Thursday, June 15, 2017

Words Matter

I try not to get up on my soapbox too often. :) But today is going to be one of those days.

I read a book several years ago-I wish I could remember which one it was, I think maybe Todd Whitaker. But the author was talking about how our choice of words can convey either a positive or negative outlook. And especially in schools, we are going for the positive outlook. Last year I worked in a school with a very toxic climate. On Monday morning when I would ask anyone--from the cafeteria staff to the principal herself "how was your weekend?" the answer would ALWAYS be "not long enough". On Fridays when you ask someone "how are you?" the response ALWAYS was "at least it's Friday and I don't have to come to school tomorrow". This made for a very negative environment. I was always very conscious of how I would answer even those casual, small talk questions. I wanted to stay positive in my responses.

I am subbing this summer I've been subbing for summer school at different campuses and I am just so shocked at how some of these teachers and aides talk in front of the children. At dismissal one day there were a handful of students left and one of the aides asked a boy how he was doing in summer school. Then she and the other teachers starting saying things like "it's not like he's going to pass anyway", "he never listens", "I think he needs medication, his brother took it". Oh my goodness! Not only in front of the child, but in front of other students as well! This is happening at so many different campuses.

Especially working with little ones, they are so cognizant of how you respond to problem students. If I show any type of dislike for a student, they will echo those actions in their interactions with them. I have had very challenging students in my class over the years. One year I had a student ask me "Miss Trayers, do you like Johnny (one of the class boogerbears)?" I answered, "of course I like him!" Johnny was watching that whole time. Can you imagine if I had made a negative comment, what that would have done to his self-esteem?

I worked with a colleague years ago who had a difficult student. He was gifted and awkward. His tapping the pencil and lack of social skills she took as a personal affront and would always talk about how disrespectful he was. She told me one day that she let the kids tell him "I hate you" and "shut up" because she wished she could say those things to him. One day he was acting up for a sub and they put him in my class. I told my class before he came that we were going to treat him as part of our community. We were doing a group activity and he suggested a solution to the problem and a student turned to him and said "you are so smart!". The look on his face! He was so proud. They moved him to my class and whenever we would go anywhere some staff member would inevitably say "oh you have him now, I'm so sorry for you." I would always respond "why, we love having him as part of our class!"

Words matter. I still remember a college professor (this was 20 years ago) in a statistics class who asked me the answer to the problem. I gave the correct answer and she said "well, I know if YOU got it"-meaning I was not good in that class and if I understood then everyone understood and she could move on. I think sometimes we forget how much our students look up to us and mirror our interactions. If everyone on a campus tries to say only positive things-imagine how great that school culture would be! Not only would teachers be more excited to come to work-the students would be more excited to come to school!

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1 comment :

  1. Yeah, you're so very right and I'm proud of you for pulling out your soapbox. Words do matter, and they dramatically affect the culture of a school, as well as individuals. We have to consider our words more carefully and do our best to speak the best ones into the atmosphere.