The Power of Recognition for Students

Posted on August 10, 2017

One thing every student needs is positive recognition. In fact, the smallest amount of positive recognition can leave an imprint in students that lasts a lifetime. Helen Mrosla, a teacher, wrote about an experience that demonstrates the power of recognition for students. Here is her story, taken from the book Becoming a Person of Influence by John C. Maxwell and Jim Dornan (pages 44 – 46).

The Power of Recognition for Students

One Friday, in the classroom, things just didn’t feel right. We had worked hard on a new concept all week, and I sensed that the students were growing frustrated with themselves—and edgy with one another. I had to stop this crankiness before it got out of hand. So I asked them to list the names of the other students in the room on two sheets of paper, leaving a space between each name. Then I told them to think of the nicest thing they could say about each of their classmates and write it down.

It took the remainder of the class period to finish the assignment, but as the students left the room, each one handed me their paper….

That Saturday, I wrote down the name of each student on a separate sheet of paper and listed what everyone else had said about that individual. On Monday, I gave each student his or her list. Some of them ran two pages. Before long, the entire class was smiling. “Really?” I heard whispered. “I never knew that meant anything to anyone!” “I didn’t know others liked me so much!”

No one ever mentioned those papers in class again. I never knew if they discussed them after class or with their parents, but it didn’t matter. The exercise had accomplished its purpose. The students were happy with themselves and one another again.

That group of students moved on. Several years later, after I had returned from a vacation, my parents met me at the airport. As we were driving home. Mom asked the usual questions about the trip: How was the weather and what were my experiences. There was a slight lull in the conversation when mom gave dad a sideways glance and simply said, “Dad?” My father cleared his throat. “The Eklunds called last night,” he began.

“Really?” I said. “I haven’t heard from them for several years. I wonder how Mark is.”

Dad responded quietly. “Mark was killed in Vietnam,” he said. “The funeral is tomorrow, and his parents would like it if you could attend.” To this day I can still point to the exact spot on 1-494 where Dad told me about Mark.

I had never seen a serviceman in a military coffin before. . . . The church was packed with Mark’s friends. [His old classmate] Chuck’s sister sang “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Why did it have to rain on the day of the funeral? It was difficult enough at the grave side. The bugler played taps, and one by one those who loved Mark took a last walk by the coffin.

I was the last one at the coffin. As I stood there, one of the soldiers who had acted as a pallbearer came up to me. “Were you Mark’s math teacher?” he asked. I nodded as I continued to stare at the coffin. “Mark talked about you a lot,” he said.

After the funeral, most of Mark’s former classmates headed to Chuck’s farmhouse for lunch. Mark’s mother and father were there, obviously waiting for me. “We want to show you something,” his father said, taking a wallet out of his pocket. “They found this on Mark when he was killed. We thought you might recognize it.”

Opening the billfold, he carefully removed two worn pieces of notebook paper that had obviously been taped, folded and refolded many times. I knew without looking that the papers were the ones on which I had listed all the good things each of Mark’s classmates had said about him. “Thank you so much for doing that,” Mark’s mother said. “As you can see, Mark treasured it.”

Mark’s classmates started to gather around us. Chuck smiled rather sheepishly and said, “I still have my list. It’s in the top drawer of my desk at home.” John’s wife said, “John asked me to put his in our wedding album.” “I have mine too,” Marilyn said. “It’s in my diary.” Then Vicki, another classmate, reached into her pocketbook, took out her wallet and showed her worn and frazzled list to the group. “I carry this with me at all times,” Vicky said without batting an eyelash. “I think we all saved our lists.”

That’s when I finally sat down and cried.

What would make so many adults hold on to pieces of paper they had received years before as kids, some of them carrying those pages with them everywhere they went — even into battle in a rice paddy halfway around the world? The answer is appreciation. Everyone is incredibly hungry for appreciation. That’s the power of recognition!

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