Education professor spreads positivity in the classroom through unique initiative

Christina Pavlak, assistant professor of education and director of master of arts in teaching program, began implementing the “compliments project” in her classroom six years ago and it continues to make a profound impact on students to this day.

A blog by the name of "Cult of Pedagogy” written by Jennifer Gonzalez, an educator committed to social justice, shared the concept online and inspired Pavlak’s own execution of the brilliant idea.

Each week at the end Pavlak’s MAT fall courses, “teaching developing children,” she and the students spend 20 minutes giving a few students compliments. Two students at a time will sit with their backs to the whiteboard as the rest of their classmates write down positive, encouraging comments about one another.

“Sometimes students tear up upon reading what their peers have written; many times, I do too,” said Pavlak. “My students are studying to be K-12 teachers. Though the course content is important to teach, my goal is to model for them what it means to create a strong classroom community and be a compassionate educator.”

She feels that this project is especially important for her students in the upper-level course of the MAT program because it helps set the tone in the school of education. They care about who students are and they want them to feel at home in this space with other future teachers, Pavlak said.

“It is important, as university professors, to realize that our students crave connection, they want to feel part of a community,” said Pavlak. “It is about finding ways to build that community that feels right to you, to get to know who you are teaching. Student-centered learning is important to me. I am here to guide students but to also learn from and with them. So, I spend a lot of energy learning about who they are and how they learn best.”

One of Pavlak’s students, Marianna Colabello ’25, spoke on the experience.

“You don’t see a lot of people or professors promoting positivity on a daily basis like this,” said Colabello. “Professors should take more time to tune into their classmates. This is something we are learning in class; what do kids need and how are they feeling everyday? Just understanding and knowing your students, as well as having an opportunity to collaborate and share positivity with your peers, makes a difference.”

When the class is done contributing their positive messages on the board, Pavlak takes a photo of each student in front of the compliments. Many have told her that they share the photos with their families over Thanksgiving celebrations or they pass on the concept to their sororities or other courses.

The impact of this project is incredibly significant in the School of Education and beyond, thanks to Pavlak and her dedication to lifting up the Bobcat community.

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