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  • Writer's pictureSharon McCormack

#Encourage: 5 important ways of being there for our students

Recently on #RunandRant the topic related to 'Encourage', Tim Fulenwider @DrCaliGrit posted his tweet on Twitter with his accompanying video to discuss what it means to encourage and his shared his perspective on the importance of 'being there.' In listening to Tim, it brought back so many childhood memories. I was consistently encouraged by my parents and grandparents, and it was due to their commitment of being there for me - they were my cheerleaders across the different accomplishments I achieved growing up. But this has also been the case across my lifetime - my parents have been my no.1 encouragers. However, it also made me think about the students in our school communities, and for many different reasons, not all students have such an experience. So what do we need to do in our classrooms, so all students experience encouragement to support them as they navigate the experiences that shape and celebrate who they are as individuals.

1. Listen /ˈlɪs(ə)n/

In our relationships with students in our classrooms we need to develop a pedagogy of listening as this is the basis of our relationship with our students in the classroom.

What do I mean by the term pedagogy of listening?

In listening to students, we direct attention to their words, feelings, actions, behaviours or experiences within and also outside of the classroom. We take the time to recognise the value of students' experiences. We bring a mindful presence to these many moments so that we can suspend our biases and/or judgements. We seek to understand from a perspective other than our own to develop shared meaning and interpretation. In observation, reflection and with a sense of justice, we create an inclusive community through a pedagogy of listening. We develop reciprocity in the teaching and learning process as the teacher and student are both teaching and learning. It becomes a way of being there for all students, so they are encouraged to fully access and participate in their educational experience within our classrooms.


  • How might I direct my attention throughout the lesson/the day to my students?

  • What biases/judgements do I bring to the classroom?

  • How might I ensure that I am mindful in listening to my students?

  • How will I create opportunities to observe and reflect within a lesson?

  • How do I ensure all students can fully access and participate in the classroom?

2. Conversate /ˈkɒnvəˌseɪt/

We need to embrace the importance of having meaningful and authentic conversations with our students in the classroom.

If we value our students, we will engage in constant conversations that embody our reciprocal relationship with them. We need to approach conversations with an inquisitive mindset as this promotes the possibility of having substantive dialogue with students. Having such conversations enables meaningful and heartfelt interactions that build and nurture our relationships and enhance engagement as well as empower student voice in our classrooms. We gain so much by conversing with them. We learn to understand who they are and in being fully present during our ongoing dialogues we are being there for our students. We gain insights into them; their understandings, thinking, feelings, perspectives, views, attitudes and most importantly we gain an appreciation of the events that are shaping their lives.


  • How do I engage my students in conversations?

  • How can I ensure I approach conversations with an inquisitive mindset?

  • What are the quality of the conversations I have with my students?

  • Do I ensure that I have meaningful and authentic conversations with all my students?

  • How might I engage all students in substantial dialogue?

  • What insights have I gained from my conversations with my students?

3. Establish goals /ɪˈstablɪʃ,ɛˈstablɪʃ/ɡəʊls/

We know that goal setting is vital for the learning and teaching process, but I often wonder whether students transfer this into their own lives and make the connection of why it is important to establish goals in your life.

So I am not talking about establishing goals necessarily for learning although it could be, and it is not about making students accountable in the classroom. I am interested in them establishing goals for themselves that build purpose and meaning to their lives and clarify possible pathways ahead. In listening and conversing with students, we can establish with them what they perceive to be essential for them in and what aspirations they have in their present lives. Developing goals can create a centring effect for students and can also reduce stress or anxiety of dealing with the many unknowns. They can be short or long terms, small or big, but they are their own goals. We can help them see possibilities and pathways despite the challenges or obstacles that they may face. In establishing goals with our students, we are being there and supporting them as they head towards experiencing success through achieving their goals in their lives.


  • How could I support students in establish goals that build purpose and meaning for themselves?

  • How can I help them clarify what is important for them in their lives today?

  • What are the ways that I can support them in seeing the possibilities and pathways?

  • How I help them to see past the challenges or obstacles in achieving their goals?

  • How can I support them in sustaining their purpose in achieving their goals?

4. Advocate /ˈadvəkət/

We advocate for our students in many ways in our schools, districts or even at system levels. Advocating is a critical aspect of our work. It is also essential that we support students in understanding and learning how they can advocate for themselves.

Advocacy is about empowerment. When we advocate for our students and support them in developing the ability to self-advocate, we are letting our students know that we believe in them. We need to establish the times when we are required to advocate for our students. We need to understand the biases, practices and policies within our schools that impact students full access and participation of their educational experiences. Alongside this, we also need to support students in finding their voices and providing the spaces for them to self-advocate so they can communicate their needs within their educational experiences and within their own lives. In being there for them, we are validating their opinions, needs and experiences and helping them in identifying ways to address any barriers, obstacles or challenges, so they are empowered to take action to overcome such adversity. We can support them in finding the power they have within and how to use their voices to advocate for their rights.


  • What are the ways we need to advocate for our students?

  • What are the biases, practices, policies within our school that impede students access and participation in their educational experiences?

  • How can I support students in finding their voices to self-advocate?

  • What knowledge or skills do students require to communicate their needs?

  • What space do I provide for students to self-advocate in my classrooms?

5. Celebrate /ˈsɛlɪbreɪt/

We all like to celebrate the significant milestones that signify our the accomplishments and our successes we have achieved in life. In schools, quite often this recognition and acknowledgement occur at the end of the learning process or after an event. Celebrating students accomplishments or successes along the journey is just as important as it is celebrating them at the end.

In this process, we recognise the importance of feedback and recognition across the entirety of their journey. We can increase student self-efficacy when we have them reflect upon their feedback and make decisions on what is the next step in their journey. We know our students, and we understand the different ways they respond to being acknowledged and recognised. Celebratory strategies to recognise the many achievements of our students build classroom communities and develop a positive culture. We need to ensure that students have the opportunity to celebrate and share their journey with their families, their peers and different class levels. In sharing their journeys, they can reflect upon the challenges, the set-backs, the decisions, and how they moved forward to achieve their goals. It is important that they share and celebrate their achievements and being there for them throughout their journey ensures they know that you believe in them.


  • What are the different ways I can feedback to students to support their next steps?

  • What are the different reflections processes that I can build into my classroom?

  • What are the ways celebratory strategies that I can implement into my classroom?

  • How can I ensure that students have the opportunity to celebrate and share their journeys with their families, their peers or other class levels?

The outlined actions that we can embrace into our everyday practices within our classrooms demonstrates to students that we believe in them, and we care about them. Being there in these different ways also shows different levels of encouragement, we can enact every day in our classrooms. In doing so, we are building positive cultures in our classrooms and significantly making the difference in students lives. And like my own experience of my parents always being there to encourage me consistently, our students will experience what it means to have a cheerleader in their lives that celebrates the milestones they experience in their lives.

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