Powerful Words


“…teacher language rests on a deep abiding faith in the goodness in children, a belief in their desire and ability to learn.” From The Power of Our Words

power-wordsWe’ve been sharing skills, strategies and content from Responsive Classroom with our faculty through the books and professional development kits that they produce. For example, we began the year with an introduction to Morning Meeting. While we have a handful of teachers who were already using Morning Meeting, we wanted to encourage everyone to explore its use as a community-building tool.

At a recent divisional faculty meeting and at our monthly meetings with instructional assistants, we led a workshop from the Responsive Classroom kit on teacher language. The resource book was The Power of Our Words: Teacher Language That Helps Children Learn by Paula Denton.

teacher-language-wkshpWe began the session with a four corners activity to focus everyone on the power that language can have in our lives. Located in the corners of the room were posters upon which we had written one of the following quotes:

  • Language actually shapes thoughts, feelings and experiences. It produces fundamentally new forms of behavior. – Lev Vygotsky
  • At any given moment you have the power to say: This is not how the story is going to end. – Christine Mason Miller
  • No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world. – John Keating
  • If we understood the power of our thoughts, we would guard them more closely. If we understood the awesome power of our words, we would prefer silence to almost anything negative. In our thoughts and words, we create our own weaknesses and our own strengths. Our limitations and joys begin in our hearts. – Betty Eadie

Teachers chose the quote that was most meaningful to them, went to that corner, and shared in small groups what spoke to them about the quote. After the opening activity, we watched video of a third grade teacher and noted examples of teacher language that she used that accomplished the following three goals:

  1. To help children gain academic skills and knowledge.
  2. To help children develop self-control.
  3. To build a sense of community in the classroom.

Afterward they discussed their observations at their table groups, and then we had a share-out to the whole group of their most meaningful observations or ah-ha moments.

As exit tickets, everyone jotted on a Post-It note the answer to the question, “Based upon our discussion today, how will you pay attention to one aspect of your use of language?” Some of the responses were:

  • I would like to remember to place more emphasis on what the student has to say; more student talk.
  • Speak in the positive. Ask them to show me what they can do. Don’t tell them what they should be doing.
  • I will try and take out “I” from my language. Like “I see” and “I notice.” It’s not about ME – it’s about them.
  • I want to think about being more intentional about using language that’s inclusive and non-judgmental.
  • I will try to be more deliberate with word choice to promote a sense of community.
  • Help kids show self control by telling them what to do; focus on what they are interested in; helping know how they feel; help them notice how they feel; help them notice how they are changing.
  • “What can we do to fix it?” Put ownership on the kids to come up with solutions.
  • Choosing words carefully to encourage student reflection and meaningful inquiry.

The quotes above are just a sampling of the take-aways that our teachers had about the learning we did together around teacher language. I’m always inspired by how reflective our teachers are about their practice and how open they are to new learning – and to revisiting learning that they already know! I’m looking forward to supporting their work with their students and to seeing how they use their learning about teacher language in their classrooms.


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