By Cindy Isaak-Ploegman RDH
I started as a clinical instructor in 1993 and, after five years, speculated about quitting teaching because I thought I was spinning my wheels. That same day, a dental hygiene student stopped me in the hallway at university and thanked me for teaching her as she felt I really made a difference to her education.
Educators know that outside the context of positive formal course evaluations, these moments of positive face-to-face feedback from students are rare. Her comment encouraged me to continue teaching, made my day, made my year, and I still remember it 13 years later.
Sometimes it is the person providing the word of encouragement that makes all the difference in the world. For example, the founder of our dental hygiene university program complimented me after I had completed my first year of teaching. Her compliment was incredibly uplifting and had a lot more effect than if it had come from a co-instructor. Her timing was perfect too, since I was feeling insecure as a novice instructor that year. A word fitly spoken and in due season is like apples of gold in settings of silver. Proverbs 25:11 (The Amplified Bible)
She inadvertently role modeled the importance of verbalizing compliments instead of merely thinking them. Role modeling is one of the most powerful ways to transmit values (Bryden, Ginsburg, Kurabi, & Ahmed, 2010; Gaston, Brown, & Waring, 1990). In fact, in a study of medical students, students will do what instructors or mentors role model, even if their mentors’ behavior is the opposite of what they have been taught as ethical in lectures (Reddy, Farnan, Yoon, Leo, Upadhyay, Humphrey, & Arora, 2007). Interesting. How much more would a positive behavior, such as complimenting, motivate mentees.
I am not referring to flattery, to which people often respond negatively. In fact, feign praise causes people to assume you have an agenda for personal gain or are overcompensating for a deficiency on your part. Overuse of anything seems to strike us as artificial.
I’m talking about not only thinking something positive about someone, but forming the habit of speaking your mental compliments.
When I noticed that one of my regular clients always attended her appointments with shoes matching her jewelry and outfit, that impressed me and I told her so. It’s a small thing, but it sure brightened her day. People almost glow when they receive compliments.
I am blessed to work with amazing co-workers. The dental assistant I work with remembers the names of every patient and is incredibly empathetic during their periodontal surgery. I have worked in over 40 different dental offices and she stands out, so I told her. I also work with a dental receptionist who is such an amazing communicator; she could easily teach communication courses. She is inspiring, so I told her. I am not their employer so it isn’t evaluative: just my observations.
In 2012, take time to reflect on those people who have complimented you in the past year and the effect it had on your day or practice. One of my New Years’ resolutions is to encourage others more.
Happy New Year, Cindy Isaak-Ploegman
Bryden, P., Ginsburg, S., Kurabi, B., & Ahmed, N. (2010). Professing professionalism:
Are we our own worst enemy? Faculty members’ experiences teaching and
evaluating in medical education in one school. Academic Medicine, 85, 1-10.
Gaston, M. A., Brown, D. M., & Waring, M. B. (1990). Survey of ethical
issues in dental hygiene. Journal of Dental Hygiene, 64 (3), 217-224.
Reddy, S. T., Farnan, J. M., Yoon, J. D., Leo, T., Upadhyay, G. A., Humphrey, H. J., Arora,
V. M. (2007). Third-year medical students’ participation in and perspectves
of unprofessional behaviors. Academic Medicine, 82(10 Suppl), 535-539.