The Importance of “Our”

Most reading this blog know that language matters. Many of us have dedicated our careers to the notion that the written and spoken words of humans are important and will continue to be. We analyze speeches, we critique our writing and that of our students, and we very carefully word assignments to avoid ambiguity. Even the standards and outcomes we use and create for our students go through draft upon draft upon draft.

Words matter, and we know this.

But there is always room for improvement. Always something we can do better. What about the way we speak in our schools? What about the simple words we use and the impact they could have? Have we considered what even the shortest words we use mean?

I’m talking about the distinction between “my,” “your,” and “our.”

Imagine the following sentences being said between colleagues in the same building:
“My students rocked that science fair!”
“Your students were talking loudly outside my classroom today.”
“My students didn’t do very well on their thesis statements.”

Now imagine them with just one small little tweak:
“Our students rocked that science fair!”
“Our students were talking loudly in the hallway today.”
“Our students didn’t do very well on their thesis statements.”

Small changes. Big impact.

If we are going to have schools that really have us all working together for the success of all students, we need to think of all students as all OUR students.

Then the conversations are less
“I’m sorry you’re having trouble with your students’ scores, but mine are fine,”
But more
“What can we do to get our students’ scores up?”

Less
“I’m going to try this new method with my students,”
But more
“I just learned this new thing. I’ll try it with the students in my room, and then we can talk and see if it’s something we should try with all our students.”

And while I don’t want to now argue against myself and say that all of that is not important, it really isn’t even the most important.

What’s most important are the children entrusted to our care each and every day. How we talk about them when they’re not around is important. It is.

But it’s not as important as the way we talk with them when they are around.

Imagine these sentences being said by a teacher to the students in their care:
“In my classroom, you will raise your hand if you want to speak.”
“I like my bookshelves arranged by author’s last name.”
“I want you to put your name in the top-right corner or I won’t give you credit.”

I. I. I. You. You. You.

I I I would not want to be a student in that classroom.

Now imagine those sentences with slight tweaks:
“We’ve decided that, in our classroom, we will raise our hands if we want to speak.”
“We’ve decided the bookshelves in our classroom will be arranged by author’s last name.”
“We’ve decided one of the things we will all do is put our names in the top-right corner of our papers when we want credit for our work.”

We. We. We. Our. Our. Our.

I don’t even think I need to ask the question of which classroom a student would like to be in more.

Of course, this is not just a pronoun shift, but a mindset shift as well. If the students are “our” students, and not “my” students and “your” students, then we’re all responsible for all of them, and we need to collaborate and plan accordingly. We cannot be left alone to teach on an island, for the students are not on islands. We’re all in this together.

High School Musical

Similarly, if the classroom is “our” classroom, and the students are not merely visiting “my” classroom, then we need to take some time to work on some norms and behavior expectations together. I, as a teacher, need to give my students say in what happens in the room and how. They get to have a very meaningful voice in what the room looks like. It’s difficult work. It’s messy at times.

But I promise you: there is nothing better than a classroom where every student feels valued, welcomed, heard, and wanted. Where every student feels part of an “us.” Where every student is part of the “our” to which the classroom belongs. It can start simple: a shift from “my classroom” or “the classroom” to “our classroom.” If you haven’t made that shift yet, try it. See how the students respond.

I bet you won’t look back.

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