Words hold power. Words can increase tension, anxiety, and stress; they can also decrease tension, anxiety, and stress. As leaders and teachers – educators – our words hold power. Therefore, the language we use in all our communications is of the utmost importance. We need to employ words that are direct and take action.
Superintendent Karen Schulte of the School District of Janesville, Wisconsin, provides the following examples for teachers:
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.”
This classroom (teacher-student communication) provides the student with a cue to look for, that is, the student knows he/she will be helped next. What about teacher-parent communication?
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. Answer in more concrete ways “Billy has a strong grasp on multiplication; however, he is struggling to understand long division.”
Providing concrete examples to parents not only provides a sounding board for starting a proactive conversation on their child’s education, but it also indicates the concern, notice and individual attention you give their child. In the above example is apparent to Billy’s parents that the teacher has taken time to truly invest in him as an individual.
Consider the use of words such as “probably,” “soon,” “as soon as possible,” and “pretty good.” These words bring little comfort, certainty or direction for individuals.
“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.”
The use of “hope” in the above examples actually decreases the trust a parent or student will place in the teacher. There is an air of uncertainty, suggesting the result is left up to luck, instead of taking ownership.
Words are powerful. It is important for us as leaders and teachers to use strong, positive words; words that give our students, parents and community members confidence in us and our ability to lead this generation.