Positive Language

I read a post by whenisitdueinsir  yesterday, which has inspired me to conduct an experiment. The blogger noticed that a “mufti day” or “home clothes day” at primary school becomes a “non-school uniform day” at secondary. The shift from positive to negative language on transition from KS2 to 3 slides past almost unnoticed until foregrounded.

I thought back through my week at school and wondered how many children I had told to “stop” doing something, or “don’t” do that, or who I had given a flat “no” to. Bill Rogers clearly outlines the benefits of using positive language in the classroom, so I know I shouldn’t (there I go again). In fact, Tom Sherrington’s post about Rogers reminded me of it only a month or so ago.

So I am making a personal pledge in my own teaching to refocus myself on positive language. “Stop talking please” will become “Could you please listen carefully?”. “Don’t log on yet” will  become “please wait until I have given you all the instructions”. “Don’t push” will become “could you please wait your turn.” And not just in the classroom either – in conversations with staff and parents I am going to make every effort to use positive language. Gone is “that option combination won’t work”; in its place: “have you considered Media Studies?” I will try to avoid “don’t let students out before the bell” and go for “please wait until the bell before dismissing your group”. And “that won’t work” will be completely off limits unless I can offer a positive alternative.

This isn’t just a gimmick. When something is prohibited or forbidden, it sets up an oppositional relationship and breeds negativity. When, instead, I say what I do want to happen, offer the path that I would like the students to take, give a solution rather than just identify a problem, I hope to avoid that trap and create a culture that has positivity and collaboration in its very fabric. Truth be told, I think this should be a whole school cultural bottom line – and maybe that’s something we could look at!

So if you work with me, follow me on Twitter, read this blog, or if you’re in one of my classes – please try to catch me out! I’ll thank you for it.

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6 thoughts on “Positive Language

  1. Excellent idea. My original post you refer to was merely an observation. You have linked it to more intellectual posts and taken action on the topic. I wish you all the best with your resolution

  2. Great stuff, Chris. I used to think about this when I was out and about in the school where I was a head, eg trying to say ‘Thanks for waiting quietly’ rather than ‘Stop talking’ as pupils went into assembly. And when we put together a succint behaviour policy in the school where I was a deputy, in discussion with staff and students, we worked hard to phrase every part of it as a positive (what we did want to do) and not as a negative (‘Don’t….’). We then did the same when we revisited the Anti-Bullying Policy (though recognised the policy title needed work!)

  3. Pingback: Assembly – Positive | Teaching: Leading Learning

  4. It’s alarmingly easy to slip into negative ways of speaking. Thanks for the timely reminder about the importance of being and staying positive with pupils.

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