Be an Encourager
—During the summer of 1994 when I was a camp counselor, a friend told me she thought I had the spiritual gift of encouragement. She posted a little note by my bed. It said, “You are an encourager.”
I remember exactly what it looked like–the handwriting, the color–and how it felt to have someone name something like that about me. My friend saw what I couldn’t see.
That single comment shaped the future of my life.
To Point Others
I wasn’t just an average girl; I was a hope giver, a courage finder, and an inspiration provider. I wasn’t just a nobody. God wanted to use me to point others towards a beautiful future.It took someone naming it to help me see it.
I had a student who told me that of all my weeks and weeks of teaching, the most memorable thing from my class was a single comment I wrote on one of his many essays.In the margin of his paper, I wrote: “You sound like a great teacher right here.” He was overwhelmed that I named that in him, and he later wrote about his dreams for graduate school to become a teacher.
As my husband and I discussed these comments, he told me he remembered the exact words of a Boy Scout leader who pointed out some unique gifts he saw in my husband. Those were turning point words.
Today as I guide students through their memoir drafts, I realize that I’m not naming what I see enough. I wonder what I need to name in my children, in my friends, and in my students. I see this in you. Maybe God will use it to shape a life. Maybe those words will be a turning point for someone today.
A Celebration Of Doing Well
As a Christian professor, speaking words of encouragement goes against the grain. Pointing out a positive trait or complimenting a student seems unusual. I’ve been told that students normally encounter cynicism, discouragement, and criticism rather than optimism, encouragement, and a celebration of what they’re doing well.
When I go back to my own training as a teacher and scholar, I remember how much time we spent learning how to find out what was wrong with a scholarly article or a piece of student writing. Rarely (if at all) did we ask the question, “What did this writer do well?”
It became easy—second nature—to deconstruct, rip apart, and expose weakness. The more we could complain, the smarter we sounded.
What if I decided to take another path? What if I used my words to heal and inspire? What would it look like to cast a great vision within a student that could start from a single comment?
I’ve seen the devastating effects of a negative turning point comment. I often ask students, for example, why they feel so afraid and insecure about their own writing. They can remember a specific moment when a teacher told them they were incompetent. They know when and where the insecurity and fear rose up in them.
I want them to know, instead, the exact moment when hope, confidence, and purpose took root inside of them. I want them to remember my class as a turning point.
(c) 2011 Heather Holleman