Word Power in the Classroom

A few summers ago, I read Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. I learned about the power of the subconscious and how simple, suggestive words can greatly influence attitude and behavior. I immediately made about 40 signs that constantly reinforce behaviors I want in the classroom. They were all positive, in fact, one of them was the word positive. Others that still hang on my classroom walls are:

Hardworking, Focused, Attentive, I Can, Respect, Successful, Achieve, Responsible, Organized, and Appreciative.

The signs were a constant reminder for me to reinforce my students but also I learned that by merely putting these sings on the wall, the students would perceive my expectations before I even said them. As Malcolm’s research suggested, I noticed subtle changes in my classroom almost immediately. Like most teachers, I have learned that positive and encouraging words are far more effective than negative ones even if the outcome was not successfully achieved. Still, I make mistakes…

 Last year I had this great idea…since there is such an obvious connection between homework completion and test scores, I decided I was going to write down the test scores and homework completion percentages by class. I thought “what could be better than data driven results?”  I mean after all, shouldn’t students learn from other students what works? Of course, the higher achieving classes felt validated and continued to work hard on homework and thus to better on tests. With that said, I’m sure you already know what happened to the lower achieving class. While it wasn’t intended, the message was clear to them. They said where the “dumb class” and I heard a student say that I just didn’t like them.  

​Really? How could such a fact based piece of information so wasn’t such an emotional response? Needless to say, I stopped writing homework and test statistics on the board. Now, I’ve verbally celebrate progress, improvements and hard work are reinforced by saying things like “oh my gosh this class is so awesome, we almost had 100% completion of the homework last night. I love how hard-working as class is!” Or, if that’s simply not true, I say something directly to an individual group within earshot of the rest the class. I’d say, “this group always does such a great job turning in homework. Thanks so much for your hard work!” The thing about it is, while it’s emotional and not data driven, students feel better hearing it and I feel better saying it. It’s so easy to get bogged down and what students aren’t doing and get sucked into the vortex of negative discipline, but positive reinforcement is proven time and time again to get better results. It’s even true with colleagues. I’ve had so many principals over the years. The best ones make teachers feel good about what they’re doing right now, not what they are doing wrong.  

Positive energy inspires! Thanks for the reminder Malcom.