Steve Heisler

Teacher Author Speaker


"Every single child wants to be successful. The problem is, if they can't be successful at being successful, they'll be successful at screwing up. Our job as educators is to change the latter to the former."    

- from the The Missing Link by Steve Heisler

A Simple Rule Before Opening Your Yap

Observing a teacher the other day and, while she was addressing one student in particular, I started noting a pattern of harsh behavioral feedback statements. It bordered on, and eventually even crossed the line of acceptability. However when I reviewed the specificity of the language later I found it, at least on paper, reasonable though perhaps pushing the line of acceptable student teacher interaction.

A couple examples: "I don't want excuses, I want your work." Another: "No you don't need an eraser until you start writing something."

Of course the issue was not what was being said, but how. An old jazz tune said it very, very clearly in it's opening lyric: "It's not what you say it's the way how you say it." Very simple, very accurate advice.

Setting aside the specifics of this teacher it occurs to me how much I hear interactions of negative tone that are not necessarily negative in language. Sometimes it's sarcasm, or even dismissive, sometimes it's even unintentional. In the worst cases it is actually speech infused with a sense of implied superiority. Of course teachers, as well as other leaders, need authority. but authority does not need to be built on a disregard for how other receive, or may receive, what we as authorities need to say to be effective instructors and leaders.

A simple rule of thumb. Before you speak, before you give in to the snap emotion you may be feeling, give that impulse a nano second more of thought. Here's a simple test that you can employ in that extra bit of thought.

Imagine those exact words, in that exact tone, being said to you out of the mouths of your students (or peers, or employees). Ask yourself how it would make you feel. If you would not accept it from them, you probably shouldn't accept it out of your mouth either.