Upon closer inspection, he realized that people had written prayers and notes of gratitude on his vest until the vest was completely covered in blue ink. He said that those notes gave him the strength to go back into combat knowing that he was loved and that there were people that appreciated his sacrifice and were praying for his protection.

You might not think this story has anything to do with your job or the children you teach. But in fact, it has everything to do with you and the kids you love.  

You see, children face an onslaught of bullets on a daily basis :

     13.5 million children live in poverty in the United States.

     9.3 million children lack health care. 21% of Hispanic children have no insurance in the US.

     20% of children ages 3-17 have one or more developmental, learning, or behavioral exceptionalities.

     Each year, an estimated 3 million children are reported as suspected victims of child abuse and neglect and  referred  for investigation.

     New Mexico is 47th out of 50 states (50 being the worst) in areas of child homelessness according to the National Center of Family Homelessness. In fact, there are approximately 937 homeless children ages 0-6 who live in Albuquerque. 4,600 students enrolled in the Albuquerque Public Schools District during the 2008-2009 school year were homeless, according to the APS Title 1 Program

Most kids come into our classrooms with backpacks loaded with books and supplies but what we seldom notice is the invisible load they carry on their shoulders on a daily basis. Crises at home, an absent parent, sickness, poverty, homelessness and peer pressure are just a few of the burdens our students carry through the front doors of your school. This not only affects their relationships, but it also impacts their academic achievement.

Sure they have a thick bullet-proof vest to protect themselves against the bullets – they pretend like they are not faced by their parents’ divorce, they act up in class to garner attention, some focus on school work and are the stars in your classroom, but they are still deeply hurting. Some of them experiment with drugs as early as 4 and 5 years of age, turn to violence or simply clock out of life. They fight with everything they’ve got but sometimes the battle gets too intense without encouragement and validation.

If you would, I am asking for you to pick up the magic marker of encouragement and fill that symbolic bullet-proof vest with plenty of encouragement so that the children you teach can withstand their otherwise bleak circumstances and blossom under your leadership.

Courage. Encouragement. Two different words. One origin. The latin root of both words is COR, which is translated HEART into our English language.

Courage means to HAVE heart.

Encouragement actually means to GIVE HEART.

When we encourage others, we literally give them heart – we give them the courage they need to excel. And that is one of the reasons, and yet not the main reason, why you should care about the subject of encouragement in the workplace.

Be honest:


If most of us TODAY say that encouragement helps us perform at a higher level, what makes us think that encouragement would not be effective when it comes to children!?

A word of encouragement can be fuel for success to those who so often run on empty. Yes, you have to correct mistakes that you see; but make more positive deposits in the emotional bank than negative withdrawals.

 Contrary to popular opinion, teaching is more than assigning homework, evaluating results, and making appropriate changes. Teaching requires a connection between the teacher and his/her students at the heart level. We must always remember that we do not lead classrooms, we lead children WITH THOUGHTS, OPINIONS AND FEELINGS. And if we are to lead people, we must also care for them.

As teachers, we have been taught to abide by goals and standards as we progress throughout the year. The sad fact I see is that the small steps that kids take to accomplish those goals and standards are not celebrated enough and are disregarded as ‘part of what they need to do to pass the grade.’ When we fail to celebrate those small victories we are sending out a very clear message to our children, ‘Your time and sacrifice do not matter. All we care about are the results.’

We must realize the importance of linking rewards and encouragement to the fulfillment of goals and standards. Encouragement is what keeps kids committed to the goals we set for them!

Stephen Covey paints a clear picture of our responsibility as leaders: ‘Leadership is communicating people’s worth and potential so clearly that they are inspired to see it in themselves.’ (2008)

In their book, Encouraging the Heart, Kouzes and Possner list SEVEN ESSENTIALS OF ENCOURAGING:

  1. Set clear standards
  2. Expect the best
  3. Pay attention
  4. Personalize Recognition
  5. Tell the Story
  6. Celebrate Together
  7. Set the Example

On my next blog, I will to focus on four of those essentials:

  1. Set clear standards
  2. Pay attention
  3. Personalize recognition
  4. Celebrate Together (Invest in parties. Get-togethers.)

