Can You Hear Me Now?
A few years back I spotted a small hand-made pillow at a craft fair which had wonderful words embroidered on it. I purchased it and put in on the seat of an old-fashioned school desk that I kept in a corner of my classroom. I used it as a reminder for me and all the future teachers that I taught. What did the embroidery say?
“Words that soak into the heart are whispered, never yelled.”
Since I have retired from full-time teaching, that little pillow sits in a small child-sized wicker rocker that I have in my home for my grandchildren. What powerful words those are.
Just this last week as I traveled from school to school to observe future teachers in training, one of them complained to me. “My voice doesn’t travel well in the classroom. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to control my students because they won’t be able to hear me.” I explained to that young aspiring teacher that a soft voice can be an asset, if you know how to use it well. I quoted my pillow.
When to Yell
Never. Alright, maybe if there is a tsunami wave on the beach right outside your school building and you quickly enter your noisy school cafeteria. You must get them to listen to immediate emergency directions. THEN you may yell…once.
But in every other teaching situation, to speak effectively, speak quietly. When someone yells at us, we freeze. Our survival instinct kicks in and we desperately try to separate ourselves from the environment. We feel like a raccoon caught in bright headlights. Unfortunately students usually cannot just get up and leave a classroom when a teacher yells at them. But they flee mentally or emotionally when someone raises their voice. The teacher may be yelling, trying to make a point, but the student isn’t really “there” at all. And yet there is some kind of instinct we too often develop while growing up watching our parents. Why is it we think, “If they don’t get it, we should just say it again…only louder.” ? We repeat the same explanations in the exact same way only with more volume, then they’ll understand. Right? Wrong.
Quiet words sink in. Words spoken softly don’t shut us down. Quiet words encourage us and help us breakthrough to understanding. They reassure us of our worth. When you sit next to a student and give them kind, quiet, reassuring directions and compliments it opens a student to learning heights they may have previously doubted they would ever achieve. Quiet words invite us into the learning process. They break through our resistance to new ideas and thoughts.
I once watched a master teacher named Nancy McClimans demonstrate the power of quiet words. She always spoke to her first graders in a quiet, calm voice. When she really wanted their attention, she would speak quietly and with each sentence she would make her voice just a little bit softer. Within seconds the students were completely still, giving her total eye contact and even leaning forward to catch every important word. Try this strategy. You will be amazed at its power.
Quiet calm words are even more important when working with students from an ‘at risk’ environment. Too many of today’s children hear yelling in their homes. It also surrounds them on reality television. On TV students watch talk shows and opinion panels during which every participant over talks or even over shouts every other member of the panel. How do you effectively respond to a shouting out-of-control student? There is only one way… with quiet, calm words.
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An apology and a disclaimer. WordPress (my blog site) has made some changes which I’m finding difficult to maneuver. I usually post on Monday mornings, but last week on Sunday Dec. 2nd I apparently hit a wrong button and my article posted before it was finished. It didn’t have a conclusion or even any editing. At that point words were spelled incorrectly and some words were even missing. I fear some of my most loyal followers who subscribe to my blog got a far inferior version of my regular blog. My humble apologies. Please be patient with me as I learn the new twists and turns of wordpress.