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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Do We Practice What We Preach?

By Peter DeWitt — June 02, 2015 3 min read
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Our words matter to most of the people on the receiving end of them. Those words that come out of our mouths, especially when we are in the role of teacher, can inspire kids and adults...open them up to new learning and experiences...or close them down to the point that they shut out new learning.

How we talk says a lot about who were are. Our words can show whether we are negative, crabby, frustrated, happy or sad. Some people seem to spend a lot of time in the negative category while others approach life a bit more positive.

Why does this matter?

In a recent survey I posted about the effectiveness of teacher observations, a teacher responded, “In the charter school where I worked previously we were “Over observed” and they would find at least one thing I did wrong in each observation.

What struck me in their response was that they mentioned the school leader would find at least one thing they were doing wrong...not one thing they could improve on...or one blind spot they had in their teaching. Was this a school climate issue? Were the issues that needed improvement seen as things they did wrong? Was that how the school leader said it...or was that how the teacher felt?

The response illustrates how some observations are seen as something done to teachers, and not something they necessarily learn from after they are completed. It reminded me of when I worked with a group of teachers and leaders in a Visible Learning workshop where I asked a teacher if she would share her answer with the rest of the audience, and she answered,

only if I’m right.”

Are we hypocrites when it comes to what we tell children?

Meaning, do we tell them that there are benefits of failure or that it’s ok to take risks, when we don’t take risks ourselves or see a need for improvement as something that others view as wrong? Do we approach their learning and point out the blind spots that will help them improve...or do we tell them that they have done things wrong. Do we use language that encourage students to step outside their comfort zones or is the language we use preventing them from moving forward?

Or is this just all the kind of stuff that makes us soft? No grit...no glory?

Growth Mindset

Carol Dweck is the foremost authority on the growth mindset. She presents, lectures and writes a great deal on the difference between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset. The way we use language with students, and the way we talk about our own growth can really set a much more inclusive and supportive classroom and school climate. School climate is not just the beliefs of those stakeholders in a school, but it’s how we all feel when we enter into it.

Changing the words we use could help us inspire students to go a little further instead of shutting down and quitting. A perfect example of the way we should talk was recently Tweeted out by David Geurin, a high school principal in Missouri. It perfectly illustrates the type of thinking that we, not only should use with students, but use with ourselves as well.

As you can see the words used offer a difference between shutting down or finishing, and being inspired to know we can always improve...even if things are tough.

In the End

Using the right words sounds like a soft way of approaching learning. In the old days, when we were students some of our teachers didn’t care about how they spoke to us. However, we remember with fondness the ones who inspired us to try a little harder and take a few more healthy risks.

Some adults have the attitude that they need to rip us down to build us up, and perhaps that works for some people. But I think every classroom should have a chart like David’s school to help illustrate what learning looks like, because we know how we say it helps us view it differently, and that matters.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.