I was recently talking with a colleague about student behaviors and documentation; and I had the opportunity to reflect upon the conversations we have (and maybe don’t have frequently enough) in our school. We had an amazing conversation about our own personal journeys and we discussed how we are constantly trying to learn in grow in all that we do (mindset & language being a big part of that).
I’ve always been passionate about seeing the best in our students and realizing that student behaviors are merely a form of communication and not a sign of disrespect or being “naughty.” There’s nothing worse than watching the facial expressions of colleagues while a student is emotionally escalated and acting out in a way that so many people refer to as “unacceptable.” It’s not disheartening because people are frustrated with the child and how they are acting. It’s frustrating because most often, people tend to see that student as their one negative, “naughty” behavior, rather than the kid they truly are and all that they will become.
Moral of the story: the way we see our students drastically impacts how our students see themselves, how our colleagues see our students, and ultimately, how our students will learn, grow, and behave within our school.
As I reflect back to my first experiences in a classroom or even around children, I didn’t always realize how my language (whether it was written language or oral communication), drastically impacted how I actually saw the children around me.
It’s inevitable; students are going to have behaviors. Woah…slow down. Let’s read that again: Students are going to have behaviors. And, guess what! We are human. Which means that when behaviors or incidents occur, we are going to have thoughts come into our brains about what is happening, what we think should be happening, or what we think the cause of what is happening is. As we document these behaviors or work towards problem-solving or discussing these behaviors or incidents, the way we talk about those incidents or document those incidents MATTERS! Our language matters… ALWAYS!!!
Think about it. If you were a parent, which example below would you rather hear?
I’m not a parent, nor can I anticipate how I might react to hearing something not positive about my child. But, if I were to think about these comments as comments on an annual job review, I can tell you that I would hands down prefer to hear: “When prompted to do work, the teacher did not comply.” Rather than someone assuming that I didn’t want to do what I was supposed to be doing. I would anticipate it’s a similar thought for parents (and probably even students).
Not only is the statement “When prompted to do work, the student did not comply” less accusatory; but, it’s also more accurate. How might it be more accurate? When we write, “the student did not want to do his/her work” we are insinuating that we know how that student is feeling and that we know what that student wants to do or does not want to do. While a student might appear as if they do not want to do their work, or while a student may state, “I do not want to do my work!” We can’t assume that that is the only reason they aren’t complying and completing their work. There are so many factors to consider: Does the student have the skills to complete their work? Did something happen at home? Has the student’s basic needs been met? Is the student emotionally escalated? Is the student experiencing anxiety? Is the environment over stimulating? Did this child experience a traumatic event, which is then triggered by this assignment? (You get the point).
The point is, we have to be cautious about the language we use when we talk with or about students; and, when we are recording incidents that occur for data purposes or report purposes.
Below I have created some examples. NOTE: These are examples I personally struggle with or catch myself saying, writing or thinking. Are the items under the “Biased Language” section incorrect to say? No! Are you a bad teacher, paraprofessional, administrator, parent, or caregiver if you say or think those things? ABSOLUTELY NOT. However, just keep in mind that our language and our thoughts drastically shifts our overall mindset and viewpoint of what’s going on around us. Similar to the “biased language” section…Is the suggested “Unbiased” language on the right side the ONLY option for language you should use? ABSOLUTELY NOT! I am simply sharing how I have changed my own personal language to better reflect my mindset and data keeping for the betterment of my students.
My challenge for you is to change your mindset in all that occurs in your classroom. See the good in the student, and do your best to be a “problem solver” for the things (or behaviors) you don’t ‘yet’ understand. Always remember that a student’s behavior is not an attack at you or anything you are doing. Oftentimes, a behavior just means that there is something a student is either trying to communicate or a skill area that a student might be lacking.
As a way to help self-monitor your own language, consider asking yourself these questions when you find yourself thinking, talking, or keeping data about a student’s behavior.