Changing One Word Can Make a Huge Difference

Have you ever had one of those backhanded compliments? Like, “Wow! You actually smell good today!” Yeah, me too. And yet, too many times I see educators giving backhanded compliments to their students without even realizing it.

“You did a great job on that writing assignment, but you need to work more on your spelling.”

“You got 99% of those questions right, but you need to do the last one over.”

“You got ready for dismissal quickly, but you are still too noisy.”

What “But” Really Means

Do you notice what each of those sentences has in common? It’s that nasty little word “but.” My 5th grade teacher taught me that whenever someone uses a sentence with the word “but” in it, you can ignore whatever came before the “but” and just pay attention to the rest of the sentence, because that’s what the speaker really means.  And in truth, that’s exactly what happens with our students. Many times, they give much more weight to the criticism than they do to the praise.

As educators, we make statements like these because we want to soften bad news or criticism, or we want to let our students know how they can continue to make progress. Unfortunately, using sentences containing “but” doesn’t do what we want, and may actually feel manipulative and dishonest to our students, which will cause them to resist us.

A Simple Fix

So what can we do instead? I suggest a simple word substitution. Any time you want to use the word “but,” substitute “next.”

“You did a great job on that writing assignment. Next, let’s work on some of those spelling words.”

“You got 99% of those questions right. Great job! Next, I’d like you to work on that last one again, and see if you can get it right, too.”

“You got ready for dismissal quickly. Thank you. Next, I’d like you to wait quietly.”

Words are important, and sometimes small changes make a big difference. Give it a try, and let me know how it goes.

Now go create a great day for yourself and your students!

Katrina Ayres, Positive Teaching Strategies

Additional Awesome Teacher Nation Resources

Books

  • Create a Great Day for Yourself and Your Students
  • 5-Minute Classroom Management Hints
  • The Take-Charge Teacher
  • All The Ways I Screwed Up My First Year of Teaching
  • The Classroom Teacher’s Coloring Book
  • The Classroom Teacher’s Coloring Book, Volume 2

VideosAwesome Teacher Nation TV videos, including:

  • Why Threats and Punishments Don’t Work
  • Saving Time on Paperwork and Grading
  • 7 Strategies to Deal With the Pencil Sharpener
  • What’s the BEST Classroom Management Strategy?

Online Courses

  • Taming the Chaos: How to Create and Effective Classroom Routine
  • Making Money as an In-Demand Substitute Teacher
  • A Day in the Life of a Substitute Teacher
  • The Substitute Teacher’s Troubleshooting Guide

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Are Your Students Defiant?

You may have noticed that, upon occasion, students do not do things exactly the way you want them to.

Just the other day I asked a class of elementary students to work on an assignment without talking. Not even one second later, more than half the class started chattering with each other.

Angry TeacherThe heat moved up my neck and into my head. My ears started ringing. I was furious. Not even a pretense at doing what I asked! The disrespect! I was about ready to let them have it.

But then I took a deep breath, a practice I recommend frequently, and asked myself two questions.

  1. Would yelling, blaming, or punishing make the situation better or worse? (Answer: There is no situation that will not be made worse by yelling, blaming, or punishing.)
  2. Had I ever explicitly taught these students MY definition of “without talking?” I knew what I meant, but did the students?

(I know.  Without. Talking. How can you get THAT wrong? But stay with me…)

Since the answer to Question 2 was I had not explicitly defined “without talking,” it was possible they didn’t know what I meant. I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt and teach them.

I got their attention and then in a very quiet, calm, non-sarcastic voice I said, “I’m sorry. I guess I never actually taught you what I mean when I say, ‘without talking.’ ‘Without talking’ to me means your lips are completely closed and your throat is not making any sounds.” And then I showed them what “no talking” sounded like, as well as a few anti-examples, such as talking loudly, murmuring, quietly asking to borrow a pencil, and whispering. And when I repeated my request for them to work without talking, the room was silent.

Why did this work? I think there are two possibilities. Either they really didn’t know what I meant (for instance, they thought it was okay to talk as long as they were talking about the assignment) or they didn’t think I was going to enforce it. By stopping the lesson and making my expectations clear, I took away any excuses and let them know I meant what I said.

Remember that, at times, talking to a young person is like having a conversation in a foreign language. The expectations you bring to the conversation may be different than theirs, and even the words you use may have different meanings. Before blaming the students, try teaching a lesson instead. After all, you ARE a teacher!

