December 13, 2013

The Power of Positive Language.

Okay, everybody. Now repeat with me: “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough and doggone it, people like me!”

Just kidding.

By the power of positive language, I am not referring to self-esteem boosting affirmations.

This is my response to today’s #reverb13 prompt, which is: How are you expressing your voice? What can you do to communicate more clearly and compassionately? 

I am an elementary school teacher, and during our professional development week before the year began this September, we were trained on, among other things, using “positive teacher language.”

When the topic was introduced, most of us in the training groaned inwardly, thinking it was going to be about giving sing-songy, positive praise to students.

However, positive teacher language is far from generic praise. It means speaking as clearly, directly and positively as possible. It does not mean chanting compliments in a lilting voice all the live-long day.

In the classroom, this translates to a teacher saying, “I see the way Johnny is already starting on his story,” versus, “I like the way Johnny is getting to work.”

The one word difference is subtle but important. Rather than passively manipulating the students by telling them that we “like” or “love” what they are doing, we say I “see,” “notice” or “observe,” which is a more neutral observation word.

We are encouraged to give specific praise, because it is so much more meaningful and memorable. Instead of saying the vague but ubiquitous, “Great job, Maria!”—something like “Nice work using complete sentences in your story. And you thought of a really creative title that will get the reader interested.”

This is easier said than done. I’m still struggling to make it part of my natural speech.

As teachers—as people—we all sometimes get into bad moods.

(Especially, say, on the last week before winter vacation when all the kids are extra hyped-up and out of control and you’re basically running a day care and practicing for the big Christmas play and singing the same God forsaken songs over and over and over. For example.)

It’s okay to express those negative feelings. Like, maybe I could vent these irritations to one or two of my colleagues—or, say, right here on this blog.

What isn’t useful is dwelling upon our grievances or repeating complaints or negative stories over and over to as many people as we can get to (pretend to) listen and care.

Another element of positive teacher language is being direct. Sometimes, we need to redirect a student’s behavior. Instead of using manipulation (“If you do that again, you are going to the kindergarden classroom because you’re obviously not responsible enough to be in third grade!”) or asking an obvious question (“Why aren’t you following instructions right now?), it’s preferable to give direct instructions or ask the student something specific like, “What should you be working on first?”

Positive language is revolutionary not only for teachers but for every single last one of us.

Evolving our speech to become more mindful, positive, clear and direct begins with how we speak to ourselves. Notice when your inner voice is harsh, critical, mean or belittling. Practice being nicer and gentler with yourself. For real!

Like all things, using positive language is a process. Some days are better than others.

The important thing is to be mindful of our words and remember that they are powerful in the ways they affect us and all those to whom we speak.

*Reverb is a means to reflect on the year that has passed and set intentions for the coming year.You are invited to participate as privately or publicly as you wish. 

For those who have been following along at home, I want to apologize for posting less regularly than I had intended. I will post the final two reflective prompts tomorrow and Saturday.


Want 15 free additional reads weekly, just our best?

Get our weekly newsletter.

Editor: Bryonie Wise

Image: timsackett.com

Leave a Thoughtful Comment

Read 0 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Michelle Margaret Fajkus  |  Contribution: 56,495