Focusing on the Positive Possibilities for Our Students
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I often talk about the words and images in schools and how often they tell people what “not to do” instead of focusing on what is possible. I have a horrible habit of counting how many times I read “no” or “don’t” on walls because I think about the impact it has on our students.
One comment I often make is about the “don’t be a bully” sign. In jest, I share that if a student is about to “bully,” I am not sure that sign, at the moment, will get them to stop the action.
Let’s make this clear that I am obviously against bullying of any sorts. I am not saying that we shouldn’t do our best to eradicate this negative behavior. My focus is on the idea if we focus on “don’t be a bully,” what are the best results of this action? Are we saying, “don’t be a horrible person and that is enough?” Or could we focus on how we make the lives of others around us better?
A good friend of mine had heard my stance on this and had shared that she listened to an educational speaker say that when we put the word “don’t” or “no” in front of actions, it is not normal for the brain to automatically see the absence of the behavior. For example, if I say “stop walking,” do you first visualize someone walking or sitting down? The same could be said for bullying. Do we put the thought of the negative action in someone’s head when we say “don’t bully” and merely assume the positive action will be acted upon?
Dr. Martin Brokenleg reminded a group that I was working with that when you have signs at the front of the school saying something similar to, “For the safety of our students, please check in at the front of the office,” you insinuate that students are not walking into a safe environment. A simple rephrasing to, “Upon arrival, please check in at the office as we love to welcome all visitors to our school” had the same objective as the first message but delivered in a way that signifies people are walking into a positive space.
We can focus our kids on the message of “not being a horrible person” or help them see that their positive actions can change the world for others. Being mindful of how we deliver a message can have a more significant impact than the actual message itself.