Words Matter: How to Reflect, Correct, and Project

Words Matter: How to Reflect, Correct, and Project

We’ve all been there: that dreaded moment when words come out of your mouth before you have a chance to think them through; you are hit with an immediate wave of regret, and you feel your face turn red or a shudder crawl up your spine. You wish you could just take the words back!

But making mistakes is part of being human, and every misstep is an opportunity for reflection and growth. Even situations that leave you feeling upset, embarrassed, or disappointed in yourself can transform into a learning opportunity through the simple three-step process of reflect, project, and correct.

Teacher Language

In the Responsive Classroom approach, the characteristics of teacher language are of paramount importance to empowering students and setting them up for success. They are:

  • Be direct and genuine.
  • Convey faith in children’s abilities and intentions.
  • Focus on action.
  • Keep it brief.
  • Know when to be silent.

Body language also has the unique power to underscore or undermine the message we are trying to convey. Research indicates that 93 percent of what we say is nonverbal, so educators must consider tone, facial expressions, and body posture when talking to students.

In moments when you fail to meet the ideals of teacher language in conversation with students, you can meditate on your misstep, rectify the situation, and adopt practices that will help you respond better in the future.

Reflect, Correct, and Project

Reflect Empathy

Teachers are reflective practitioners. We can perseverate over lessons that could have gone better, further actions we could have taken to help a student, and the words that come out of our mouths. Recognizing what happened is the best first step to improvement because it provides the situation with clarity. It will be fine; you’re working hard and doing the best you can!

Correct by Taking Responsibility

We know from the core belief of Responsive Classroom that social-emotional learning is just as important as the academic content we teach our students. Part of our role is to help our students build the competencies they need to be responsible members of a learning community. It is a powerful, character-building moment for them to witness a significant adult in their life say, “I’m sorry that the tone of my words hurt you. I will be more conscious of it in the future.” Along with modeling for students what taking responsibility looks like, a sincere, heartfelt apology also lets students know that they are valued members of the classroom and can go a long way toward mending any hurt feelings.

Project Proactive Practices

After a breakdown in communication, consider how to be proactive in the future. A simple sticky note on your laptop, a sentence starter on the board, or an anchor chart on the wall can provide the coaching you need. If you are feeling courageous, consider videoing yourself so you can hear and see yourself communicating in action. Our language is ingrained in us; these reminders are all we need to become more self-aware so that we can break out of unhelpful patterns.

The Impact of Our Words

Our students are always watching and listening. As Paula Denton writes in The Power of Our Words, “What [students] hear and interpret—the message they get from their teacher—has a huge impact on how they think and act, and ultimately how they learn” (2007, 1). Our transparency can help support the social and emotional skills that our students need in order to thrive. As you communicate and converse with people throughout all aspects of your life, I hope you feel empowered to reflect, correct, and project proactive practices. Remember . . . words matter!

Jenni Lee Groegler Pierson is a contributing author for
Empowering Educators: A Comprehensive Guide to Teaching Grades 3, 4, 5 and author of multiple Quick Coaching Guides, including Joyful Gatherings and Seeing That Students Belong and Are Significant.