This article first appeared in The Teaching Professor on September 4, 2018. © Magna Publications. All rights reserved.
“What you appreciate appreciates” (Twist, n.d.). One of the practices I have employed in most of my classes during the past several years is “the appreciative close,” which is an offshoot of “the appreciative pause” recommended by Stephen Brookfield (Brookfield, 2015, pp.95-96). Brookfield suggests using the appreciative pause at the end of whole class discussions, providing an opportunity for students to acknowledge each other’s contributions in terms of how those supported classmates’ learning. I use the appreciative close at the end of each class session as a way for students to acknowledge each other’s broader contributions. In doing so, my aims are to help build a sense of community in the classroom, to strengthen the sense that learning is about bringing our whole selves into the classroom, and to support students’ self-awareness of the gifts they have to offer both inside and outside the classroom.
I typically introduce my students to the appreciate close on the first day of class, explaining what the practice is and modeling for them one or two examples. I explain that the appreciation offered should be directed toward a specific individual.
For example, “Thank you, Jake, for directing your question to the entire class rather than directing it to me alone.” Or, “I appreciate you, Jesse, for offering your personal experience that helped make practical sense of the concept we discussed.” Or, “Hannah, thank you for the thoughtful handout you provided us on today’s reading; the connections you made to other texts were particularly valuable for us to recognize.” In subsequent class sessions, I list the appreciative close as the final activity on our agenda for the day and urge students to keep that in mind throughout the class in case they would like to offer thanks to a classmate when the time comes. Part of the value of this reminder is to help students recognize that our goal for the course is not limited to academic learning but that we bring our whole selves into the classroom and our way of relating to each other should be a fully human one rather than merely instructional discourse.
Creating this kind of environment in the classroom is supported by a growing range of literature within and beyond education. Schoem et al. (2017) argue for whole person education as a way to help students bring their lives into the classroom. Bell et al. specifically suggest appreciating classmates to provide closure to a class (2016, p. 89). Fox (2018) suggests inviting students to adopt a posture of gratitude to promote a positive learning environment. Gabriel (2018) advocates the use of “validation practices” to foster a community of learners. Howells (2013) has argued that bringing a sense of thankfulness into the classroom helps students be more awake and thoughtful: “if we thank while we think, we think better.” And Anderson (2006) has suggested that hearing appreciations of our contributions can help us discover our own gifts, which we can then deploy to positive effect in all areas of our lives.
At the end of each of the courses where I’ve used the appreciative close, I ask my students—who are prospective or practicing teachers themselves—to reflect on the practice. How has it been useful in our class and what has it meant to you or others? Students report that:
- The practice gives students the opportunity to reflect upon and share their appreciations in ways that will positively shape the classroom culture, lead to a deeper sense of investment in learning and engagement and help them feel seen and valued.
- When students can recognize the differences between their peers in class and acknowledge those differences as gifts to be shared, we’ll know we have created a safe space for learning.
- A public statement goes a long way toward showing appreciation to someone. It has also helps in creating a greater sense of community in the classroom. Our class has grown to be more comfortable and honest with each other as a whole, which has made our discussion much more fruitful.
- Leaving space for affirmations gives us an opportunity to build community in our class and lowers the barrier between the teacher and students in the sense that students are also appreciated for what they bring to class.
While some students may initially be reluctant to share their appreciations openly—and I always ensure that they know this is an invitation, not a demand—I have found that over time more and more students elect to acknowledge something their peers have said or done. This observation alone suggests that the practice does help to create a welcoming environment where students experience a growing sense of community; a space where they can bring their whole selves to bear on their learning. That’s something we want for all our classes, regardless of discipline. The appreciative close is a practice that invites us to recognize in others what they have contributed and helps us to recognize in ourselves what we can contribute to support others within and beyond the classroom.
Shawn Vecellio works as an itinerant adjunct professor in Silicon Valley, with his most recent appointments at National University and the University of San Francisco.
Anderson, B. (2006). The Teacher’s Gift: Discovering and using your Core Gift to inspire and heal. Vashon Island, WA: Island Press.
Bell, L., Goodman, D. & Ouellett, M. (2016). Design and Facilitation. In M. Adams, L. Bell, D. Goodman, & K. Joshi, eds. Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice, 3rd ed. New York: Routledge: 55-93.
Brookfield, S. (2015). The Skillfull Teacher: On technique, trust, and responsiveness in the classroom, 3rd ed. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Fox, D. (2018). Six ways to promote a positive learning environment. Faculty Focus. Accessed on May 30, 2018. https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/effective-classroom-management/six-ways-promote-positive-learning-environment/
Gabriel, K. (2018). Five ways to promote a more inclusive classroom. Faculty Focus. Accessed on May 30, 2018. https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-and-learning/five-ways-to-promote-a-more-inclusive-classroom/
Howells, K. (2013). How thanking awakens our thinking: Kerry Howells at TEDxLaunceston. YouTube. Accessed on May 30, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=215&v=gzfhPB_NtVc
Schoem, D., Modey, C. & St. John, E., eds. (2017). Teaching the Whole Student: Engaged learning with heart, mind, and spirit. Sterling, VA: Stylus.
Twist, L. (n.d.). What you appreciate appreciates. The Chopra Center. Accessed on May 30, 2018. https://chopra.com/articles/what-you-appreciate-appreciates