Positive Language Goes A Long Way

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The language we use as teachers, what we say and how we say it, shapes how students think and act, and ultimately how they learn. At BD Somani, we understand the importance of emotional well being along with the development of other skills and it is thus embedded in our work culture/ethos to use a language that is positive. This not only helps students work at their highest potential but also helps them build confidence and positive relationships in the school.

The kind of language used by teachers shapes learners. It affects students’ sense of identity –so a student who loves to sing but is not really great at it, is not pushed to the back row but is talked to by the teacher who says “I know you love to sing. Would you like to learn more about it? I have some ideas.” Such words support the student’s budding identity as one who loves to sing and is learning singing skills. Also, positive language helps students understand how they work and play – so a teacher might comment on a student’s writing by pointing out the use of juicy adjectives by the student to describe a character. This helps to inform the writer of an important strength in his/her writing and encourages them to build on that strength. Furthermore, positive language influences our relationships with students – so a student found arguing with a classmate during lunch break, is not asked to sit out but is asked “Can you help me understand what happened from your point of view?” A relationship based on trust is thus formed rather than one based on teacher threats and student defensiveness.

Teachers use positive language in their classroom to empower students, by conveying faith in their abilities, modeling positive vocabulary and choosing words wisely, being honest and direct and minimizing the use of Don’t.

Teachers use language – words and tone that display faith in student intentions, showing students that they believe in them. Using positive words and encouraging students to meet expectations allows students an opportunity to fulfill those expectations, or even surpass them. Communicating to students that they believe in them and their abilities gives students the confidence they need to collaborate with others, become respectful listeners, and work competently by reiterating positive behaviors and encouraging all students to do the same. For instance, a student who runs up and down the stairs is gently reminded with “I know you remember the essential agreement and I appreciate you trying to be safe.” This conveys to students that the teachers have faith that they’re trying to be cooperative in school, while they’re also enforcing the agreed upon rule.

Not only do teachers model positive language, but students are also encouraged to practice it as well, on a daily basis.  Having students reflect on their language to identify words that have negative connotations allows them to become more aware of the impact of their language on themselves and others. Students are given opportunities to reflect on their statements and revise their language to reframe it in more positive ways. A teacher using language such as “I’m glad that you shared that piece of research with us” or “You have helped us learn a new fact” is likely to have students who use similar language with one another.
The language that is inclusive and empowering allows for mutual trust and reciprocal communication to occur more freely within the classroom. For example, when students are struggling, words like  support and guide empower them to complete work on their own.  Reflecting on word choice goes beyond the classroom and allows students to speak for themselves because they know their teacher is supportive, empathetic, and accepting. And when teachers reflect on their word choice, it displays to students that it’s alright to take a moment to organize, prepare, and present their thoughts in a way that’s meaningful to everyone in the class.
The use of compassionate and honest language allows students to build trust in their teachers and fosters an environment of growth. It provides the support they need to be successful both academically and behaviorally. Interacting with students directly and honestly also communicates to them that the teachers have clear expectations and will provide supportive and constructive feedback that they can learn from. For example, instead of saying to a student who interrupts, “Can you wait your turn to speak?” the teachers say, “We are waiting for you to raise your silent hand to speak.” This provides students with a safer and more trust-filled environment, leaving little room for vague interpretations.
The teachers replace don’t statements with more positive ones. For instance, instead of saying, “Don’t use sketch pens in my class,” the teachers say, “For the writing task today, we will only be using pencils, in case we need to change something.” Students are more willing to listen because they’re made aware of the expectation and reasoning, as opposed to solely being told what not to use. The teachers and students put together a set of mutually agreed upon rules, titled Essential Agreements,  to be followed in school that contain positive statements such as Use Walking Feet instead of Don’t Run, Keep Your Hands to Yourself instead of Don’t Push and so on. Reframing don’t statements is another example of positive language and allows students to reflect on their actions to make more positive choices within the classroom.
Positive language is a driving force in creating a classroom community that learns together, grows together, and supports one another. It helps the teachers build classrooms where students feel safe, respected, and engaged.
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