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Adam Voigt on the power of your language in the classroom

Your words are weapons

You know how some songs just get stuck in your head … and then you can’t lose them?!  All day long you find yourself drumming your fingers on the desk, on the laptop and then on the steering wheel to the beat of the song that perhaps woke you that morning.  

This happened to me just last week and I thought it prophetic that the song was “Devil Inside” by the iconic Aussie band INXS.  Prophetic because not only did the song creep under my skin and wriggle around in my psyche for around 24 hours, but because the line in the song that stuck with me was “Words are weapons, sharper than knives …”

They are you know.  Words – combined with music they are indeed powerful instruments … as they are in the classroom.  You could make a decent case that words, or the language we choose to deploy, is indeed the only weapon or instrument that Teachers really have.

This means that it’s critically important for Teachers to choose their words carefully.  Take the concept of behavioural priming for example.  Priming, put simply, is preparing students with our language to demonstrate the behaviours that we wish to see rather than reminding them of the behaviours that we don’t wish to see.

Think about using “I need you to move safely around the room” in preference to “Don’t run in my classroom”.  One sentence reminds students of what we want and the other reminds them of what we don’t.  I know which one sends a more positively implied behavioural instruction.  The first sentence primes me to move safely.  

Fundamentally, this is why ‘don’ts’ don’t work and why some schools and classrooms that are filled with rules about what students shouldn’t do are often the most unruly.  We keep reminding them to play up!

Teachers with sharp weaponry are those who are battle ready for even the toughest classrooms.  As you kick off 2018, it might be worthwhile to spend a little time sharpening your sword.  Do you see what I did there?  ‘Sword’ being an anagram ‘words’.  There might just be something in that!

Adam Voigt

Adam Voigt is the Founder & Director of Real Schools. Built upon years of experience as a successful Principal, Real Schools helps schools to build and sustain strong, relational School Cultures. A speaker of local and international renown, Adam has delivered a TED Talk and is the schools/education expert for The Project”.

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