When I hear a teacher enforce a class rule or inform students of a decision, it often sounds like…
“Don’t make me send you to the office.”
“I’m sorry, but I can’t let you turn that in late.”
“I’m going to have to take your phone.”
“I’m afraid I’m gonna have to take that.”
“I’m not supposed to let you have your phone out.”

Sound familiar?

What’s the problem?

Don’t make me…
I’m sorry, but I can’t let you…
I have to…”
I’m not supposed to…

How do you think the speaker feels about the decision? Who made these decisions? What is the speaker’s role in these decisions?

As a student, I might see this teacher as being apologetic, regretful, or disempowered… a victim, puppet, pushover, or tool.

Why do we use phrases like this? Perhaps to “soften the blow” of a demand or decision, to say “Hey look… I’m on your side. I don’t like this either, but someone/something is making us do this!” The admin pressure us to enforce these rules. I must do this because it is my job, whether I like it or not. I made this decision and I must stick to it! Regardless of the reason we use these phrases (possibly just force of habit and never really thinking about it), they send the same message: I don’t stand behind my own decision.

So what happens? What happens when you convey your internal conflict to your students? Students will fight harder for their side in this conflict because they know they have someone else fighting for their side: You.

This might sound something like “Awww, cmon!” or “You don’t have to do that!” Or they exploit your guilt on their side of this conflict. “You’re so mean!” “That’s not fair.”

So what can be done to reduce this pushback? Use wording that conveys you own your decisions, or at least wording that conveys neutrality instead of internal conflict.

What to say instead

Here are some possible substitutes for the internal conflict wording:

Notice the “better” statements are simply requests or simply statements of rules or what action will take place. Their simplicity and directness convey to students the decision and request come directly and whole-heartedly from you. Instead of conveying “Auuugh this is what I must do” or “Don’t get mad at me for doing this”… just do it. Maybe you’ll feel mean. Maybe you’ll feel blunt. Maybe you’ll feel more empowered and find your students trying less to cajole you.

It’s a simple switch, so give it a try and see how goes!

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Avoid These Phrases and Stop Undermining Your Decisions
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