Come back for more encouragement!!

Author Profile

Mercy Alarid
Mercy Alarid is the Creative Arts Pastor of Passion Church. Mercy has a Master's degree in Education. Mercy is a member of the faculty of Central New Mexico Community College, where she is an instructor in the Education department. Mercy has been married to Brian for 17 years and they reside in Albuquerque, New Mexico with their 3 children: Chloe, Colin, and Lauren.
  1. Date: September 23, 2010
    Author: Scooter Gatsch

    Those statistics are absolutely disturbing. I hadn't realized what a high number of students are currently considered homeless in Albuquerque. I have always, however, had the same feeling that in order to be an effective teacher, you must care about those you are teaching and the subject that you are teaching.

  2. Date: September 23, 2010
    Author: Lindsay McGhee

    Children are fresh souls that are learning how to treat people for the rest of their lives. Too many times in todays society, people are rushing around and no longer pay attention to the little details that children put effort into. They need praise, encouragement, and more than anything they need that one adult to look up to and feel like they can trust with anything. We are in charge of how children see this world and regardless of the circumstances they may deal with at home, we need to let them be free of those things and feel special when they're in our care, and our school systems.

  3. Date: September 23, 2010
    Author: Shawnna Toennies

    This is a powerful blog! I believe that we need to remind ourselves of this more often then we think we do. I know I perform better when I am recognized for my hard work. I need to remember this in children at all times. I now have started a timer in class that goes off every 10 minutes to remind all teachers in the class to find a child and praise him or her for something they are doing at that time. Kids feel so much around them that we tend to disregard. We so need to remember that children have bad days too!

  4. Date: September 23, 2010
    Author: Kathleen Flynn Boucher

    I see discouragement in the classroom on a daily basis. There is a time-out chair for the child who has done something wrong - perhaps not listen to the teacher as she is talking or reading. There is also negativity to her assistant if something is not done to her perfection or perceived quality of excellence. My son just returned from Iraq and I wish he could see the encouragement these people left for this particular soldier. He faces criticism from a superior because he did not involve himself in a fight. I am so proud of him for serving and protecting me and this country. Our little ones deserve the same encouragement - not a threat of a time out because they are too excited to share their thoughts at this young age. I saw myself falling into this trap of hers but quietly speak to the child and have them sit with me for a few minutes to reflect on an action that may not have been appropriate for that time. They are so excited to see me everytime I walk into the room and they are told to be quiet as they see me all the time. Our young ones become my son who is proud to serve but subjected to the control of 'superiors' and words of discouragement. Yes, we all have to learn right from wrong but there are better ways to do than to be put in a time-out chair.

  5. Date: September 23, 2010
    Author: Ashley Martinez

    I have served in my church's children's ministry for the past four years as an assistant teacher and now teacher. Something you tend to learn in the class are the things that go on behind closed doors. From the littlest things kids say, they express things that don't seem like a big deal but show hidden hurts, loves and experiences they have gone through. So from firsthand experience I can say that yes children need encouragement, they need to know that even if they're parents don't- you will. It means the world to them that you care and are willing to come along side them and help them press-on in every circumstance. Most- if not all kids thrive on encouragement.

  6. Date: September 23, 2010
    Author: Michelle Garcia

    I believe that this is true and that everyone needs encouragement even if it is form one person. I currently have guardianship of three boys all have different fathers and their mother is in the women's prison for the next 3 years. I feel sad for them 2 ot of the 3 have never met their father and the other one has not seen his father for the past 5 years. I sometimes feel how can I get through it and with words of encouragement from friends and family helps me get through it all. Going from 2 children to now having 5 is sometimes overwhelming but as you go through the day and look back when they are all tucked in bed and resting their little heads you stop and say it's okay and you then just gave yourself courage and praise for the next day. I think that this story is a great way to let people know that everyone has grief and problems, and everyone needs some type on encouragement.

