Imagination: Filling in the Unknown

by Chick Moorman


I am a cancer survivor who has been cancer free for over ten years. So when I found a lump in the middle of my arm pit this month, I immediately went in and got it checked by my doctor. Before I could get in to see her I googled lump in arm pit and read what I found. I learned lumps in the arm pit can be cancer or several other possibilities. Since the lump in my arm pit had not been officially examined, my imagination was free to fill in the blanks.

Of course I sometimes imagined my lump was cancer. I thought about going through the chemo and radiation ordeal again and how my present life would go on hold while I focused on getting well. No, I didn’t think those thoughts all day long, but they did return to walk through my mind frequently.

My doctor felt my lump and immediately arranged for me to get a cat scan. She told me the odds were 50-50 that the lump was cancerous. I was grateful that the important test was scheduled within two days. During the wait until I found out for sure if my lump was negative or positive, my mind went in many directions.

Shall I give my car to my grandson?

Would anyone want my baseball glove?

My friend will take care of my horse.

When those thoughts came I re-minded (created a new mind) myself that my planning was premature. I hadn't even had the test yet. The negative thoughts returned from time to time as I waited for the test.

After the test? More thoughts.

At least I beat it for ten years.

I’ve had a pretty good life.

Will my kids be able to sell my house quickly?

Good thing I have my trust in order.

I got the call a few hours after the test. Negative. No cancer. Thank you Lord.

Now, a week later, as I reflect on that personal experience I recall how easy it was for my imagination to fill in the unknown. And I'm aware that children do that too. When they don't have all the information their minds supply the unknown.

My mother did not often share her feelings. When she was mad she often chose not communicate that she was angry or tell why. She just pretended she wasn't angry. She didn't fool anybody. I knew she was angry. My younger brother knew she was angry. Our father knew she was angry.

Dad: "What's wrong?"

Mom: "I'm fine!"

Dad: "You don't look fine."

Mom: "Nothing is wrong."

Because we did not get accurate information from my mother we filled in the blanks with our imaginations. I figured I must have done something, but I didn't know what it was. My brother thought it was him. I'll bet my dad figured he must be responsible somehow.

Do you get upset and angry with students? Since you work with students most of the day chances are you are going to get upset and frustrated. More important questions than do you get angry is what do you do when you get angry and how do you communicate your anger. When you choose to express negative feelings, how skillfully do you do it? Do you leave any blank spaces for students to fill with their imaginations?

Yes, when you are angry, frustrated, annoyed or furious let your students know. But do it in a way that doesn't wound their spirit, that doesn't attack their character. Do it in a way that doesn't require their imaginations to make up part of the story. How do you do that? Describe, describe, describe.

1. Describe the situation.
2. Describe how you are feeling.
3. Describe the desired outcome.

Example A:

  • I found paint-filled brushes in the sink last night before I went home.
  • I feel angry because it took me another fifteen minutes to clean them before I went home.
  • Paint brushes need to be cleaned before they are placed in the box.

Example B:

  • I see library books lying on the floor open and face down.
  • I feel frustrated because book pages can be folded and ripped that way.
  • Books belong on the shelf lying flat or standing upright.

Example C:

  • I hear gossip.
  • I feel sad because the people that are being talked about aren't here to defend themselves.
  • Talking about others needs to be done when they are present so they can hear what is being said about them.

Example D:

  • I received a note from Mr. Wilson (custodian). He says he found several desks with dried paste on them last night.
  • He felt annoyed because it took him extra time to get our room cleaned.
  • Paste needs to be sponged off the desks when we are cleaning up.

When you describe, describe, describe, there is no guarantee students will immediately respond positively. What is guaranteed is that you will have communicated your anger or irritation in a respectful way that lets students know what you are feeling without shaming or blaming. You will have left no gaps for them to fill with their imaginations. Congratulations.


Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller are the coauthors of The Teacher Talk Advantage: Five Voices of Effective Teaching. They are two of the world's foremost authorities on raising responsible, caring, confident children. They publish a free monthly e-zine for educators and another for parents. To sign up for the newsletters or learn more about the seminars they offer teachers and parents, visit their websites today: and


Previous Article.

Next Article.

Back to Articles.