How to Win Friends and Influence Students

How-to-win-friends-and-influence-peopleIn 1936 Dale Carnegie wrote a book called “How to Win Friends and Influence People”. It went on to sell over 30 million copies. It still sells today and is probably one of the best books on how to improve your social skills.

In his little book, there are so many big quotes and lessons on how to actually “get along” with people and have some “influence”. As leaders and teachers, this is a great book to learn from. We are constantly striving to have a positive impact and influence on teachers and students…yet we often put that “skill” on the back burner.

Instead, we focus on debating the Common Core, talking about the next big thing in “Ed Tech”, and looking at how many different ways we can “reform” education.

Maybe some things do need to change (I’m sure we can all agree on that broad statement) but our focus has to stay on positively impacting the lives of students in our school.

The Real Influence We Have on Students

In the Journal of Student Engagement (2012) Lauren Liberante writes:

“The teacher–student relationship is one of the most powerful elements within the learning environment. A major factor affecting students’ development, school engagement and academic motivation, teacher–student relationships form the basis of the social context in which learning takes place (Hughes & Chen,2011; Roorda et al.,).

Teacher–student interactions are not only influenced by a number of aspects including gender, but in turn also influence a student’s academic outcomes and behaviour. Supportive and positive relationships between teachers and students ultimately promote a “sense of school belonging” and encourage students to “participate cooperatively in classroom activities” (Hughes & Chen, 2011, p.278).”

Liberante’s research (and many others) make the case that the relationships in our education system may prove to be the most effective way to improve student engagement. All of us that teach and work with children understand the importance of relationships. We know that spending time helping a student 1-on-1 does more than a small group setting. Yet, we often forget how much influence we can have on a student’s learning.

Daniel Coyle, author of The Talent Code, recently looked at a new study on feedback from teachers. This study showed that one simple phrase could boost student effort by 40%. I was shocked when I read this, but in the back of my mind I was already guessing what the phrase would be…and I was right on the money. See for yourself:

A team of psychologists from Stanford, Yale, Columbia, and elsewhere recently set out to explore the question: What’s the secret of great feedback?. They had middle-school teachers assign an essay-writing assignment to their students, after which students were given different types of teacher feedback.

To their surprise, researchers discovered that there was one particular type of teacher feedback that improved student effort and performance so much that they deemed it “magical.” Students who received this feedback chose to revise their paper far more often that students who did not (a 40 percent increase among white students; 320 percent boost among black students) and improved their performance significantly. (See the study here.)

What was the magical feedback? Just one phrase:

I’m giving you these comments because I have very high expectations and I know that you can reach them.

That’s it. Just 19 words. But they’re powerful because they are not really feedback. They’re a signal that creates something more powerful: a sense of belonging and connection.

Yep. I knew it had to do with expectations and potential. As a high school english teacher, my students always responded when learning was presented as a challenge. Specifically, a challenge that I “expected” they would reach. This phrase, and the effect of 40% more effort, is so important. Are we teaching pre-service teachers about simple things like this? Are we focusing professional development on boosting student-teacher relationships?

Back to Dale Carnegie’s Work

Carnegie’s book has many lessons for teachers and leaders. Simple reminders (like the one above) that can lead to deeper conversations, better relationships, and a stronger influence on students’ learning. Let’s look at ten phrases from “How to Win Friends and Influence People” that bring us back to the basics of teaching and learning.

“If you want to be enthusiastic, act enthusiastic.”

Ferris Bueller’s teacher: not enthusiastic. Randy Pausch: enthusiastic! Which would you rather learn from? A teacher and leader’s enthusiasm carries over to their students. It carries over to the learning. I always wondered why we focused so much on “content” during pre-service teacher training. The teacher should already be passionate about what they are teaching. If you aren’t…then maybe you shouldn’t be teaching. If you want you students to be pumped about learning, you need to first look at yourself and see what kind of enthusiasm you are bringing to the classroom.

“Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain but it takes character and self control to be understanding and forgiving.”

Guess what? Kids are going to let you down. They are going to miss assignments, forget to read, fail your test, maybe even cheat. But don’t adults let us down too? Every great relationship must have forgiveness and understanding attached to it…otherwise it is more of an “agreement” or “partnership”…not an actual relationship. Hold students accountable for their mistakes. Then forgive them and empower them.

“The royal road to a man’s heart is to talk to him about the things he treasures most.” (and)

“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”

Talk to your students, or your teachers (if you are an administrator), and find out what they are interested in and passionate about. Spend time crafting ways for them to explore their passions and interests. In doing so, you’ll let them think of you as someone they can talk to and learn from about “what they want to learn”. This is the essence of inquiry in our schools: it works because they care.

“There are four ways, and only four ways, in which we have contact with the world. We are evaluated and classified by these four contacts: what we do, how we look, what we say, and how we say it.”

Do you come to work everyday as a professional? Make no mistake about it, improving relationships is not about dressing like students and “getting down to their level”. It’s about being professional every day. Dressing the part, looking the part, and acting the part. I remember those substitute teachers that kids used to harass when I was in school. There biggest flaw: not looking the part. It may sound silly to focus on this, but I believe it is incredibly important. We trust doctors that are in scrubs. We trust lawyers that are in suits. And we trust teachers that are professional each and every day.

“I am very fond of strawberries and cream, but I have found that for some strange reason, fish prefer worms. So when I went fishing, I didn’t think about what I wanted. I thought about what they wanted. I didn’t bait the hook with strawberries and cream. Rather, I dangled a worm or grasshopper in front of the fish.”

Do you bait your students with strawberries and cream? Do you focus on what interests you when you teach? Or do you understand that our learners want something else. Find out what engages your students (you can do this from conversations) and use it! Maybe it is something to do with technology, maybe it is a connection to something in pop culture…but whatever it is, use it to boost the learning experience. Great teachers find new ways every year of delivering content that would otherwise be stale.

“People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing.”

So simple. Yet, we often forget this in the world of standardization. Make sure you “teach above the test“. My good friend Steve Mogg and I taught 11th grade English. At the end of the year we had finished our fourth book with some type of mystery  in it. We decided to put our students through a made up CSI case for a week. We devised an entire back story, and each day the students had to find more and more clues. The classes battled against each other to solve the mystery. It was a lot of fun. Oh, and they learned more that week than any other week during the school year!

“Develop success from failures. Discouragement and failure are two of the surest stepping stones to success.”

I firmly believe that “successful failures” are they key to growth in school and life. I see this time and time again in and out of school. Do you allow time for you students and/or teachers to fail? Do you provide opportunities for them to learn from those failures? If not, you are missing out on one of the biggest influences on learning.

“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.”

I’ll leave you with this quote. What are you doing right now to positively influence the learners and people in your life? Are you waiting for something to change? Are you waiting for the right moment? Stop waiting.

Do something right now. You may fail. You may succeed. Either way you will learn and set a great example. Let’s use the research at our fingertips to inspire our own teaching and leading. We know what drives great learning experiences: relationships. Build those relationships today, so you can lean on them tomorrow.

Oh, and have fun while you’re at it!

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  • Ben Gilpin says:


    This is an exceptional post. You touch on many points that made me stop, pause and think. The line that I tweeted out was – “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”

    Thank you for sharing, I plan to purchase the book over the holidays.


    • AJ Juliani says:

      Thanks for the comment Ben. I’ve read this book twice. Once when I was in college and just recently. I’m glad it made you think – it still has my head spinning!

  • Christine Tomasino says:

    Love what you did with the book in this post! Today I just started working on some professional learning topics for staff. Your points have energized my thinking in a whole new way and I will be sharing your fabulous ideas with educators soon.
    – Christine

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