The 5 Love Languages in the Classroom

I’ve always been obsessed with the psychology of relationships, and as a newlywed, it was no different. As many couples do, my husband and I read Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages to ensure that the love we feel for each other is also felt by each other and that our expectations are aligned accordingly.

Through this process, I discovered the subsequent books: The 5 Love Languages of Children and The 5 Love Languages of Teenagers. The middle school teacher in me was very intrigued by the idea of emotional equity over emotional equality in the classroom. We love our students, but do our students feel loved?

The 5 Love Languages:

  1. Acts of Service – you feel most loved when someone does something for you
  2. Quality Time – you feel most loved when spending time doing things together
  3. Words of Affirmation – you feel most loved when you receive compliments
  4. Gifts – you feel most loved when someone brings/gives you something
  5. Physical Touch – you feel most loved when you receive physical contact

You can assess your and your students' love languages here!

I know what you’re thinking: How in the world could you possibly use this in the classroom, especially with 160 students, who you only see once a day, in 52 minute intervals?

That’s precisely why this became so important. If I only have a small amount of time with them, how can I make sure I am building relationships in the most efficient way possible?

RELATED: Is Toxic Positivity Killing Your School Culture?

Step #1: Reality

I reflected on my traditional classroom behavior system and realized that verbally praising students (+words of affirmation) was my most utilized reward. Reprimanding students (-words of affirmation) and/or a timeout in the hallway (-quality time) was my most utilized punishment.

How could I be more intentional with my actions to cast a wider Love Language net?

Step #2: Collaboration

Inviting students to be a part of this conversation was always going to be the way forward. I asked for their input on how to best customize a reward and discipline system, and received feedback on a variety of considerations such as, on what to base rewards/reinforcements, allowing them to have choice, input on reward/reinforcement ideas, etc.

So, how might I define what rewards/reinforcements will be based on?

Step #3: Creating a System for Growth

We (myself included) set goals around the e2L Life Ready Skills at the start of each unit and reflected on them throughout, utilizing the rubrics and our individual tracking tools.

The e2L Life Ready Skills include Autonomy, Collaboration, Communication, Critical Thinking, Creativity, Growth Mindset, and Professional Ethics. At the end of each unit, students collaborated with their teams to discuss evidence of, and determine who met their goals.

But, how can I clarify the relationship between discipline issues and the Life Ready Skills?

We connected discipline issues back to the e2L Life Ready Skills by identifying behaviors that were negative examples of each:

  • Autonomy: Off task, not doing their part, etc.
  • Collaboration: Fighting, not fulfilling the duties of their role, etc.
  • Creativity: Plagiarism, etc.  
  • Communication: Shouting out in class, saying a bad word, etc.
  • Critical Thinking: Use of unreliable resources, etc.
  • Growth Mindset: Unwilling to compromise, unwilling to take responsibility of mistakes, etc.
  • Professional Ethics: Not being prepared, losing materials, late to class, etc.

So, if a student was struggling with any of these issues, that was the skill they had to set their goal on in the next unit. Some even required one-on-one behavior goal setting conversations to ensure they committed to a strategy we came up with together that would help them specifically, and the reward/reinforcer they would choose, when they met their goal.  

I facilitated these individually with about 10% of my students. The other 90% were done together in collaboration with their teams and my formative assessment.

RELATED: Transforming School Culture with Intentional Professional Learning

What about the 5 Love Languages?

When students met their goal, they had a choice in the love language aligned reinforcers, and our list grew as students contributed new ideas:

  • Lunch in the classroom with teacher (+Quality Time)
  • Positive note or phone call home to parents (+Word of Affirmation)
  • Prize box, including ice cream coupons, small toys, pencils, etc. (+Gifts)
  • Can leave class 2 minutes early that day (principal approval for this option, of course)  
  • Attend their next concert, game, performance, etc. (+Acts of Service and +Quality Time)
  • High five, hug, fist bump, elbow bump (+Physical Touch)
  • Song request - identify a song that specifically reminds you of that student (+Gifts)
  • Choose a friend for their next unit team (+Quality Time)
  • New student idea, with approval (+Acts of Service)

It was interesting to see which students chose which reinforcers as their love languages became more and more evident. It eventually led to some challenging thinking about discipline as well.

I soon realized that raising my voice towards a ‘words of affirmation’ student, or sending a ‘quality time’ kiddo into the hallway was potentially damaging the relationship I was working to build.

How can I use the 5 Love Languages to most effectively discipline students?

After collaborating with students and staff, we agreed to consider a student’s love language when deciding between a variety consequences. I encourage you to dig into the discipline piece more as a campus leader, teacher or parent.

Implementing this system decreased classroom discipline issues, and equally important, built in consistent opportunities for us to reflect, set goals on and be held accountable to growing in the e2L Life Ready Skills that ensure success in and out of school.

Aligning reinforcers to the 5 Love Languages and allowing student choice created a culture of individualization, growth, and celebration. Not to mention, collaborating with students on the initial idea, trial and error process, and multiple iterations was a total blast!

What ideas do you have for utilizing the 5 Love Languages in your classroom? Tell us on Twitter!

RELATED: Campus Turnaround and Long-Term Transformation