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The Abracadabra Effect

The 13 Verbally Transmitted Diseases and How to Cure Them

 

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Two Words to Eliminate

By Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller

 

What does the high school choir director say to her students as they finish a perfect practice of the new song they will be performing in concert later that night?

What words come out of the junior varsity football coach's mouth as the defense trots off the field after forcing an opponents' punt following three offensive thrusts for no gain?

What does the first-grade teacher write on her student’s paper when all four rows of Mister M are neatly printed between the lines?

What does the third-grade teacher remark when her students line up quietly?

Name the words that the high-school counselor uses to congratulate the student who successfully implemented his plan to communicate anger appropriately.

What words did the second-grade teacher find on a stamp that she bought at the teacher center store that she would be using to add to students’ papers later that night?

What phrase did the middle-school language arts teacher write on the student's paper when he wrote an effective attention-getting sentence that created a desire to read the rest of his book report?

Identify the words used by the school administrator when addressing the staff about a successful implementation of the new lock-down plan.

The words most often used in situations like those above are the two most overused words in the education profession. You hear them frequently. They are words that roll off the tongue quickly and easily. They require no thought, no intention, and deliver no teaching. They form a phrase that would be better off eliminated in educational settings.

That phrase? "Good job."

Spirit Whisperers know that "Good job" is pure evaluation. It evaluates a person's product, effort, attitude, energy or efficiency. It is an effort to judge rather than to teach. It gives no information about what was good about the product or effort. A student does not learn what was good about his first sentence or rows of Mister M. He only knows someone rated and ranked it as "good."

"But kids like it," we often hear from well-intentioned educators. "They smile when we say it. It helps them feel good."

True. And used in this way it works very much like a drug. The “feel good” comes from an outside source and feels good for the moment. Soon it wears off and students need to chase it. The net result of many applications of this style of praise is the creation of praise junkies.

Spirit Whisperers use a style of praise that leaves room for the student to make the evaluation so that evaluation comes from the inside out, rather than from the outside in. Consider the following.

When the fourth-grade student finally mastered the sevens, eights, and nines multiplication facts on the speed test, his teacher refrained from using the "good job" response. Instead, he replied, "You did it!" This simple descriptive remark leaves room for the student to make the evaluation. When your words are, "You did it," his words (often self-talk) can become, "I did a good job."

The high-school choir director can say to her students as they finish a perfect practice of the new song, "You nailed it." That leaves room for the students to say to themselves, "We sang that pretty well."

The junior varsity football coach can say, "Three and out. Wow!" as the defense trots off the field. His words now leave room for the athletes to draw the conclusion.

The first-grade teacher can write on her student's paper, "Right between the lines," reinforcing the teaching of what quality printing looks like.

The words that the high-school counseloruses to congratulate the student who successfully implemented his plan to communicate anger appropriately could be, "You did it. You created it and went out and put it to use." Now the student has room to make an internal judgment about his efforts.

"Good job" is so easy to say. We often say those words without forethought. They are a habitual response that flows quickly and frequently. This week, practice replacing "Good job" with "You did it." Challenge yourself to say, "You did it," a minimum of ten times today. Pay attention to the reaction you get from your students. See how many times you can catch yourself saying, "Good job." Change your language when you become aware of saying it.

When you get to the point where you are saying, "You did it," without thinking about it first, when it just rolls off your tongue in recognition of a new habit, refuse to pat yourself on the back by saying internally, "I did a good job." Instead, describe your efforts with your newest Teacher Talk language: "I did it!" Congratulations. You are moving into Spirit Whisperer territory.

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