What Not To Say

I had a ball co-teaching a session about character with Scott McCue (former head of Boston Prep) to the crowd at the MATCH Teacher Residency.  I used all of Dave Levin’s material on the dual purpose character/academic lessons and Scott shared key ideas from the ethics curriculum he helped develop.  Amongst other aspects of the session, Scott modeled an Aristotle lesson while I taught Dr. Seuss; it’s clear who the intellectual in this crowd was. 🙂

One of the great questions/requests following the session was:  The only thing I would add is I really would like a “top 10” document of things not to say to kids in serious situations, or at least ten things you should avoid saying when it comes to talking about character.

Scott jumped on the task and here is his list with two of my additions.

  1. Never use sarcasm.  Never.  It’s intoxicating—it breeds “fake intimacy.”*  But it’s corrosive and is never mission-aligned in the big picture.
  2. Don’t say, “I’m sorry, but…”  Your job is to be an emotional tone setter; communicating an apology in a challenging conversation about character sets the wrong tone.  BUT
  3. Don’t be robotic in a challenging conversation about character.  The style we’re going for is, “I care about you and because I care about you, I need to talk to you about this.”
  4. Don’t say, “I know exactly what you’re going through.”  You can use an anecdote to illustrate a point, but not to show a kid that you’re just like they are.  You’re not.
  5. Don’t ever say, “you need to do this because it’s our policy,” or “because the administration thinks it’s important.”
  6. Don’t use multiple metaphors to illustrate a point.  “This is just like climbing a mountain, or like the US women’s soccer team.  Or wait, it’s like that story we read about Yo Yo Ma.”  At most, use one.
  7. Don’t overshare.  You can tell a student that you’re trying to exercise more, but not that you’re trying to kick your alcoholism.  Finding the right sized anecdote illustrates a point and inspires kids.  The oversharing anecdote obscures your role as an authority figure.
  8. Don’t say cheating is wrong because “you’ll get kicked out of college if you cheat.”  It undermines a much deeper point.
  9. Don’t contradict a child’s parents or another teacher in your school.  If you disagree, than speak additively.  So, if a kid tells you, “My mom said gay people are going to hell,” you should say, “At our school, we respect everybody, no matter what.”
  10. Don’t compare kids in an angel/devil way.  Nobody wins in these comparisons, and it’s demotivating to everyone.

I would love to hear additions or objections.  Scott and I also worked on criteria for “Stop the World” character lessons i.e. those reactive and rare moments when you must effectively teach a major character lesson. I am still tweaking those and would love to hear ideas.

* Sarcasm=Fake intimacy and therefore should not be used in our classrooms is an idea that both Dave Levin and Jon Saphier are passionate about.



2 Responses to “What Not To Say”

  1. Napleton Says:

    Love this and would loveto talk stop the world moments. Thinking abt that for year 1 now…

  2. Richard Hogarth: a misunderstood genius? Using language effectively as a teacher… | Improving Teaching Says:

    […] recently came across interesting post here on this from Mr Dolan, with a top ten list of things not to say as a […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: