As a third generation educator, I know, firsthand, the power that teachers have. I know the passion and commitment that we bring to the task of educating children. We teach because we want to give all children the tools and knowledge to live fulfilling, productive lives and to contribute to making the world a more peaceful, just, and compassionate place. This has always been important and challenging work. It’s a calling. And day in and day out, we respond—and we make a difference.
Today our calling is more important than ever. As we move further into the 21st century with its rapid technological, environmental, economic, political, and social changes, our students are facing an ever more complex future. To help students navigate and flourish in their complex world, we, their teachers, need to provide them a new brand of high-quality education.
Our job as teachers today is to help students not only learn the content of the curricula, but also—and more importantly—develop a range of cognitive and social competencies. Our job is to cultivate their higher order thinking skills so they can not only solve problems, but identify which problems need solving. Our job is to teach them to be creative, deep thinkers and bold innovators; collaborative team players and assertive leaders. It’s to teach them how to set goals and persist in working toward those goals when the going gets tough; to find their own, intrinsic motivation for learning; to discover the joy inherent in hard, worthy work.
The introduction of the Common Core State Standards, with their redefinition of what it means to excel in school, is one acknowledgment of this need for a new kind of education. I believe it also represents what we teachers, in our heart of hearts, want. We want the best for our students. And we’re willing to work hard to get them the best. After all, we are teachers.
But to ensure transformative learning in students requires more than our dedication and inspiration. To be truly effective teachers we need good tools. That’s what this book gives you. Since The Power of Our Words was first published in 2007 it has touched the lives of tens of thousands of teachers with its deceptively simple message: Our language is one of our most powerful teaching tools. By paying attention to our choice of words and tone of voice and using them effectively, teachers can open the doors of possibility for students. The book was relevant in 2007, and it’s even more relevant today as we continue to rise to the challenge of 21st century teaching.
In the following pages you will learn teacher language skills and strategies that are a key component of the Responsive Classroom approach, a way of teaching that ensures engaging academics, positive community, and effective management. You’ll learn how to use language to create a vision for children that inspires them to do their best work and be their best selves; construct questions that will help children stretch their thinking and probe new ideas; and listen to children in ways that help them become reflective, thoughtful learners. You will learn how to use words to help children identify and build on their strengths and you will learn how to calmly remind and redirect children when they go off track.
And once you gain these skills and strategies, they’ll be at your disposal always—all day, every day, during math and language arts, during recess and lunch, during science and social studies, inside the classroom and in the hallways, and regardless of what curricula you’re using. Countless teachers have reported that the strategies in this book transformed their teaching. It can do the same for you.
Make no mistake. Changing your language may at times challenge you and cause you to stretch. But like all fruitful learning, the rewards are great—for you and, more importantly, for your students. I encourage you to read this book with an eye for what speaks to you—the principles, tips, and examples that you immediately sense will help your students develop the skills they need to be responsible, autonomous, and self-aware. Start there. Work on those teacher language strategies. Then take on one or two more. In time, you’ll see your students gaining the skills they need to access rigorous instruction and be successful in and out of school.
We teachers can change children’s lives and shape the future. Let’s get down to it.
—Lora M. Hodges, EdD
Executive Director, Northeast Foundation for Children
Learn more about positive teacher language:
The Power of Our Words: Teacher Language That Helps Children Learn, 2nd Edition
This warm and thought-provoking book shows how you can use words, tone, and pacing to build a classroom where students feel safe, respected, appreciated, and excited about learning.
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