I can live for two months on a good compliment.
- Mark Twain
Friday, Sam started class.
Well, she pre-started class.
“Mr. Chase!” as the rest of the students filed in.
“Mr. Chase!” during the general din of everyone taking their seats.
“Mr. Chase!” as I made my way to my computer to log attendance.
“Yes, Sam,” said I through gritted teeth letting only the voice of patient Mr. Chase escape.
“Can we do a high-grade compliment?”
High-grade compliments are a piece of the opening of class I started a few years ago.
They have three rules:
- Be in close proximity.
- Make eye contact.
- Pause to collect your thoughts.
The difference between a high-grade compliment and a low- or medium-grade compliment is the focus on complimenting who you see a person as being – the best parts of that character my mom was always so concerned with building.
A low-grade compliment might be something like, “I like that shirt,” or “Your hair looks nice.”
Physical attributes, but still things that accessorize a person phyisically.
A medium-grade compliment might be something like, “You have a nice smile,” or “You’ve got a great sense of humor.”
Sometimes still physical attributes, but closer to who people are or who they present themselves as.
A high-grade compliment says, “I see you. I appreciate you. And here are some of the reasons why.”
From time to time, we’ll start class with a high-grade compliment, a student is picked at random, and I follow the three rules to compliment them publically in front of the whole class. A really good compliment can last anywhere from 30 seconds to a minute in delivery.
Sam was asking if we could start class with one.
As soon as my “sure” was out of my mouth, Sam followed her first with a second, “Can I give it.”
Usually, I deliver the HGCs. On ocassion, the kids will take it over.
Midway through my second “sure,” Sam was out of her seat and positioning herself in front of Douglas. As shocked as everyone else in the class was of her placement, no one was more shocked than Douglas.
The Douglas and Sam are any kind of oil-and-water-esque metaphor you can think of. They bicker, they tease, they call each other names.
And Sam was about to give him a HGC.
I was maybe holding my breath.
“Even though we call each other names and pick on each other, that’s just how we do. That’s Sam and Douglas,” she began.
“I wouldn’t want it any different. You’re like a brother to me. I know if there’s any part of the homework that I don’t understand, I can come to you and you’ll put the kidding aside and help me. And I know, when something’s wrong with you, you know you can come to me and I’ll try to help you. So, even though we call each other names and fight all the time, I wouldn’t want it any other way. ‘Cause then we wouldn’t be Sam and Douglas.”
And then the class applauded.
I swear. Douglas has it recorded on his phone if you don’t believe me.
But the class wasn’t done.
Another student raised her hand.
“Mr. Chase, can we do good news?”
Good news is my bastardization of a concept from Hal Urban. For 3-5 minutes at the top of a class, I ask the class what’s good that’s going on in their lives. We talk about how to mine the really good news rather than pieces like, “I’m wearing my favorite socks,” in the interest of not taking 20 minutes of class time.
“Sure,” I said again.
“Well, my mom had back surgery, and they had to disconnect her spine and stuff like that. And it’s been really stressful and scary. But, the doctors say she’s recovering faster than expected and she’s going to be coming home from rehab.”
“After 28 years, my parents paid off the mortgage on their house.”
“My brother has been having a rough time of managing going to dialysis three times a week, but this week someone from California called and said they’d like to donate one of their kidneys.”
And it continued like this – students brimming over with stuff that was good in their lives.
Even the student assistant teacher in the room, a senior who the rest of the class is starting to see as an older brother, raised his hand, “I got accepted to college this week.”
A raucous applause. Why wouldn’t someone accept their mentor into college?
It was positively contagious.
One student stood her chair to share something she said only two other people knew. When she was done, the class applauded again. As she stepped down those sitting around her hugged her in congratulations.
Things were winding down and Sam yelled out again, “What about your good news, Mr. Chase?”
My mind went blank. Usually, when I schedule good news, I try to have something in mind to get the ball rolling. I’d been paying such close attention to what everyone was saying, I hadn’t thought of anything.
“Come on, Mr. Chase, what’s your good news?”
It hit me I was happy that I’d found out this week my little sister Rachel, now in her junior year at college, will be spending her spring break with me as she has every spring since her 8th-grade year.
Now, tomorrow could just as likely bring a falling out between friends or a feud in a group project, but Friday showed me something beautiful.
It showed what fostering relationships in the classroom can look like. It showed that working to make sure all my students feel safe and supported is worthwhile work. It showed that they have come to trust me and the rest of their classmates with the deeper pieces of who they are.
We weren’t talking reading or writing, but we were definitely building our understanding of the power of words.