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When you’re a SEIT or special education teacher you have to be very enthusiastic and praise your students often. Being enthusiastic with your students can improve your relationship with students with autism or other special needs. Often students with disabilities don’t hear they’re doing something right often and praising them can make them want to work harder and increase their confidence. When you’re a SEIT enthusiasm is an important part of the job.
When was the last time someone made a big deal about you doing a good job or trying your hardest?
Probably not recently because you’re an adult, but wouldn’t it make you feel so much more confident if they did?
Being enthusiastic with your students is important because it conveys to them what you are thinking and feeling while helping them feel confident in their performance and effort.
Children with autism are very adept at picking up on subtle cues that something is wrong or following the emotional lead of trusted adults. If you seem upset or disappointed then they will be upset and disappointed too.
That’s not to say you should never be upset or disappointed. If the situation calls for it, then go ahead, but let’s make sure we’re throwing in some more light-hearted praise along with that.
In this post, we’re going to talk about what enthusiasm is, what it looks like, the importance of being genuine, and some easy ways to integrate it into your work.
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What is Enthusiasm
A lot of people think enthusiasm is just being loud and celebratory, like being a cheerleader. In reality though, if you’re a special education teacher and you work with a variety of kids, enthusiasm has to come in many different shapes.
In his book, the Autism Breakthrough, Raun Kauffman talks about celebrations, which is the Son-Rise version of enthusiasm and praise.
Kaufman discusses how simply being loud and over the top, with your enthusiasm, all the time can become boring. He states that you want to make sure your praise of your students includes variety.
Of course, variety is important, but I would also argue that different students respond differently to different enthusiasm.
For example, my younger students love it when I get loud. It fills them with giggles and makes them feel very proud of themselves. Some of my students with autism prefer a quiet high five and a smile. And one pre-teen I work with hates when I’m openly enthusiastic. She always assumes I’m lying about how well she’s doing whenever I get loud. She needs a more earnest approach.
For our purposes, enthusiasm is simply praising your students’ work and effort in a way that makes them feel accomplished.
The Importance of Being Genuine
This one is super important. As I alluded to above with that preteen story, if you aren’t being genuine your students can tell and it’s going to upset them.
Enthusiasm as a SEIT is important, but you have to make sure you are being enthusiastic over things that you actually want to encourage, not just every little thing.
This can actually be very challenging, particularly if your student is doing terribly. The best way to deal with this is to make a bigger deal about doing something hard and failing than them doing something easy and succeeding.
I know that sounds backward, but I promise it makes sense once you think about it. If you try something new and fail that means you’re learning and growing. If you do something and succeed that means you didn’t learn anything.
Be enthusiastic about the learning, not the results.
Never lie to your students or make a big deal about something that is actually not a big deal. They’ll be able to tell and it will undermine your credibility and decrease the effectiveness of your enthusiasm.
You want to make them feel confident, supported, and open to learning with you, not like you’re pandering to them.
Simple Ways to integrate Enthusiasm as a SEIT
I was once told by a coworker that for every negative thing you say to a child, you should say four positive things.
Not sure where she got that number from, but it sounds high right?
Well just make sure you’re being meaningfully enthusiastic with your students as a default, and you’ll probably be able to clear it.
Some of my favorites are
- Smiling more
- High Fives
- Thumbs Up
- Giving specific feedback (ie “I love how you XYZ.”)
- Pointing how out much they’ve improved
- Sharing any positive thoughts I might have
- Clapping or doing jazz hands to celebrate
- Saying “nice” or “good” when they’re working to not interrupt their flow.
There are lots of ways to improve your enthusiasm as a SEIT. These are just a few of my favorites.
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Making your students feel confident and supported can decrease resistant behavior during sessions, which will then improve their effectiveness.
On top of that, kids learn better when they feel like they can trust you and you’re being genuine with them. Telling them what you’re thinking and staying positive will improve your relationship with them, and help you be a better teacher.
Make sure to vary your enthusiasm and praise, to find what works best for each of your students, and try to keep the overall tone of your sessions upbeat. You’ll see what a difference it makes, not only to your student’s performance but also to your mental health.
If you’d like to learn more about mental health as a SEIT, check out this blog post!