Friday, March 30, 2012

Words Are Powerful

Hope. A concept our school district is passionate about; an idea we all strive for; a feeling we desire to instill in others. We would like others to have hope in our abilities—that we will follow through, that we will live up to their expectations, that we will do what is right. As educators, many students, parents and community members put their trust and hope in us. They place hope in what we are doing. It is interesting, however, that such a powerful, positive word—a concept that brings excitement, assurance, peace—can in the next second bring great doubt or uncertainty.

“I hope this assignment helps the students grasp this concept.” Or (as could be said to a parent saying goodbye to their crying child on his or her first day of school) “Hopefully, once he sees the other children playing, he will calm down.” Using hope in this fashion actually decreases the trust a parent or student will place in the teacher. There is an air of uncertainty, leaving the results up to luck, instead of taking ownership. What of words such as “probably,” “soon,” “as soon as possible,” “pretty good”? Our vernacular is riddled with these words and phrases, but they bring little comfort, certainty or direction.

Words hold power. Words can increase tension, anxiety, and stress. Words can also decrease tension, anxiety, and stress. Our words hold power. Therefore, the language we use is of the utmost importance. We need to critically think about the way we communicate and the words that slip out without our realizing. We need to employ words that are direct and take action.

When a student raises their hand to ask for help on an assignment, instead of saying “I’ll be with you as soon as possible,” which leaves the student uncertain of how long he or she will have to wait, try phrases such as “When I am done helping Missy, I will come help you next.” The student has a cue to look for. They know that they will be helped next. When discussing a student’s progress with a parent, to answer “Billy is doing pretty good in math” is insubstantial, even as an introduction to the topic. Answering in more concrete ways “Billy has a strong grasp on multiplication; however, he is struggling to understand long division” not only provides a sounding board for starting a proactive conversation on Billy’s education, but it also indicates the concern, notice and individual attention you give to Billy. It is apparent to Billy’s parents that you’ve taken time to truly invest in him as an individual.

Going back to a previous scenario: What to say to the parent whose child is terrified of the kindergarten classroom and will not stop crying? “I will personally take Suzie around and introduce her to the other children. Once she starts playing, she will feel much more comfortable. I also want to ensure you that I will be giving her the attention she needs to feel secure here.” There is an action plan, and it is specific. It builds confidence by giving clarity of what the expectations are.Our words are powerful. Let us find ourselves using strong, positive words; words that give our students, parents and community members confidence in us and our ability to lead this generation.

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