Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Why My Words Matter

I've fallen off the blogging wagon.  This month I am participating in the Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life blogging challenge. Each day during the month of March, participating students and teacher bloggers are sharing a slice of their daily life, writing a small moment to share with readers.  I have been so impressed reading the daily posts from educators and especially from students.  There are multiple classrooms - high school, middle school, even some elementary school students - who have written, posted, and responded to others every single day so far.

I have failed.

But here's the thing. I am okay with that.

There was a time when every misstep, every shortcoming, every time I fell short of my goal, I would spiral into an anxious little mess.  Self-deprecating comments easily came to my lips, and I would let the mantra of "good enough is not good enough" loop like an earworm through my brain.

Flickr image by Pierre Metivier
And then I started to see this type of thinking replicated in my high school students. Not all that long ago, I heard my six year old son call himself "stupid" under his breath when I corrected him on a math problem he was working on at home. I watch my young sons and my students fall into the same thinking traps that I do. I watch them let a missed answer, a missed grade, a missed honor snowball into a global sense of failure.

It took time for me to recognize how my own words and actions might be framing the thoughts and actions of the young people I work with.  How can I inspire and encourage resilience if I continue to be so critical of myself?

I had this same conversation with my student teacher just the other day.  She is an amazingly talented undergraduate who is working hard to take over my multiple preps and get to know my 150+ students. Having just finished our first unit in our honors tenth grade English classes, which she designed, she is in the midst of grading 57 elaborate multi-genre projects.  I hear her make fun of herself in front of the class when students ask if they are graded.  It is something that many of us do.  It is good not to take yourself to seriously.  However, I have learned that if you vocalize more self-critical comments than positive ones, it does impact how others interact with you.  We have talked about how to frame the instructions she gives in the classroom, how words really do matter.  Even in seemingly simply, seemingly benign situations, how we choose to use our words can frame how those around us interact with one another.

I have been accused of being overly enthusiastic, positive to the point of being Pollyanna-ish.  But here's the thing: I would rather my students, the world, view me as a positive force of good rather than a pessimistic, self-critical complainer.  If I want my students to view themselves as positive forces of change, then I need to view myself as one, too.  If I want my students to talk about themselves as strong, empowered, resilient learners, then I need to provide them opportunities to use language to reflect on how they have made changes and learned from mistakes.  If I want my students to succeed, I must be an example of how to make mistakes, acknowledge failure, and move on.

In January, I bought myself a gift, a bracelet engraved with a quote from Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself." I wear it every day as a reminder that I am resilient, that I am enough.

"I exist as I am. That is enough."

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