Looking to the Future with Positive Teacher Language
As we turn the page to 2021, I find myself reflecting on the lessons I’ve learned and what I want to take with me into the new year. Throughout 2020, we’ve seen students forced to adapt because of changed plans, less than ideal learning conditions, and adversity of all types. Although Responsive Classroom’s approach to positive teacher language has strongly influenced my teaching throughout my career, navigating tough conversations in these challenging circumstances has brought this tool into sharp focus for me. In 2021, I am choosing to ground myself and my teaching practice in positive teacher language so that I can provide a sense of certainty, community, and emotional safety to my students no matter the situation. Below are some thoughts that I am keeping in the front of my mind as I reflect and recharge.
Take time to genuinely acknowledge and validate students’ emotions as change occurs. Consider modeling vulnerability and strategies for how to work through tough emotions by being honest about how you are emotionally affected as well. However, stay mindful that students’ voices should have priority. Be willing to offer a positive spin or a silver lining, but avoid implying that only one emotion or reaction is reasonable. For example:
- “When you shared, I saw lots of others nodding. It seems like a lot of us are feeling worried.”
- “It can be confusing when plans change so often. I’m glad we are able to talk about it and process it together.”
- “I’m glad that you shared that because I’m feeling frustrated, too. It makes me feel better to know I’m not the only one.”
Explicitly teach and positively reinforce prosocial behaviors that are challenging and important in trying times. Attentively listening to others even when you really want to contribute, collaborating, and showing vulnerability are especially difficult skills in unpredictable circumstances.
- “It can be really hard to share difficult feelings as you did. You are being very brave.”
- “As I visited your small groups, I noticed a lot of students really thinking about other classmates’ ideas and asking follow-up questions. Exploring others’ ideas like this will be helpful as we make our new plan.”
- “You are patiently waiting and listening even though I bet you might have a lot to share.”
Use concise, direct language to maintain an environment where students have predictability and structure. In times of uncertainty and change, the learning space you help mold is one of the key places where students feel a sense of autonomy and success. Use reminding language to revisit routines, hold students to reasonable expectations, and review the boundaries that help them thrive in the community they have co-designed with reason and care.
I hope these considerations will help you and your students to feel calm, certain, and connected no matter what the future holds.
Written by Layne Todd, a Certified Responsive Classroom Educator