The power of words is incredible. You can say something once and if it affects the person who you said it to, it can remain in the forefront of their mind for a long time. This week’s pillar has to do with choosing your words carefully when speaking to others, especially students, and fostering a growth mindset in students. Teachers have an incredible impact in student’s lives. No matter how a child acts, they hear everything teachers say about them and internalize it. Choosing your words when speaking to children, and even adults, needs to be positive and supportive, even when dealing with a negative situation. You should never make comments towards or about students inferring they cannot change. It is possible for everyone to change and we need to instill this mindset in students. Unfortunately, I see teachers not choosing their words wisely quite often. Sarcasm, negativity, and mean-spirited remarks are directed at students and it is wrong. I am extremely careful with how I speak to my students and I do not feed into conversations that involve negative comments about students.
I’ve always been sensitive. I take how others act towards me and what they say very seriously and know how hurtful it can be when someone says something that is negative, even if it is said in a joking manner. Having this disposition makes me more aware of how I act and what I say to my students. I know it is extremely important to choose my words carefully when speaking to them. I could be having a bad day, but it does not excuse being sarcastic or mean to a child. I work to stay positive, upbeat, supportive, and calm in all my interactions. I am not perfect, and sometimes my frustrations show, but I am quick to correct myself and not take any negative feelings I have out on my students.
I have one student this year that requires a lot of support. She is often talking, making sounds, and being disruptive during class. She does not respond well to firm confrontation, so I have taken the tactic of calmly and quietly redirecting her behavior. Sometimes she cannot redirect her behavior on her own, so I ask her to come outside and talk about how I can help. This small break from the classroom seems to help and when she re-enters she is able to focus on her tasks. I’m sure she has had many teachers who have yelled, argued, and given her consequences for her behavior. I decided I was going to be different. She still has rough days and is not always compliant, but I am very careful to always stay calm and supportive. I know this is what she needs. In turn, the students in our class are calm and supportive as well.
I strongly believe that students model how their teachers act and if I am calm and respectful to all students, they will act the same way towards each other. I have seen many teachers use words that are not supportive. It is extremely difficult to watch. I’ve seen teachers shame students who aren’t listening, or doing their work. I’ve seen teachers give out referrals for chewing gum. I’ve also heard teachers discuss students with a fixed mindset and made negative comments about students within earshot of other students. I cannot and will not participate in any of these behaviors. If I were a school leader, I would take time to create a school culture that places importance on choice words. At the beginning of the year I would spend part of a staff meeting discussing the concept of choice words. I would then ask teachers to be conscious of how they talk to students and each week try to alter one thing they say to be more supportive and positive than what they wanted to say. I would then ask teachers to share a time they used choice words with students at future staff meetings and the outcomes. I think the largest factor that needs to be addressed is the teacher’s mindsets. If teachers are aware of the impact their words have on students, I think it will make a difference in the words they choose to use.
I believe I can start using choice words even more than I already do by consciously altering what I am saying to be more supportive. In order to help my colleagues embrace the same type of mindset, I can share how I talk to my students with them. This will be informal and I will tell my colleagues just as if I am sharing a story about something that happened that day. All teachers share stories at lunch about how their day is going. I am going to make a conscious effort to share my choice words with students and our interactions with my colleagues to help them embrace the concept as well. If I have a positive, growth mindset when it comes to my students and share my interactions with my colleagues, I will hope that it will make them more aware of their own interactions. I’ve seen school leaders give a training on growth mindset and give teachers a list of statements they can say to students to be supportive. This won’t be enough. As Fisher, et al. states, “it’s not enough to copy a series of statements from a book and say them to students. It’s really about the beliefs each of us holds and how those beliefs are expressed through our interactions with others.” (Fisher, 2012, p.74). I want to inspire teachers to believe students are capable of change and doing better than they already do.
Here are 5 things I am willing to do this semester that will make my school choose words wisely:
- I will always speak in a calm voice when talking to students to set an example of positive teacher-student interactions.
- I will keep my body language open and relaxed when talking to others.
- I will give compliments to students to establish positive relationships and foster growth mindset in my students.
- I will not use sarcasm when giving feedback to students.
- I will not participate in any conversations in which teachers talk negatively about students in a demeaning manner.
Fisher, D., Frey, N., & Pumpian. I. (2012). How to Create a Culture of Achievement In
Your Schools and Classrooms. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.