Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Power of Positive Words

I'm sad I forgot to take pictures of this...but after something that happened on Friday, I wanted to share this story, both as a reminder for me and inspiration (and/or a reminder) for my readers.

You remember that saying from childhood, "Sticks and Stones may break my bones but names/words will never hurt me"? What a lie that is! I actually have not shared this with my current friends yet but plan to do so. I have, in the past, talked about that with my other students and how it isn't true. Words can and do hurt sometimes.

Words can also uplift though. And that is what we really want to focus on. Using positive words to uplift each other and make our classroom and school a happier place to be.

It is not a secret that last year was super hard for me. I had several students who were really challenging--often downright mean to each other and to me--and two partners who did not collaborate with me. It was hard. I wanted all of the kids to have a great education and it is difficult to do that without grade level support and collaboration. I was determined that no matter what curve balls came my way this year, that I was not going to have a repeat of last year.

I began this year with the intent to be positive. With myself, my students, my colleagues, the other staff members at my school, my husband, my own kids and my friends. When your mindset is positive, everything around you seems much more positive too.

This past week, I gave all of my students a pink heart made on an Ellison machine. They were smooth and beautiful. We put our names on them and then crumpled them up (and I can't tell you how many of the kiddos did NOT want to crumple their heart). Then I asked them to try to smooth them out so they looked the way they did when I first handed them out. Several students pointed out that this was impossible. I then came in with the point of the activity--when we say mean things to each other, even if we apologize, we can't really take them back either. It's like squeezing toothpaste out of a tube: no matter how hard you try, you can never put it back. I could see the light bulb coming on for many of my students by making the discussion concrete with the visual of the heart. Most of the 3rd graders choose to keep their heart in their pencil pouch as a reminder (I love that!).

Later in the week, we had a specials class and one of the ASD classes is pushing in with us for all of the specials. Two of my friends were very mean to the students from that class. We had a big talk about it. One of the girls in my class said, "they wrinkled those kids' hearts!" so I know this was a powerful reminder. We then had a chat about how some people are different; their brains don't work the same way that other people's brains do. Sometimes those friends might do things that seem scary or weird, but they just don't know any different because that is how their brains work. It seemed to stick as the rest of the week, the kiddos were great with them.

Positive words go a long way. One of my students was a real challenging little guy last year. His teacher did not say anything positive--not one thing!--about him on the information card that gets sent to the next teacher. How sad is that? My student teacher and I have found something positive to say to all of our students every day so far...and what a difference that makes in our classroom! It amazes me how just a few positive words can really change your whole mindset.

Which brings me to my final story. On Friday, my new teaching partner came in. She gets a couple of days to really settle in, get her room set and be ready to go. So she came in to observe me for a little while to see how I do things with my students (she's had middle school for a long while so has to get back to "elementary"). We were chatting at one point and she told me how much another colleague had praised me and the work that I did last year for my grade since I was the only one really invested in the kids. The new partner went on for several minutes about the nice things Ms. Kindergarten said about me. I saw Ms. Kindergarten at the end of the day and gave her a hug and thanked her for her positive words. Let me just tell you....all weekend long those positive words have kept me going. When I think about them, I smile. If I, as an adult, can feel so uplifted by someone's positive words, how do they make my students feel? If we, as adults, can be hurt by other people's words so much, how do they make our students feel, who take everything to heart because they are so little still?

It's a powerful reminder that a positive mindset and outlook can make a huge difference. It also reminds me that focusing upon the positive behaviors I see is much more effective than focusing on the annoying behaviors that all students have. We have a box at our school with positive notes inside and I am going to vow to write two positive notes each week to give to my colleagues. Because we all need to be praised, recognized and rewarded for the work that we do. And if I can be the person to set the tone for that, so be it.

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