  7. Date: September 23, 2010
    Author: Liz

    I really enjoyed your blog and it brought so much to my mind. I have two children and it seems as if they do carry a lot of bullets inside of them and I think half the time they like you to believe that everything is fine. When actually, they are really hurting inside. I truly loved the story about the soldier and everyone leaving comments of praise and prayers on his vest. I also agree that words of encouragement and praise are the best things we can do for anyone. I think I am so focused on my son doing better in school that I don't encourage him the way that I should encourage him. It made me feel sad to know that he probably does have a lot of bullets to dodge everyday and he probably does have a lot of pain inside of him because of his father and I getting divorced. Maybe that is why he is secretly hurting and frustrated. I am going to work on my prayers and words of encouragement to see what a postive influence that will be. Of course prayers are the best thing for everyone. Thank you for making me think about this very important subject. I will do my best to be a much more encouraging mother, instead of all focusing on what my son is not doing. I think all of us love to be praised and when we do get a pat on the back or positive encouragement, it makes us want to work harder and it makes us feel much more confident. Everyone can learn a lesson from this story.

  8. Date: September 23, 2010
    Author: elizabet baggett

    I agree whole heartedly about the fact that children come to school, and many are in a constant state of stress. In the cass I work in there is a child that we view as being in the high risk category. He constantly refers to his Mother and Father as his 'parents', not Mum or Dad. When he is brought to class, he needs to be reassured that he will be picked up at the end of the day. He often mentions that he did not have breakfast, and he eats snack quickly, and if he has snack left over , he wants to take it home. This child is one of many that suffers every day.

  9. Date: September 23, 2010
    Author: BAD

    The key word here is the 'heart' in this fast paced world of ours we sometimes get so wrapped up that we forget about the little things in life and that is taking the time to share with family, friends and co workers. We take for granted our freedom and about the men and women who fight everyday for our country. Maybe because they are out of sight but when confronted with them in a store or in this case it reminds us about what they are fighting for. There are so many people who are in dire straits that when we can give a little it means so much more to them. I think this soldier is the messenger to those who forget about what his job actually is and we must remember that our freedom is part of what he is fighting for everyday. We should appreciate what this country stands for and we should also remember the people in our own country who need our help. I see some everyday with the littlest children in my classroom. If I can make their time with me enjoyable then I have made a difference in a childs life, and that makes me want to come back and do it again tomorrow.

  10. Date: September 23, 2010
    Author: km

    Giving encouragement to a child is so rewarding. Especially to a child who struggles with learning disabilities. If a teacher has the attitude like your quote said 'Your time and sacrifice do not matter. All we care about are the results.’ Then you will not see success in a child. You see so much more success with encouragement and praise, plus you're rewarded with a great big smile or two. Your heart does have to be involved when you're teaching a child. You are responsable for those children in your classroom, almost like a mother is responsable for her own children at home.

  11. Date: September 23, 2010
    Author: Elena Ballantine

    This is EXACTLY waht needs to be done by teachers. All through school, the majority of my teachers really didn't care whether or not I learned the material, in return, I didn't care to do the work or even be in the class. But the handful of teachers I had that were truly concerned about me getting a real education are the teachers I appreciated most. Their encouragement created this chain of events where I wanted to come to their class, participate, do the work, and learn more. I had Laura Vogel for Science my freshman year, the Rio Rancho High School teacher that went missing in Hawaii last year and was never found, she was incredible. She made that class fun and actually taught us. She had the most interesting ways of teaching us and was, herself, excited about the class. Turns out, that really makes a difference. By having teachers that understand and are aware of what the student is going through is so helpful. Positive reinforcement is the best way to help a child succeed. All teachers should see the students just as Mercy stated, "...children WITH THOUGHTS, OPINIONS AND FEELINGS."

