I was recently visiting the classroom of a high school math teacher with a marvelous bulletin board conveying a powerful message. (She was quick to tell me that it was not her own, but a Pinterest-inspired idea.) The words “The Power of Yet” were displayed in the center of the board.

Surrounding these words were sentence starters that, when left as written, would communicate defeat, powerlessness or hopelessness. However, when the word “yet” is added to these phrases, they become powerful mantras of hope, abundance and victory!

“I don’t know how to do this,” suddenly transforms into, “I don’t know how to do this YET,” empowering the speaker to be curious, explore and grow. One little “yet” has the power to change minds, hearts and lives!

Board with word phrases

Just as the addition of this simple word can move us from defeat and failure to growth and learning, there are some other shifts we can make to help foster a sense of safety, support and empowerment.

In Conscious Discipline, we use a process called “Name, Verb, Paint” to help us shift our language from vague, accusatory, questioning or passive to descriptive and assertive. “Name” means we address the child by name, “Verb” reminds us to state the action we want the child to do, and “Paint” tells us to paint a picture with our words and gestures.

Name, Verb, Paint is a central process in most of the following 10 language shifts that will help you spark change!

Shift #1:

Instead of “I want/need you to________”

Try “Jamison, it’s time to________ like this (demonstrate), so your classmates know you are ready.”

Or “Mark, ________ like this (demonstrate), so we can all be safe.”

Shift #2:

Instead of “What are you supposed to be doing?”

Try “Emma, it is time to clean up your lunch. Are you going to put your dishes away first or start with your trash?”

Shift #3:

Instead of “You should be________”

Try, “Carson, it’s time for you to__________ like this.” (Physically demonstrate how you would like the action to be performed.)

Shift #4:

Instead of “How long should your introduction be?”

Try “Dylan, describe a proper introduction to me.” (Then, confirm what he got right and clarify any misunderstandings. “Yes, a proper introduction is at least five sentences. It also includes a clear topic sentence and gives your reader a brief idea of what your paper will be about.”)

Shift #5:

Instead of “Please get out your math books” or “Get your math books out, okay.”

Try, “Class, put your math books on your desk and turn to page 235 like this (demonstrate).”

Shift #6:

Instead of “I will wait until everyone is quiet.”

Try, “Class, face forward like this (demonstrate) and remain quiet so we can be respectful to other learners as we walk through the hallway.”

Shift #7:

Instead of “Are you doing your work?” (…when you know they’re not.)

Try, “Simon, it’s time to do your work. How can I help you get started?”

Shift #8:

Instead of “Stop it!”

Try “Kimmy, you may ____________ like this (demonstrate) or you may ___________ like this (demonstrate).  Which works best for you?”

Shift #9:

Instead of “Good job!”

Try, “Christopher, you did it! You worked hard and did your best! That is responsible.”

Shift #10:

Instead of “Thank you.”

Try, “Kayla, you scooted over and made room so we could all sit safely together. That was helpful.”

Our words have power. They can have the power to confuse and judge, or they can have the power to encourage and notice. We get to choose! If you find yourself using language that is vague, questioning or leaves children wondering what you mean, remember to Name, Verb, Paint, and heap on healthy doses of empathy and encouragement. With this shift, you have the power to transform your home, your classroom and our world!

As always, I wish you well.