Language= Motivation, Relationships & Progress by @ASTSupportAAli

(Having had lots of feedback and some training by our Speech, Language and Communication experts I have added some more points below!)

You may have seen posters like this?

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You may also have read posts about Carol Dweck’s concept of Growth Mindset.

Here are some interesting ones.

This blog of mine is intertwined and underpinned by Dweck’s work. Although, I am not as well read on it as I would like to be. Here you will find some reflections of mine on how I think we should communicate with our students, in order to motivate, create better relationships and therefore make them progress; faster and greater.

Us- Teachers:

The way teachers communicate with their students is obviously so important. It is what we do, it is how we are known, it is the very basis of our profession. Imparting words from us to them.

Think about what I term as trigger responses, which are activated by common events in your classroom. Somebody arriving late, not doing their homework or your ‘star’ student handing in an exceptional piece of work. What do you say? We are creatures of habits and our responses are often a little ‘blind’ to us. Get somebody to listen? Record yourself? I was berated during my GTP year for saying ‘guys’ too much!

Most students trigger response to a question is,

“I don’t know!” Or,

“I don’t know if this is right but…”

Also, think about your stock phrases, maybe you simply say, “OK” after students respond to a question. Or, you say, “Excellent.” Irrespective of the actual answer? Does this lack of care or even devalue the word.

Think how much students hear the words,

“Well done.”

…Does it end up meaning anything?

Some common student stock phrases include,

“So, Like, Basically…”

Why is this?

Today I found out

  • Almost 8% of all students in secondary education have some form of Speech, Language or Communication difficulty.
  • If you come from a deprived background you are 55% more likely to have some difficulty with your speech and language.

This was an astounding figure for me. Which made me think how the way we deliver our instructions become even more important. If students can not listen or hear what we are saying, if they can not understand the words, or differentiate between literal and non-literal comments then they will struggle, further. If they can not get rid of their own thought distractions because the classroom doesn’t lend itself to that then their behaviors may alter.

Ask yourself, how do you respond to a student that isn’t listening when you are speaking to the class? Are you sarcastic? Stern? Do you glare? Or maybe use a hand gesture to suggest they should be quiet?

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A part of me, feels that being sarcastic, glaring and using hand gestures is wrong! I think, it is slightly rude… How would you react if somebody did that to you?

It should just be an expectation, a common courtesy, etiquette. Quiet, when one is talking, listen and wait to respond.

Do you recognise this scenario…

“Don’t you dare talk to me like that.”

“Do not SHOUT at me.”

“You will show me some respect?”

I recognise those statements, I have been guilty of using them… When I did I noted/felt the response and reflected that there are better phrases to use…

“I would appreciate if you showed me the same level of respect I am showing you.”

“Raising your voice will only make this situation worse for the both of us.”

“Respect is something I have always shown you. Please pay it back to me. I expect it, so should you. Thank you.”

These phrases above of mine are not perfect. They should be adapted. They were not given to me by a positive behaviour management class, but through trial and error, through getting to know young people. I have learnt the ways to communicate with people through being around people… Knowing what works with your student is vital. Some say we should never shout at young people. I tend to agree, we need to set the ultimate example and standards of communication. To hopefully cement this into our students for their future lives.

When riled up, (angry- although of course, we never get angry?) Sometimes it is easy to forget what the best method of communication is. However, that is when most damage to a teacher student relationship can occur. It is exactly during this period that we must be on our ‘A’ game. The way we communicate can be the difference between a student eager to walk through your door wanting to learn, than a student being disaffected, unmotivated and uninspired.

Please can we stop:

“Well, what do you expect, look at their parents.”

“It is inevitable for a student with that background not to perform.”

“They are low ability.”

“I did try.”

Expectations. Aspirations. Excellence. Can we expect it from all, at all times. Please? I am so passionate about not placing limitations on our students who already have many of life’s barriers closing many of life’s doors on them. Let us try levelling this playing field as MUCH as possible.

