Say Your Saying

by Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller


Do you have a saying that students attribute to you? Do you say it so much that as soon as you begin to say it students can predict the rest of it? Several teachers we know do.

Bob Wilson teaches government and history in a suburban high school. He tells his students, “Be like a tree: fixed below, flexible above.” He sees his saying as a symbol of how strength and surrender can co-exist without negating each other. He tells students both fixed and flexible can exist and be effective in the same organism.

“Be like a tree, fixed below, flexible above,” he tells his students when he talks about the importance of developing strong  values and character.  “Be like a tree, fixed below, flexible above,” he reminds them when rigidity seems to create frailty. “Be like a tree, fixed below, flexible above,” he reminds his football team while teaching an important principle of playing defense. “If you behave like a like a tree, you bend sometimes, but you don’t break.”

“What is your next step?” Shawn Wilson likes to ask his middle school, special needs students. “I forgot my book,” a student informed him recently. “What is your next step?” Shawn asked.

“Willie keeps poking me.”

 “Brenda won’t let me have a turn.”

“I don’t have my paper finished.”

“I can’t find my ruler.”

All the comments above provoked the same response from the teacher: “What is your next step?” ‘“What is your next step?” is my effort to show these awesome students a step is not a leap,’ Shawn says. “A leap can be intimidating to my students. Anyone can take one step. Hence, the question, “What is your next step?”’

“Live from the inside out,” is Yessica Montero’s favorite saying. As a middle school counselor, Yessica wants her counselees to be responsive to what they feel inside as opposed to the many outside influences to which they are exposed.  “Live from the inside out,” she tells them when the discuss peer pressure. “If you are not sure what to do in a situation,” she tells them, “check it out inside. Then live from the inside out.”

“Be an Amish horse,” second grade teacher Opal Morgan tells her students. She has repeated the statement, “Be like an Amish horse” so often that she doesn’t have to say if any more.  She just gives her students the signal instead. The signal? Opal cups her hands  and places them on the sides of her face, suggesting the blinders that Amish horses have to keep them from being distracted by cars on the road.

 “When my students see that signal they know it is time to focus. They can hear me say in their heads, “Be like an Amish horse.”

What saying do your students attribute to you? Is it uplifting, inspirational, or affirming? Does it serve as a reminder or a suggestion? Do you use it on purpose? If you don’t have one, “What is your next step?” “Be like an Amish horse” until you find one.” If you are having trouble creating one, look in and “Live from the inside out.” If you feel a need to change it, “Be like a tree: fixed below, flexible above.”


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


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