This past week, we had a professional development dedicated to communicating about how we work with students in a positive manner. We reflected on what we notice about our students everyday, what may cause some of the reactions that we see across campus, and how we, as educators, respond to these reactions – whether positive or negative. As I listened to my group and tried to overhear other groups, I noticed one common theme – assume positive intent. This is something that we have gone over in our teams for a few years now, especially when we look at our continuum of team work. However, it is important to recognize that this also applies to our students as well. I am not saying that most of us do not already do this when we are interacting with our students, I am saying that it is an easy thing to forget when we are faced with constant challenges throughout our day.

When we assume positive intent, we work to understand the underlying reasons for a particular behavior. We try to understand what is going on with the learner and respond from a place of empathy instead of frustration. Assuming positive intent means that we realize there may be underlying reasons for certain actions and we work to respond in a way that shows caring and concern.

As I heard my group conversing, the theme of assuming positive intent was overwhelming. Everyone who shared their thoughts brought the idea of assuming positive intent in one way or another. When we are able to assume positive intent, the outcome is much more powerful because the students feel recognized and our interactions are coming from a place of understanding and concern as opposed to sole discipline without recognition or consideration of each individual’s situation.

While it is easy to get caught up in the day to day and fall into the pattern of believing that behaviors happen out of defiance and disrespect, when we work to recognize the deeper reasons, we are showing empathy and respect to our students and modeling how to work through conflict in an effective manner. This modeling, when consistently shown, will become the norm for our students as well. Imagine how much more powerful and effective it would be if, instead of assuming that our students are being defiant because they simply want to be, we work to understand the underlying reasons that cause the misbehavior.

Affective Statements

Using affective statements can help us start to resolve conflict from a place of concern and empathy.

  • I am noticing that _______, which makes me feel _______.
  • I am having a hard time understanding ________.
  • I am concerned about ________.
  • I am ________ about/how/by/to hear _________.
  • I am so impressed ________.
  • When _______, I feel _______. How can we work together to resolve this?

Rephrasing Traditional Responses

Simply rephrasing our words to show more positivity can be effective when we are communicating.

  • From “Don’t talk during class” to “When you talk during class, I feel frustrated that others are being disrupted.”
  • From “Stop doing that” to “I am noticing that when you are _____, I am feeling ______.”
  • From “No talking over other” to “Be an active listener.”

Notice how each rephrasing is also creating a positive redirection and sharing the desired action instead of the misbehavior. When we focus on sharing the desired outcome, it gives more information and more direction than complaining about the undesired behavior.

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*created by the Feaster Charter Positive Behavior Committee in 2016

When we can make positivity a habit, it will have a huge impact on our entire school and the interactions that learners have amongst themselves. Communicating is an essential part of our day. In addition to being aware of how we are communicating, we need to recognize our tone and ensure that we are keeping not only our words but also our tone positive. I encourage you to point this out to your class and, as the week goes by, reflect on how many affective statements you say and how you are working to assume positive intent!

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