Three Words Every Teacher Should Purge From Their Vocabulary

This is Denny. He digs horses and Wyoming.

This is Denny. He digs horses and Wyoming.

I’m writing on this topic with the permission of Dennis McLoughlin, educational speaker and founder of High Trust (website here). You’ll notice the site is very colorful and includes scrolling headlines and squares bouncing off the sides of the screen. I imagine this is what the inside of Denny’s head feels like most of the time.

I kid. I kid because I love.

Seriously, if you’re a teacher or work with kids in any capacity, you need to go to one of Denny’s workshops, post haste. I attended two, and what I learned forever changed how I communicate with kids, all for the better. Which brings me to this post.

Since I last attended a workshop, I left my classroom teaching job and took a position as a part-time certified tutor. This job requires me to go to different classrooms throughout the day, working with small groups with various needs. This is my third year, and something I learned in Denny’s workshop pops into my consciousness on a daily basis. This something is based on three words: Please and Thank You. I hear teachers, aides, parents, whoever say these words to kids all the time, and 99% of the time, they shouldn’t.

I know. But it’s good manners, you’re thinking. And you’re right, as long as the kid is doing you a favor (this is the 1% when it’s okay). Like, “Please go to the cabinet and get a blue marker for me.” Kid gets marker. “Thank you.”

This is how it should not occur: “Please, sit in your desk and complete this math assignment.” Kid gets up. “Please, take your seat. I would appreciate it if you would finish your work. Thank you.”

Another example: “Please line up according to your numbers. Jake, I asked you to line up. Please follow directions.” Kid lines up. “Thank you for listening.”

Is anyone else’s skin crawling?

Here’s the deal: saying “please” is begging and takes all the power away from the kid. They are now completing whatever they’re expected to do for you because you asked them to as a personal favor. Another definition of “please” is “if you wouldn’t mind”. How does this sound: “If you wouldn’t mind, go join your classmates in line.”

Kid is thinking: As a matter of fact I do mind, and I’ll just stay right here and rip apart my eraser, thankyouverymuch.

Go back to the personal favor idea for a minute. Is the kid doing what he needs to do to be successful as a favor to you?

Seriously? Is he?

But what should I say? You may be asking. Because we all know the best way to rid yourself of a bad habit is to replace it with a good one.

Here are your new words: You may and You can. That’s it.

“You may line up by the time I count to five.”

“You may open your book to page 13.”

If the kid is being a stinker, I like to combine it with Love and Logic’s broken record principle.

“You may take your seat.” Kid stands there. “You may take your seat.” Kid grimaces. “You may take your seat.” Kid takes seat.

It works. I promise. Try it.

And here’s what you say instead of “thank you”: praise the kid’s effort. Put it on him; don’t put it on you with “thank you.”

“Wow! Look how you solved that problem!”

“That’s the neatest handwriting I’ve seen in weeks!”

“Can you believe how many more words you’re reading? You must be so proud!”

You’ll be counting the dimpled cheeks. This is also a promise.

So here’s my challenge to you educators, daycare providers, aides, tutors, and parents: purge “please” and “thank you” from your vocabulary. Just see what happens.

8 thoughts on “Three Words Every Teacher Should Purge From Their Vocabulary

  1. I attended Denny’s workshop during my first year of teaching back in 1981. His ideas and techniques have been the foundation of how I teach ever since. So glad he is still spreading his magic!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. How funny.I was going through my files and found his book… Then I was just in correspondence with him about coming to the Austin area. He is amazing. I learned to much from him. It really works. I have tried it for years.


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