Friday, September 27, 2013

Intentional Words and Vampires

My day is packed full of choices.

I choose which shoes to wear each day.  I choose which books to read aloud to my third grade students.  I choose to pick out the red and purple Skittles from the bag. (True story.)

But what about my word choices?

In the past few years, I became powerfully aware of the words I used every day.  Especially with children.  I found that I was self-monitoring my language to decide if my words were helping or hurting?  Developing agency in children?  Or simply solving problems for them?

Peter Johnston's book Choice Words also had a powerful impact on my intentional language.  If you have not read this book, I highly, highly, highly recommend it.

A running list began in my head.  These are some of the words that I intentionally tell myself to choose every day.

1. "This is our classroom, not mine."  

How might I expect my students to feel a strong sense of community if the class only belongs to the teacher?  This one little pronoun makes a big difference.

2. "Everything you do is a choice.  Unless I physically pick you up or try to hurt you (which I will never do), you have to choose to make the most helpful choice.  I will not make you do anything."  

I love this statement.  I say it so much that my students finish the sentence for me.  It makes a lot more sense to me than yelling over students to stop ________ (insert unwanted behavior here).

If most everything we do is a choice, how empowered children must feel to know they can affect change in their environments!  That they have the power to choose their actions!  No longer can they say, "But I couldn't help it!  He was making me laugh!"  Nope, we choose to laugh.  We have the power to control our words, our bodies, and how we respond to each other.  We should be maximizing children's feelings of agency by helping them see the variety of daily choices they have.

3. "I understand that you are having challenges getting along.  I will stand here next to you while you talk to each other about how to solve this."

How often am I solving problems for my students?  With 25 bodies in the room, it is so much easier to just say, "Stop bothering her."  But what a fabulous opportunity for me to support a problem solving conversation.

4. "You are always good.  Your choices may not be, but you are always good."  See here for more on this favorite line:

5. "Just because ________ says it, doesn't mean it's true for you.  Or for the world."

Not long ago, I had a student who was trying to convince his entire lunch table that he was a vampire.  Despite the fact that I found this to be absolutely hilarious, his peers were not amused.  They spent day after day arguing with him about his identity.  

"How are you in the light then?"
"Why did you pack a sandwich then?"
"Why aren't your eyes red?"

As I laughed, I listened from a distance and eventually intervened one day as the conversations were becoming heated.  One of the things I talked to them about was how just because someone says the words, it doesn't make them true.  

Children have a sweet but inaccurate understanding of the power and validity of words, I think.  Someone says they have the best shoes, it must be true.  Someone calls you stupid, it's true.  Someone calls you ugly, it must be true.  (Wait, may even adults sometimes buy into this power of words too?)

Just because words are said and given life, doesn't make them accurate.  Am I helping students to think through these bold statements and to decide what to believe for themselves?  Are they becoming critical thinkers who are careful about which words they believe because no authority is truly above error?

And how might I continue to support my students better through the power of my intentional language?

P.S. And yes, the vampire finally (begrudgingly) admitted to being human. 

1 comment:

  1. 6. Attitude=Choice. Both are good and bad. But I should own each.

    It's important to remember that you can choose how you react to your situation, You won't always like what you're doing. You won't always agree with people. Life isn't fair. How you react is your choice.