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!