  12. Date: September 23, 2010
    Author: Diana Villanueva

    It is very important to understand the situation that these kids face every day. I believe that encouraging and celebrating their achivements can help them to be more confident, in addition, they will feel more confortable in achieving everything with good attitude.

  13. Date: September 27, 2010
    Author: Samantha Abeyta

    The statistics, sadly, are not surprising. I wish I could say that they were, but there is a lack of enthusiasm among education. I do not believe it is entirely the educators fault. The goals and suggestions laid out in this article must be applied at home. Far too often teachers full of zest and passion for teaching get worn down by the "tough kids" and the "good kids" suffer on their behalf. Praise should always be top priority for teachers, but as far as New Mexico is concerned, the teachers do not have the support to fearlessly pursue positive reinforcement and empathy for each student’s unique situation. Lack of support from administration, lack of funding, overcrowded classrooms and parents refusing to step up and be accountable as parents are just a few of the major problems teachers face on a day to day basis. Support, funding and overcrowding are issues that can be addressed and somewhat solved. That should not be a fight teachers must take on everyday. The home life for the students cannot be controlled, but could be addressed better if the other issues were taken care of. A teacher is only one person, they cannot be expected to fully take on all of these issues and still have a one on one contact with each student in an overcrowded classroom.

  14. Date: September 29, 2011
    Author: Shelby Eveland

    Children are our most valuable asset we have in today. It hurts and confuses me how parents abuse and neglect there child. These statistics shouldn't be this high or have any statistics at all. Children are so innocent and parents sometimes ask "what has happened to my child in the reason why there acting this way?" well its not all there fault maybe they didn't have the love or guidance they should have been getting in the first place.

  15. Date: September 29, 2011
    Author: Mathew Lopez

    The stats are very disturbing and I kinda find it hard to believe. These children need help from whoever they can get it from. It has to start from the home, schools, and community around them. We as educators should be able to talk to our students about what is going on with their lives and the students should be able to trust us and come to us when they need help. We should be moviating these children to want to become whatever they want and that they don't have to live their lives like that forever. Everyone should be saying prayers and making sure to let the kids know that there are people who love and care for them. No one in this world should feel like they are not loved or unwanted.

  16. Date: September 29, 2011
    Author: Brittney Scott

    This comes very true in every level of education. I find it rather rewarding when I get instructors that not only slap a grade on a paper or assignment, but actually comment on them. Even if the grade is not what you expected, a small comment about why you recieved the grade is not only helpful but encouraging. Its shows the student that you are actually taking the time and interest in your students. Letting us know that we are not just a name:)

  17. Date: September 29, 2011
    Author: Maria Vargas

    It's sad to not be absolutely surprised at the statistics. Sometimes we see so much of a negative thing that we get used to it. This should not be the case. We should never get used to seeing a child suffering. Anyone of us that has direct contact with children should make increasing encouragement and caring for the children in deeper levels a priority.

  18. Date: September 29, 2011
    Author: Jean Pollard

    This blog brings to mind a community clothes closet that I ran through the PTA for years. I worked as an aide for Upland Unified school district where I was President of an Elementary School PTA. They asked me if I would head up the PTA's community clothes closet, I wanted to learn more. They told me this started by a mom who everytime she dropped her daughter off at school she noticed this little girl with no underwear on she went to the PTA and asked what could be done, they came up with this idea that they would ask all students during spring break to clean out there closets and donate all unwanted clothes, the PTA would then have a clothes sale where they would sell all clothes for 10 cents an item. This sale has grown so much it is unbelievable, it allows underpriviledged families for very little money and also the money that the PTA made was then used to make holiday baskets for families that were in need. I have been wanting to start this somewhere here in the Alb/RR area I have not been able to find an outlet. I ask God that at his time he opens the doors for me to offer this service somehow, it is a much needed service that I feel is needed in our community.


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