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5 Things I Learned to Say That Changed the Way I Taught

By Pernille Ripp


There are many things that we can change as educators. We can all embark on major journeys toward bettering our lives, the lives of our students, and the effect we have on others. Often those big journeys start when we hit frustration, mine certainly did. And yet those big journey of change are not the only journeys we can take. Every day we make a choice as to how we effect those that surround us. We make a choice as to how we will teach, how we will react. There are many changes that will change our lives, these are some of my simplest and most important.

I learned to say, "I'm sorry." Apologizing to students, and not just for the big things changed my relationship with them. Now when I accidentally call out a wrong kid, I apologize rather than make an excuse. When I screw up, I admit it. When I inadvertently hurt a child's feeling, which does happen, I apologize. I don't try to explain my way out of it, a quick statement is all it takes, but the power of "I'm sorry" cannot be underestimated. Those words share the story of how we view our students. They are human beings that deserve respect.

I learned to say, "Let me check." I used to know I was right. I used to know that whatever a child said about already turned in homework, sent emails, or other obligations was a lie. Until I realized that I was in the wrong and that even if I think I am right, it is better to check first. Check the pile of paper. Check my email. Check my file. Whatever it may, they check and I check, no lost pride, no hurt relationship.

I learned to laugh at myself. When you teach you will make stupid mistakes that make you look like a fool. You are bound to trip and fall, you are bound to say things that can be misunderstood, you are bound to do something that you would giggle at if it happened to others. Laughing at yourself with the students is powerful. Showing students my inner dork, which I tried to suppress at all cost for so many years, has allowed them to fly their flags. They know when I am serious, but they also know how much I love to laugh, even at myself.

I learned to say, "Ok." Ok to sit there, ok to turn it in that way, ok to explore this, ok to read that book, ok to have that conversation. OK to try, ok to fail. I learned to say ok to new adventures and epic attempts. I learned to say when I realized I couldn't say yes to anything more, and ok when I could. I learned to say ok when a lesson failed, I learned to say ok when a child told me they tried. This simple word, these two letters, have allowed me to let go of so much. I no longer strive for perfection, but for authenticity. The latter is so much more interesting. "Ok" taught me that.

I learned to say, "You matter," but more importantly I learned to show it. I learned to look at my students when they speak to me, to stop what I am doing and listen. I learned to read between the lines, to dig a little deeper. I learned to say yes to lunch, to stop and talk, I learned to tell stupid jokes to break the ice. I learned the language of my students, whether spoken or unspoken, and I learned to teach with my whole heart, with all of me.

What have you learned to say that changed you?

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA, who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade. Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day. First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now from Powerful Learning Press. Second book "Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners" is out now from Corwin Press. Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.