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Our Words Matter

Our Words Matter

Have you ever read a joke and laughed out loud?  Have you ever read a quote and truly thought about it’s meaning? Have you ever read a book that you could not put down?  Words matter. Words are powerful. They can shape the future of a child.

The late Dr. Marva Collins, a consummate educator, constantly told her students, “You are brilliant honey!” And her students who grew up in one of the toughest and poorest parts of Chicago and who statistically speaking could very well have ended up in jail or on welfare or in some undesirable situation –thrived! They became lawyers, business owners, teachers and many other successful professionals. When asked what led to their success they said that when Dr. Collins told them every day that they were brilliant – they believed it!

What we say to students matters. How we as educators refer to our students matters.  Those of you who have heard me speak in the past know that one of my strategies for building a positive classroom culture is to call students positive names. “Wonderful Ones” has always been my favorite!. When teachers consistently and intentionally call their students encouraging names the students begin to believe. They believe their teacher believes in them and this in turn makes them believe in themselves.

This is one of the reasons why I have had a concern about the term “at-risk” when we refer to students. I am well aware that many students are “at risk” for failing or dropping out. Yet, these students are so much more than “at risk.” They are indeed “at promise.” They have the ability to be successful and productive members of our communities. What they need is support. With the proper support we know they can go far!

For this reason, in my presentations for the last 20+ years I have referred to students that could potentially fail or drop out as “at promise” students. I encouraged those I worked with to do the same. One organization that took my words to heart was SIATech a non-profit organization that has schools in several states including California that work directly with high school students that are indeed “at promise.” I presented at their conference many years ago and they told me that my message lit a fire in them that made them believe even more in their mission and their students. They adopted the term at-promise and promoted its use.

I returned this month to California to present again at the SIATech conference and they told me SIATech had encouraged the state legislature to ask California educators to begin using the term “at-promise.”  The California legislature agreed and passed ACR 197 a resolution that would “encourage the people of the State of California to recognize the potential and possibilities of our children, instead of focusing on their deficits.” This resolution encourages people to refer to the students as at promise – not at risk. This is a remarkable accomplishment for educators in California!  The people from SIATech also informed me that in the supportive literature for the resolution I was quoted on this issue describing it as a “paradigm shift ” that “encourages teachers to approach students from a positive place, one that keeps in mind the students’ promise not their failures.” (Assembly Committee on Public Safety, ACR197) I was so surprised and delighted to have heard this news. I am pleased to have been able to play a role in this amazing paradigm shifting movement.

We all have days when we wonder whether what we say and do actually makes a difference. I am here to tell you that what you say and do does make a difference. Your words to your students matter! Let’s work together to keep our words positive and encouraging in order to get the absolute best from our students!

Motivating Unmotivated Students: Part One

Motivating Unmotivated Students: Part One

One of the most difficult things to do as a teacher is motivating students who seem unmotivated.

I don’t believe there’s any such thing as an unmotivated student. My belief is that every student who seems unmotivated is just waiting for their fire to be lit. Have you ever noticed that a student who seems unmotivated in one teacher’s classroom can be involved and engaged in another teacher’s classroom?

I want to give you one major idea to build around in your inspiring classroom lessons: excitement. When creating your lesson plans, include activities that generate some excitement. Music is a great tool to get students excited. It can be a song that you like that incorporates the theme of the day. Play the song and let the students sing along with it, then ask students if they know any other songs that relate to the theme. You can even give students extra credit if they write their own song that incorporates the points of the lesson.

Another way to get students excited is to get them talking about themselves. Ask students to verbally explain, write a paragraph, or even create a song or rap about how they may be familiar with the topic you’re teaching. In science when I talked about waves and oceans, I often had my students write two or three paragraphs about an experience they had interacting with waves or with any body of water. Then I would show them how they were impacted by waves and by the way oceans, lakes, or streams operate. This was a great segue to the discussion of the day.

There are other ways to build excitement into your lessons, such as using whiteboards with short impactful video clips that make your point about the day’s lesson in a dramatic and exciting form. Generate a lively discussion following the video by asking a series of probing, challenging questions. This can be enhanced even more when you put the students in groups of two or three to let them answer the questions together and then share with the class.

Finally, understand that motivating students is a mindset. If you believe you can motivate them, you will. As much as humanly possible, be motivated and excited when teaching. Be effusive with your praise when students have good answers. I’m not talking about overdoing it but just do it in a natural, genuine way. Motivating students is a state of mind. Be that which you expect of others. You can do this!