Moving from Bracing Yourself Against What You Expect, to Embracing What’s Actually There
I used to teach at a school.
I'm smart, I learn fast. By the third week of the first term, I knew which classes were going to be easiest to teach, and which ones were going to be the hardest. I knew for each class which students were funny, which students were easy to reach, and which were going to give me a hard time. I was especially clear about which students were going to give me a hard time.
At the back of my mind a voice was beginning to make certain statements:
Every day, as certain classes started, so did the voice. It told me what to expect of that class, which students were going to challenge my authority, to trip me up and make my lessons into a shambles. And guess what. The voice was right. Everything it predicted happened; and more.
At the start of some lessons I was mentally fired up, ready to defend myself, to return fire, to give back what I was receiving and do so to such a degree that I would win. Because I was the teacher, and I was in charge.Luckily, I had studied some Transactional Analysis at University and the deeper truth of the situation began to make itself known to me.
In my book "A Coaching Approach to Education" I will tell you the cure for the negative words that I was hearing, the words that were draining my energy and killing my relationship with my students.
The Teacher who uses paperclips to clear up her language
Near the end of the lesson the teacher called the class to attention to tell them how she felt about the communication between herself.
“I have something to say to you all. I have something to ask you all"
The class hushed.
“Looking back on this lesson, and the past few week’s lessons, I feel that we can improve the learning environment, by improving the way we communicate.”
The students exchanged looks.
“Communication is a shared responsibility. You share 49%, and I have the other 51% of the responsibility. So I want to start making some changes with what I say to you. Will you help me with that?”
There was general agreement to help.
“During the next week’s lessons I ask that you give me an indication when I say something that is not positive, or not supportive. Can you do that?”
A discussion ensued around the exact meaning of ‘not positive’ and ‘not supportive’. The teacher rounded off the discussion by sharing her list of ‘horrid little words and phrases’ that she wanted to remove from her communication.
The class also agreed to a specific sign that would be an indication to the teacher if she used any of the ‘horrid little words’ that she had mentioned.
During the next week’s lessons the teacher took with her a box of paper clips and a dish. Each time the students indicated that she had said a ‘horrid little word’ she took a paper clip out of the box and put it in the dish. At the end of the lesson she counted the number of paper clips and wrote that in her journal. Her aim was to have no paper clips in the dish by the end of the fifth lesson.
For the first of the five lessons she took the students’ indications at face value, and without challenging the students picked up a paper clip and put it in the dish.
During the second and third lessons she paused after each student’s sign and asked with honest curiosity “What could I say instead?”. Most often she then used the words or phrase that the student suggested.
After the fourth lesson, the number of paper clips had reduced to almost none.
By the fifth lesson, the teacher began to give feedback to certain students, “Would you like me to give YOU a sign when YOU use language about YOURSELF that is not positive, or not supportive?”.
Well done - or?
Like other teachers you may well have favourite and often over-used ‘Reward Phrases’, things you say when your students exhibit desirable behaviour.
Do you use phrases like “Well done”, “Good”, “Nice work”, or “Correct”?
I invite you to be more adventurous and write down what YOU would like someone to say about YOUR best work.
You could involve your teacher colleagues and get even more phrases, so that each of you has a broader and more exciting vocabulary to choose from. Ask your colleagues “What are your favourite Reward Phrases? Do you use just a few, are you wearing them out, and do you need some more? Can we take the time now to pick out some new ones to use in the coming weeks?”
Positive Language, Pygmalion Effect, Drama Triangles and Inner Audio Loops
All the developments with the people you work with, students and colleagues alike, come from first working with yourself, and usually start by removingsomething before adding something. So, I encourage you to use the Positive Language guide to look for negative words and phrases that can be deleted from your vocabulary.
"The quality of the school working environment depends greatly on the quality of verbal communication" Martin RichardsThe guides provided in the chapter Positive Language give you the first steps to take, they will encourage you to listen, in particular to listen to yourself.
When you use Positive Language, you will notice these things happening:
CAtE book, available on Amazon (click the picture)
Coaching Tools, available for download (click the picture)
Teacher, facilitator and coach; Martin Richards trains educators to use a coaching approach all the work they do.