The most interesting thing a student has said to me about motivation and aspiration was,

Get students to realise they can inspire themselves. You don’t need to inspire us, you need us to realise we can inspire ourselves.

Deep! 🙂 Read the same students response to what motivation means to them here. I have tried and will continue to try to motivate students. But, do you think comments like…

“What do you expect you will do in the future?”

“Think about what will happen when you leave school?”

“You need qualifications to do that…”

“So many people regret not working well at school…”

…the above have just become a standard teacher response to disaffected students? I have set up an inspiration board to show what education can lead to. Students have enjoyed this. But, it is not ground breaking. I make it my job to get to know students, their backgrounds and find out what motivates them. But, still that is not enough, the challenge is, as stated by my diligent students, getting them to know they can inspire themselves.


“I don’t get it.”

“That lesson is shi*t, because I can’t do the work.”

“It is too hard.”

Common phrases we may hear or have heard?

Dweck talks about this amazing statement taken from a school in Chicago that can respond to all of the above and similar statements.


(@TeacherToolkit has blogged about this in more detail- click here.)

I am now in the process of asking all my staff to respond to students with the following phrase whenever they are presented with a defeated attitude towards their learning.

“You don’t get it, YET.”

This is to go alongside the normal feedback. You could go as far as not writing a grade, writing Not Yet. And providing feedback for students to improve. Click here for some information on DIRT.

I will be continuing to ask staff to respond to this notion/moan/excuse of work being too hard with phrases similar to,

“Hard work simply requires you to think.”

“It is hard work that you can do.”

“What can help you find out the answer?”

Try setting up a Help Desk. The usual C3 B4 ME rules.

Another key element to consider is the need to praise effort and not attainment. This is integral to Dweck’s work. Consider those that attempt their work with passion, rigour and determination but indeed do not achieve too highly. They should still be commended. Praise effort, not just attainment.

I have also asked colleagues to use these images by @TeacherTweaks and @Shaun_Alison. They link to the theory of Zone of Proximal Development by Vygotsky. Keeping students in the struggle or stretch zone is when learning takes place. Anything becomes comfortable and anything above becomes a panic. Finding that medium is the key,

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The idea is for teachers to share with students that having hard work they can do is good. Doing work that is easily completed doesn’t allow students to make mistakes, receive feedback and therefore learn.

SO, will you consider your daily interactions with your students? Will you reflect on how you engage with them? What about your ‘worst’ class compared to your ‘best’ class? Will you get to know each and every single one of your students and know whether to mention the word Dad, or friends, or a countries name in a conversation with them. Will you know what will make their ears perk up with attention… I hope so.

“Good to see you today.”

“Have a great weekend.”

“Be safe.”

“Look after yourself.”

“Looking forward to seeing you next lesson.”

Having shared this post with my Head Teacher she kindly pointed out to me that it is not just the classroom we must consider. She noted experiences of when teachers enter classrooms- adults only tend to greet adults. Is this right? Is this polite?! Also, walking around the school site, with a smile, saying hello, not avoiding eye contact and rushing through the playground. This is extremely relevant in building up relationships. (Thanks boss!)

Our home school link worker pointed out that how we communicate is essential. 35% is through the tone of our voice, 10% by the words we say and 55% by our body language and facial expression.

I have not even considered body language in this post… I have not considered how, where, when, why we stand and sit and so on… but definately worth considering.

My plea is for you to always manipulate language to turn it into a positive? Think about the subconscious affect of your language on your students, from you saying a harmless phrase like, ‘come on, this is easy!’ To, ‘oooh, leave that task, it is pretty hard.’

Remember it will help us all for you to be mindful of the differing levels of understanding, for you to recall how it feels to be spoken to in a certain manner. Hopefully some of the prompts I have provided can prove useful.

“I don’t know enough.”= “Not yet, but you are smart and will do when you work hard at it.”

“I don’t have enough experience.”= “You are problem solver and can figure it out.”

“I have not done this before.” = “Good, as this is a challenge.”

Follow me on Twitter. @ASTSupportAAli

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