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?”.
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Teacher, facilitator and coach; Martin Richards trains educators to use a coaching approach all the work they do.