From the Principal: March 12, 2018

Our shared efforts in creating a safe, strong, supportive and open Baldwin Community is a core focus this year. I write today about one aspect of this work: the way we speak to and about children. As part of our Responsive Classroom approach we use a core resource book: The Power of Our Words: Teacher Language that Helps Children Learn (Center for Responsive Schools, 2015). I want to share a few ideas from that resource with you.

As parents, teachers and staff we have incredible power to shape and model the way that students think about themselves and each other. Much of that power comes from our words. Thus, we must be extremely thoughtful about the ways we talk with and about students.

Thinking about the power of our words is a key component of our schoolwide Responsive Classroom Approach. At school, we think about skillfully chosen language that can ensure that students gain academic skills, develop self-control and build relationships and community. I want to get our entire community in these language habits as we talk with and about students in our community. A shared vision for the way we talk to and about students will help everyone grow and learn!

The guidelines we utilize for our language with students include the following:
  • Be direct and genuine. We aim to say what we mean and mean what we say. We want to choose our words carefully and then follow through. We aim to use an even and matter-of-fact voice and tone at all times.
  • Convey faith in children’s abilities and intentions. We try to take the time to notice the positives and we also try to avoid “baby talk” or talking down to students. When we talk about students, we want to understand their intentions and the functions of their behaviors. We consider those with challenging behaviors as needing to build skills with our help, not needing to be “punished.”
  • Focus on action. We try to make our expectations concrete and framed in the positive (for example “walking feet” rather than “don’t run”). We try to talk about what positive behaviors look like and sound like. We try to be non-judgemental, describing behavior rather than overgeneralizing (“This is unkind behavior,” instead of “You are a bully.”)
  • Keep it brief. We aim to limit giving the same warnings over and over, in favor of giving students clear directions about what to do, while holding high expectations. We then support students as needed to meet those expectations.
  • Know when to be silent. We aim to be mindful about speaking slowly and providing wait time for students to think. We also aim to listen very carefully to the student perspective, even in moments of frustration.
(The Power of Our Words, pp. 12-31)

You’ll notice I use the word “aim” in many of these descriptions. That’s because as teachers and as parents, we always have more to learn. I have so much practice in this area, yet I still struggle to improve on these ideas with my own children--especially in moments of frustration. The important thing is that we share a similar approach as a community and are consistently reflecting and working toward it.

I hope you find these ideas helpful and clear! You can learn much about Responsive Classroom and The Power of Their Words at