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The Power of Affirming Words In The Lives of Our Students

It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. I️ grew up hearing this wisdom exhorted in my home time and time again. Words have power. The tone of those words carries with them an even heavier weight.

I’ve taken this wisdom into my classroom and observed other teachers who’ve made a conscious effort to do the same. The difference evoked by the tone purposefully set by the teachers in the room is an obvious one. It’s positive. It’s inviting. It’s healthy. It’s relaxing.

It’s the cornerstone of building an open rapport between student and teacher, as well as a necessary component of positive peer interactions. The affirming words from teacher to students translates into affirming words spoken between students. The trickle-down effect of such healthy communication is a beautiful sound to behold.

An article at the site “The Responsive Classroom” notes that

An overall tone of safety and caring is largely set by the adults’ positive language—what they say and how they say it.

Positive adult language is the professional use of words and tone of voice to enable students to learn in an engaged, active way. This includes learning social skills. To guide children toward choosing and maintaining positive behaviors, school adults need to carefully choose the words and tone of voice we use when speaking to them.

Are you talking about other teachers in a disparaging way within earshot of your students or are you courteous and respectful in what you say about other people? Do you give sincere compliments to your students or is it work from bell to bell all day with little time devoted to honing encouraging interpersonal interactions? Do you bring your baggage from outside of school into the classroom creating a negative environment or do you, regardless of what is going on in your life, send a message of the glass being half full?

Our answers to these questions are quite relevant, particularly as educators. We spend more time with our students than we do with our own families. Oftentimes, we are the first responders to crises in their lives. Do our words enable or disable them? Are we noticing the little things about our students — those teachable moments — and addressing them in a way that is comfortable and welcoming, or are we simply focused on getting through the curriculum by the end of the year? Isn’t it possible to do both? I think it is.

Our students are watching and mimicking us. They are depending on us to show them what being a caring adult is all about. What example are we setting? The tone we set in our classrooms should be ones of care and concern for the human beings entrusted in our care — no ifs, ands, or buts about it. Our words have power and as educators, we are forever called to raise children up. We are called to help them discern the innate beauty and power within them.

What do you think?

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