Friday, May 18, 2007

Can't think "can't"

We are all familiar with the notion to instill an absence of the word "can't" in our students' vocabulary. We know it limits them and the possibilities they may see in his or her own potential. We know and believe (for the most part) that people can, in fact, do almost everything that they set his or her mind to do.

The trouble seems to be that we can't see how damaging using can't in our own vocabulary and interpretation of student success can be.

So often I feel myself grimace as I hear professionals make comments like:
~"He just can't write legibly."
~"She can't talk to me that way."
~"He can't read and comprehend this book."
~"He can't respond in that manner."
~"I can't do anything about it."

Here's the trouble with it:
  • Can't is like using a stop sign. It creates no further thinking or problem solving. It's like just stating a fact (which isn't one).
  • Using can't indicates that things labeled as two things- can & can not. There is no room for improvement, possibility or change. This is "all or none" thinking.
  • Can't is a strong word with a heavy meaning. Does the phrase "self-fulfilling prophecy" sound familiar?
  • Can't is the line in the sand. If you step on the wrong side of the line what happens? If you step on the right side- then what?
  • Can't is a very good indicator of our own, personal "buttons." When the person above mentions that a student "can't talk to me that way", the most probable translation could really be, "I dislike it when this student talks to me this way. I feel disrespected and that I could lose control of the situation if I allow this to happen."

So, the truth of the matter is that students (and the rest of us) can & will do whatever it is they choose to, are lead to or are taught. They can write, they can talk to you in a positive manner, they can improve reading and, yes, you can do something about it.

Start here. Just rephrase the statements above by a word or two. It can be amazing to see what thoughts & ideas will follow after removing that one simple word.

~"He is having a difficult time writing as legibly as I would like him to." So, what can you do to help him faciliate success?

~"I wish she wouldn't talk to me that way." I wonder what I could do to encourage her to speak to me more positively?

~"He is struggling to comprehend this book." I wonder if I should try to use a different method to help him?

~"I'd prefer if he wouldn't talk to me in that manner." Is there a way I could reinforce him when he communicates with me in a way that I prefer?

~"I can do something about this." You bet you can!

The beauty of eliminating word is that you have eliminated excuses and stop signs towards success. Eliminating this word from your own vocabulary can empower you to question further and dig deeper so you can get to the bottom of that reading problem, behavior concern and put forth a plan of action. It also sparks creativity, makes you look for solutions and gives hope.

It's amazing how just altering one little word can really make quite an impact on you, your teaching and relationships with others. What a difference a word makes. Don't worry, I know you can do it!


Jen Barney said...


Ruth said...

Growing up, can't was one of the dirtiest four-letter words in our house. My dad & mom NEVER let us use it. I used to have a notepad that said "clear your mind of can't" -- that's the title I'm going to use to link up your post. It's an excellent one (& totally worth the wait!) YOU ROCK, SARAH!

Sarah Amick said...

Thank you so much for reminding us that we have the power to create positive thinking. It was like reading the attitude poem that was so popular a few years back, "you are in charge of your attitude."
Thank you, the end of the year can be very challenging.

Ruth said...

hey -- i tagged you for the 8 things meme. here's the link:

Kirsten said...

I remember as a child that when the word can't was used around my matriarc she would slightly tilt her head to the left and narrow her eyes at me. A reminder that, yes I can.
So thank you for the reminder that the word "can't" can't be part of a positive educator's vocabulary;)