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Applying “The Power of Our Words”

I heard a lot of respectful and thoughtful language during the discussion.

It’s time to begin work. Before you start, think of a strategy you can use to help you concentrate.

Freeze. Let’s get back in a line and walk quietly down the hallway.

These are just a few examples of what you may hear throughout the day as students work in class or travel around the building. Language is a powerful tool that plays a crucial role in teaching and learning. When we engage our students in academic and social learning, teachers make deliberate choices about the words, tone and pacing of their language.

Based on one of our Professional Development texts, The Power of Our Words by Paula Denton, teachers use language to Reinforce, Remind and Redirect students.

Reinforcing Language builds on the children’s strengths and what is going well. Key elements to Reinforcing Language include naming the specific behaviors that we want to continue, e.g., “You put the materials away in the proper place.” or “You added key details to make the story more interesting.”

Reminding Language cues students to remember expectations or make better choices for their actions before behavior becomes problematic. The key to this type of language is to use matter-of-fact tone and calm body language.

Redirecting Language allows teachers to give external control to a student who is too emotional to think clearly and use self-control to make good decisions. The essential parts to Redirecting Language are stating clearly and calmly what the student needs to do (compared to naming what to stop).

We know that we cannot verbally reason with a child who is in a highly emotional state; when that occurs, we use nonverbal communication to let him/her know that s/he is in a safe place. This may include a hug, time in the peace corner or the offer to move away from a stressful situation and go for a walk around the building. Growing up is hard work, and how we communicate our expectations and support in this journey can empower students to take responsibility for their decisions and build their independence.

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