Katrina Ayres, Positive Teaching Strategies

Additional Awesome Teacher Nation Resources

Books

  • Create a Great Day for Yourself and Your Students
  • 5-Minute Classroom Management Hints
  • The Take-Charge Teacher
  • All The Ways I Screwed Up My First Year of Teaching
  • The Classroom Teacher’s Coloring Book
  • The Classroom Teacher’s Coloring Book, Volume 2

VideosAwesome Teacher Nation TV videos, including:

  • Why Threats and Punishments Don’t Work
  • Saving Time on Paperwork and Grading
  • 7 Strategies to Deal With the Pencil Sharpener
  • What’s the BEST Classroom Management Strategy?

Online Courses

  • Taming the Chaos: How to Create and Effective Classroom Routine
  • Making Money as an In-Demand Substitute Teacher
  • A Day in the Life of a Substitute Teacher
  • The Substitute Teacher’s Troubleshooting Guide

Gain Instant Access to the Awesome Teacher Nation Resources Library

With Solutions for Administrators, Classroom Teachers, New Teachers, Substitute Teachers, and more

Should You Make Kids Apologize?

Do you ever “make” your students apologize to each other?

Should You Make Kids Apologize?As a teenager, I decided that forced apologies were stupid and I would never make anyone apologize. (My teenage self  decided that a lot of things were stupid. Stupid was one of my favorite words.) But as a teacher, I have made students apologize, and I probably will again.

For example, back in 2012 I included this little dialog snippet in a story I wrote about my first year of teaching:

“Kaden, you pulled Jennie’s hair. Was that kind?”

“No.”

“What do you think you should do now?”

“Sorry, Jennie,” he says, and with this display of genuine remorse and repentance, skips back to his seat. Lesson learned, right?

Does Apologizing Teach Kids Anything?

So did Kaden learn a lesson? Did it do any good to make him apologize? He doesn’t seem very sincere in this story. But maybe apologizing made him aware, even for a short instant, that his actions might have an effect on another person’s feelings. Maybe it helped him learn a social skill that could help him in the future.

And what about Jennie? Even if Jennie suspects Kaden isn’t 100 percent sincere, she at least knows I’m paying attention and that I care enough to support her.

Although I no longer think “suggested” apologies are out-and-out stupid, I do think they can backfire.

I am NOT sorryAlthough I no longer think “suggested” apologies are out-and-out stupid, I do think they can backfire. I don’t recommend asking students to apologize if:

  • They don’t think they were wrong. In their minds, you are asking them to lie. Either they will feel outrage at how unfair it is, or they will decide that it’s okay to lie to get out of trouble.
  • They think apologizing is humiliating or weak. The goal of an apology is to acknowledge the other person’s feelings, not punish the person giving the apology.
  • They have no intention of changing their ways. Fake apologies can make the recipient of the apology angry and escalate the situation even more.

When Apologies Are Best

Apologies are best when:

  • They are part of a problem-solving discussion, instead of a scold-and-sorry routine.
  • They are recognized as a way to take responsibility for a mistake, whether intentional or accidental.
  • They are not used as a punishment or consequence. Writing an apology letter rarely makes anyone feel better, except the person who assigns it.
  • They do not erase the need for restitution or consequences. If the consequences were necessary before the apology, they are still necessary afterward.

SorryTeaching students to apologize is not a magic wand that will keep them from arguing or bullying each other. But it can be a way to raise empathy and clear the air.

Do you think it’s appropriate to ask students to apologize to each other? I’d love to hear your thought on this topic.

Now go create a great day for yourself and your students!

Katrina Ayres, Positive Teaching Strategies

Additional Awesome Teacher Nation Resources

Books

  • Create a Great Day for Yourself and Your Students
  • 5-Minute Classroom Management Hints
  • The Take-Charge Teacher
  • All The Ways I Screwed Up My First Year of Teaching
  • The Classroom Teacher’s Coloring Book
  • The Classroom Teacher’s Coloring Book, Volume 2

VideosAwesome Teacher Nation TV videos, including:

  • Why Threats and Punishments Don’t Work
  • Saving Time on Paperwork and Grading
  • 7 Strategies to Deal With the Pencil Sharpener
  • What’s the BEST Classroom Management Strategy?

Online Courses

  • Taming the Chaos: How to Create and Effective Classroom Routine
  • Making Money as an In-Demand Substitute Teacher
  • A Day in the Life of a Substitute Teacher
  • The Substitute Teacher’s Troubleshooting Guide

Gain Instant Access to the Awesome Teacher Nation Resources Library

With Solutions for Administrators, Classroom Teachers, New Teachers, Substitute Teachers, and more