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September 5, 2011

The Most Valuable A’s a Student Can Earn

Written By: Barbara Gruener
The Most Valuable A's a Student Can Earn -

The Most Valuable A's

As an educator, you’re schooled in teaching the three Rs and then some, but how would your students fare if the state assessment also included these four As:  affirmation, appreciation, acceptance and apology.  While these traits are often as effectively caught as taught, you can infuse them intentionally to help your students master these lifelong values.

The A’s That Really Matter


Students can earn an A for affirmation by learning to think with their hearts. Lead this one by example. Be on the look out for opportunities to affirm your students with positive praise and caring comments. Who doesn’t love a gold star?  Practice with your students how to sincerely compliment one another; encourage them to dig beyond the surface for substance. Read the book Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch by Eileen Spinelli and enrich the story by writing blind affirmations on heart-shaped paper and posting them around the school. Then watch how this uplifts those around you.  What else can you do?  Issue each student a Compliment Notebook to create a win-win situation as they learn to give and get affirmations gracefully.


The second of the four As stands for appreciation. Start by finding creative ways to thank your students and their parents.  My son’s sixth-grade teacher is a master appreciator, but her best practice may very well have been “I love Joshua Day!” She actually phoned me with him standing by her side to tell me all of the reasons that she loves and appreciates our son.  It cost about a minute of her time, but it was priceless to him and his family.  So you model appreciation and guess what?  Students will want to appreciate, too; you just have to teach them how.  Encourage them to write thank-you notes to their parents, grandparents, counselor, or a former teacher. Turn this into a writing center and let them create notes of appreciation every day while you enjoy the radiance of the sunshine that they’ll be spreading.


Our third A focuses on acceptance.  Students need to be taught to accept and celebrate differences in each other.  And not just to put up with or to tolerate, but to really embrace diversity.  Students who master the skill of acceptance are more likely to be resilient to changes and show flexibility in their friendships.  How can you help grow acceptance in your students?  Karen Katz’s book, The Colors of Us is a must for teaching acceptance. Click here and scroll to the middle of the page to see how former Westwood teacher Angela Griffin used this resource to help her first-grade sponges accept and appreciate differences in themselves and one another.



The fourth, and final, A is for apology.  A familiar mantra with my students is:  When you mess up, you’ve gotta ‘fess up.  Teach your students to take responsibility and say, “I did it. I’m sorry. Please forgive me.” Then have them fix it and move on.  We role-play this a lot in my office because a genuine apology is critical to emotional health.  Maybe you’ve heard about, or participated in, the activity where you carry around a small sack of potatoes for a week to represent something you need to apologize for or forgive.  You’re charged with taking the sack with you everywhere you go, with never putting it down.  This serves as a nice metaphor about how cumbersome (and eventually rotten!) grudges and guilt can be.  Instead, the next time you mess up, give yourself an A+ and apologize.  Then practice it over and over again with your students.

While these standards aren’t on any state assessments (yet!), I predict that these could very well be the most valuable A’s you’ll give this year.


About the Author

A bilingual educator who was raised on her family’s farm in Wisconsin, Barbara Gruener has been the counselor and character coach at Westwood-Bales Elementary School in Friendswood, Texas for the past ten years. She’s also a motivational speaker and loves to influence and impact workshop participants in her signature Sing, Dance, Laugh and Build Character sessions. When she’s not at school, Barbara likes to write, read, knit, bake, and spend time with family and friends.  Check out Barbara’s blog to read her inspirational stories about positive people and elevating experiences.


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  • Barbara
    October 22, 2011

    Hey Katie –

    Challenge your little fella to research a problem and come up with an answer. How about the water issue? There are kids in Africa who have to walk miles for fresh water . . . ask him how he’d go about solving that problem. If he submerges himself in research, you might be able to grow some empathy in him. Just a thought – there are SO many organizations that he can TAP into that are in the helping business and might pique his interest . . . ., to name two . . . . ask him to report to the class what these organizations do and why . . . . maybe he could even come up with ways to raise funds so that he could help build a well in a less-than-well-to-do area . . . . maybe you’ll be able to say “well done!” . . . .let us know!!!

  • Katie
    October 16, 2011

    I have been trying these since the start of school, but I have one child that refuses to do it. He thinks that the world revolves around him and everyone should bow down to him because well, academically he is ahead of his class (and he knows it) and doesn’t understand why he should have to appreciate others. Any suggestions on how to correct this thinking? I am out of ideas. Thanks

  • Betsy
    September 20, 2011

    I agree that we need to teach these 4 As to our students and to teach them how to appreciate each other. They need to know how to get along and accept each other. I had never really thought about the apology aspect. Good one! I have a family member who’s 50 yrs old and has never learned how to apologize.

  • elizabeth
    September 20, 2011

    Barbara – Very good article. I am always looking for ways to improve as an elementary counselor and you always provide me with thought provoking motivation. This week I am going to start calling one parent each Friday, (in the presence of their child) just to tell them about their awesome youngster.

  • Lisa
    September 6, 2011

    These lessons are so important to the everyday learning process and the physical, mental, emotional, and social well being of our children. You are right, these A’s are not on the state assessment (yet), unfortunately! However, it is something we as teachers need to focus on EVERYDAY to meet the needs of our students.

  • Tammy
    September 5, 2011

    Totally agree! While trying to get a feel for my new kiddos it’s sometimes hard to remember that they are also trying to get a feel for me! So many are demanding and begging for acceptance, appreciation, and affirmation! I completely vow to concentrate on my A’s this week!

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