“When we confirm someone, we identify a better self and encourage its development. To do this we must know the other reasonably well. Otherwise we cannot see what the other is really striving for, what ideal he or she may long to make real.” — Nel Noddings
As a teacher, I have many opportunities to confirm students. A greeting, a smile, a pat on the arm, and even a hand shake goes a long way to say, “I see you” and “I recognize you are here.”
And when students write about their lives or respond in class discussions, I have opportunities to respond in ways that they feel heard. In these ways, I am acknowledging what the other person is saying and sometimes not saying. I am trying to let him or her know that I “confirm” the message or the feeling.
As an ELA teacher, I create opportunities for students to “know the other reasonably well” with dedicated time for sharing writing, for responding in positive ways (what we call celebrations), and for giving and receiving compliments. You’d be surprised how hard it is for teens (and adults) to accept a compliment.
In those moments of sharing writing or book experiences followed by celebrations, I think the students really “see” one another, and we get all get a little closer to a way of being around others that we long for.
This is how I show my students that I love them — by putting books in their hands, by noticing what they are about, and finding books that tell them, ‘I know. I know. I know how it is. I know who you are, and even though we may never speak of it, read this book, and know that I understand you.’ We speak in this language of books passing back and forth, books that say, ‘You are a dreamer; read this.’ ‘You are hurting inside; read this.’ ‘You are hurting inside; read this.’ ‘You need a good laugh; read this.'” (173)
I think Donalyn Miller and Nel Noddings would get a long well. At the heart of confirming others is love as Miller would say and caring as Noddings would say. As we prepare to go back to school, we will set up our classrooms, organize materials, look over our rosters, and maybe even get back-to-school clothes. Administrators will put data in front of you. They’ll talk about test scores and goals. It is worth, however, taking some time to reflect on how we confirm, care, love our students.
- How do you confirm your students?
- And to go one step further, how do you confirm your colleagues?
This work is a privilege, yes. And what a privilege it is for me to be in conversation with you about how we are always becoming “good” teachers for these human beings with whom we are entrusted.