At WHPS, we believe that the way our teachers talk to children is a key ingredient in creating our warm, inclusive community. We know that our language can empower children, and it can be a powerful tool to encourage and support learning. Positive Teacher Language is inextricably tied to our character strengths education program. As we continue to model, practice, and reinforce respect, caring, honesty, perseverance, responsibility, and fairness in school, children need to know what is expected of them and need to feel safe making mistakes. Positive Teacher Language helps us create an environment in which these character strengths and other positive behaviors can be fostered.
As you may know, our staff is engaged in over 100 hours of ongoing professional development during the school year. Much of that time is focused on Responsive Classroom and—as a significant part of the program—we are continuing to hone and practice our careful, deliberate use of Positive Teacher Language with our children.
Positive Teacher Language can be just as helpful for parents who want to promote positive behaviors and avoid power struggles at home. Here are some basic guidelines for the three types of Positive Teacher Language: Reinforcing, Reminding and Redirecting. Listen for them at school, and feel free to try them at home. Choose an R and begin practicing.
Reinforcing Language is designed to help children build on their strengths instead of focusing on their weaknesses. Observe and name what children are doing well and point it out to them. This promotes growth and positive behavior. Avoid making blanket statements like “That’s great” or “Good job.” Instead, provide specific feedback like, “You remembered a capital letter at the beginning of the sentence” or “You held the
door for that man.”
Reminding Language provides a reminder to help children stay on track. In school this might sound like, “It’s time for Writing Workshop. What do you need to do to get ready?” At home, you can try, “We are leaving for school in a moment. What do you need to have in your backpack?” Or, “How can you say that in a friendly way to your brother?”
If a child is doing something unsafe or is experiencing strong emotions and is unable to focus on what they're supposed to be doing, redirect with a statement, not a question. This is done with a neutral tone and clear, precise words. Name the desired behavior, not the undesired one. Instead of, “Stop running,” try saying, “Walk.” Instead of, “You shouldn’t be talking right now,” try, ”It’s time to listen.” The fewer words you use and
the more you focus on the desired behavior, the better.
These principles are simple but help set clear, positive expectations that help children succeed. Join us this year in giving special attention to the nuances of our language with children. If you are interested in learning more, you can read more about Positive Teacher Language at www.responsiveclassroom.org.