Throughout the month of May E4E-Connecticut celebrates educators for our dedication to our students. Sometimes the best way to do this is helping us to recognize all the students we work with. While we often celebrate our students for excelling in a subject or sport, it is sometimes harder for us to call out the students who may not have earned a 100 percent on a test, but still put forth 100 percent of their effort. And praising these students is not only good for them, but also fosters a welcoming and supportive climate to encourage every member of the school community to do their best.
E4E educators created a formal space to give schools an opportunity honor these students and their teachers in style. Based on teacher-written recommendations, my colleagues and I designed an award ceremony, Rising Stars, that invites the New Haven mayor and district leaders to join in praising these students’ continued success. Now in its second year, the program is an opportunity for the entire community to honor these amazing students who overcome incredible obstacles but often don’t receive the recognition they deserve.
Every day teachers like me work with students who live with challenges most of us will never experience. Some have experienced trauma at home, others live with learning disorders that can make it difficult to focus on their work despite their every effort. But despite these challenges, they come to class every day committed to their education. Taking the time to shout out their effort and improvement can be the deciding factor that motivates them to overcome their obstacles. One of my students, who I’ll call Nathan, shows just how important this praise can be.
I nominated Nathan to receive an honor at last year’s Rising Stars because of his great strides in improving his behavior and intrinsic motivation. Back then he was easily frustrated with assignments which had multiple steps and would get distracted by other students. But after he was chosen to represent our school at the event, his self-confidence grew and he became more invested in his education. His performance continued to improve after he was able to watch his mother, sister, and supporters cheer him on when he accepted his award. While it didn’t solve everything for Nathan, the positive reinforcement was a step in the right direction. Now, when he is hung up on his work, we remind him that he earned his award last year because of his efforts, and that there’s nothing stopping him from doing it again.
But there’s more we can do to give students like Nathan the supports they need to succeed. In the coming years, we hope to go beyond the Rising Stars program to address school climate and the disportionate disciplining of students of color. We want to improve trauma support and behavioral interventions that can improve students’ social-emotional learning. We want to work with dedicated teaching staff and decision-makers around the state to introduce more professional development opportunities in culturally responsive teaching, a pedagogy that engages learners across different backgrounds and cultures. We want to support additional means to diversify our teaching workforce. And we want our leaders to provide more than #minimallyadequate school funding so that we can hire more guidance counselors, more school psychologists, and bring in other mental health supports for our students.
Here’s how you can get involved. Together, we can do this.