The power of a compliment.
At the final Decorah High School choir concert of this year, my daughter was one of the seniors who was asked to provide a reflection on her experience. She chose to honor the choir teacher—who happens to be a Luther graduate. She shared how in 9th grade she was intimidated by Mr. Rausch and not fully confident in her voice. She grew up singing around the house, in elementary and middle school choirs, and at church on Sundays, but this was different for her. Mr. Rausch is a highly esteemed music educator who has a reputation for challenging and supporting students to excellence—individually and as a choral ensemble.
At an early point in their student-teacher relationship, he commended her for having a “good voice.” Hearing this simple, well-timed compliment encouraged her through her high school career. She sought opportunities to improve—both in small group ensembles and individual solos—in ways she hadn’t envisioned. Ultimately, she was selected to the Iowa All-State Choir this year. As she looked back on her time with Mr. Rausch, she asked those assembled for the concert who their “Mr. Rausch” was. She called on each of her peers to be the Mr. Rausch for someone in their own life.
In a different setting, but ultimately a very similar experience, I met with a Luther senior a few weeks ago. In our conversation, the student, whom I’ve known since their sophomore year, shared how important it was to have one of the music faculty compliment their “world-class voice.” The student shared that when they heard that compliment it didn't fully sink in. Having experienced this student singing and performing in multiple settings and styles, I wholeheartedly agree with the compliment. This student has an amazing voice!
But as the student continued their time at Luther, they did not fully believe the compliment until a conversation with another music faculty member this year. This faculty member confirmed the compliment and noted that the professor who originally shared the compliment does not give such high praise often.
While I have shared two music-focused situations that highlight the power of a compliment, I know such compliments occur in other settings. The coach who inspires a student athlete to reach their personal or team goals, the professor who encourages a student to pursue a research opportunity or a Fulbright, the work-study supervisor who sees talent and responsibility in a student are just a few examples. As parents, hopefully we are accustomed to sharing compliments and encouragements with our children. I wonder, however, whether we have taught our children (and students) to do the same for their peers, mentors, teachers, coaches, etc. In a world where tearing down opponents seems to be the practice of the day, we sorely need moments where positive, uplifting, and truthful words of encouragement and appreciation are shared. It takes little time to complain. And it really takes little time to do the opposite. In our busy lives, intentionally carving out moments to compliment others is essential not only for their well-being but also for ours.
In the last remaining week of the semester, I wonder how a real compliment of appreciation or praise from a student to a parent, mentor, coach, peer, etc. may be received.
I tweeted the following last night (@lutherdeanland):I hope you and others hear from our seniors!