Be the change, being me, building community, new year, Student-centered

May I Speak to You Privately?

image from icanread

“Hey Pernille, can I speak to you in my office?”  My new principal asked me today.  Immediately my heart dropped; what had I done?  Had I screwed up already?  Were they regretting their decision to hire me?

I followed her in, sat down, took a deep breath and waited for the inevitable.  I must have screwed up somehow, why else would she want to speak to me privately?  And then she surprised me.  It wasn’t to yell or reprimand, nor was it to point out my rookie mistakes.  It was to connect, to ask questions, to ask how she could help.  To further welcome me and discuss the year ahead.  I stayed for almost 30 minutes, inwardly amazed at the moment.  So thankful that this is the kind of person I get to work for and with.  That this is the community I get to represent.

As I left I couldn’t help but cringe at my initial reaction.  My assumptions had gotten the better of me.  Yet, I realized that those assumptions are based upon my experience, that asking to speak privately with someone has a negative connotation.  That being asked to step into an office is usually not positive.

So think of how our students feel when we do the same to them? When we ask them to stay back for a moment? To come in during recess?  To hang on?  Wait up?  Don’t go?  Do they assume we have something positive to share or something negative?  I can tell you right now, that I have missed so many opportunities to use this moment for praise.  I have reserved the private moment for corrections, reprimands, careful questions of concern.  I have almost never used it for good. Have you?

This year that will change.  I want to reclaim the power of the private moment and change the assumption.  I want students to not automatically assume that staying behind means something bad.  That waiting for a moment does not signify trouble.  Sure, there will be times where a private moment is needed to discuss decisions or actions, but there should be more of celebration.  There should be more positive surprises.

So just as I tell students what I notice on post-it notes, I will look for the moment to praise privately.  I will look for that small sliver of time where I get to speak one to one to someone and tell them what I see, how proud I am, how I am here to help.  I hope they leave feeling relieved like I did and then proud.  I hope they will see that I care.

I am a passionate  teacher in Wisconsin, USA,  who has taught 4, 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” can be pre-ordered from Corwin Press now.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.


7 thoughts on “May I Speak to You Privately?”

  1. I have found private positive moments to have such a huge impact. The student’s smile glows long after the words are spoken. Your post-it is a gift of writing. 🙂

  2. This is wonderful. When I taught middle school, I found that the best way to make sure I gave enough regular, positive feedback was to schedule it, to give myself a quota every week. Otherwise the positive contact got moved to the back burner (and sometimes fell off the stove entirely!).

  3. That’s awesome that your administrator took the time to connect in this way. Not enough do that. In all fairness, people in a position of power should also be perceptive of how that position affects what they say and do, and either qualify their intentions or make it such a common practice that there’d be no reason to have doubts.

  4. I think I would have initially reacted the same way. It sounds like you had a very positive connection and were able to talk and ask questions. Hopefully it’s a sign for a great year ahead. I think having a private moment is often assumed as a negative thing, so I will try to make my moments positive as well.

  5. You’re awesome. Today I’m at a PBIS meeting– and you’re saying everything that we are supposed to be leaning to do. (Also, I have referenced your post on clip charts and why they don’t belong in classrooms)

  6. I love this, Pernille. I rarely use this time for praise, but now realize the impact that has on students’ perceptions. Thank you! Will definitely make a change this year!

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