Teacher Language: metaphors and more

The most influential mentor teacher I had always stressed to me how important teacher language is. When I first started, she gave me a copy of “The Power of Our Words” by Paula Denton and told me to read it cover to cover every summer. I did and it changed my teaching world! Now I follow her tradition of giving a copy of the book to any teacher that I mentor. The book reminds you how incredibly important our words are as teachers. What we say to our students holds such heavy weight, even if it’s only a few words or not even directed to them. I totally live by the saying “Actions speak louder than words” but for teachers, they both speak loud! Anyone who knows me as a teacher knows this about me and I have become the “teacher language” coach at my school. I often get questions about how to handle behavior issues or talking one on one with a student who doesn’t talk much or doesn’t give feedback. I typically stand by these few principals that have been tried and true for me: keep it direct, keep it brief, have faith in the student’s abilities, focus on the actions, and know when to be silent.

I noticed that this rings true when talking to parents as well. While I find talking to parents to be a lot more challenging, especially private school parents, I notice the more I follow those principles the stronger the relationship. I truly value building relationships with my students’ parents and I have kept many of these relationships going even long after their kids leave my classroom. I have been given a lot of positive feedback from parents and admin that I have a way of being honest, but supportive to families during especially difficult conversations. On the inside, my nerves are going 1,000 MPH, but I apparently present a very calm and nurturing demeanor.

My passion for wanting to become a learning specialist came from this, when our school’s current learning specialist asked me if I would ever consider this type of role. She had attended my parent conferences for over 2 years and said I have a really good way of explaining things to parents in a way that is honest, supportive and makes sense to them. I truly cannot take credit for this, I credit the teachers who I have heard the BEST metaphors or ways for explaining certain things to parents and kids in a way they can better understand their child.

I thought I would share just a few of the most useful metaphors and tips when talking to kids about parents regarding special education, learning disabilities, specialists etc…

-When referring to our school’s psychologist…..parents are often afraid of how they will tell their child that they are seeing the school’s psychologist. They often ask, how do I explain what they do?  I tell them they can call her the”feelings doctor”!

-When explaining executive functions….I used the metaphor as it is our “air-traffic control system”.

-A psychologist….When kids are being evaluated and the parents need a way to explain why or what they do, I suggest calling them a “brain detective” and that they try to solve a mystery or crack the code to give us clues on how we can teach them better.

-For a Star Wars fan: body control (or even emotional regulation)  can be described as “the force” and remind them how Luke Skywalker had to try extra hard to control the “force” with his mind. He had to stop and think about it, concentrate on his power…for the kids…it’s the power of control.

-When talking about Occupational Therapy, I use a computer to explain it’s purpose and goals. An occupational therapist helps children with their daily tasks, how they function through the day. The daily tasks can be anything from getting dressed, brushing teeth, to playing and writing. Just like a computer has a processor and commands to run smoothly, we have parts of our internal commands that helps us go through the day smoothly. When a computer has too many applications running, or isn’t updated or doesn’t have a strong internet connection, it can run slow or freeze when too many things are going on. It can be the same for kids, they may need stronger fine motor muscles or emotional regulation strategies to “process” parts of the day better and “run smoother”. Occupational therapy can help us enhance our performance of day to day tasks.

-Fine motor skills: the control of small movements in the hands and fingers, but also the face and mouth. When kids have difficulty with their pencil grip or gripping objects and they experience frustration, I often refer to how it feels when we play the Carnival Crane Claw game and trying to catch a prize! It’s hard to control and the grip is weak and it’s so frustrating when the prize slips off!

-I have heard a lot of metaphors for dyslexia, but here are a few that have stuck with me (given to me by students with dyslexia!): “It is like when you are trying to write and there is a fog over the page.” “It can be like a scrambled deck of cards when every one else is organized by suits.” “It’s like looking at the world like a blender, things  and images scramble all around you!”

These are just a few examples and in no way am I an expert at talking to kids or parents either. However, it is something I really care about and it is important to me that I am a good resource for parents, especially those with children who have learning disabilities or challenges. I strive to educate parents on the important things they should know about their child, while also comforting them or just being available to them. I only hope to continue to get better and better at this and when I become a parent, I know it will mean even more to me.




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