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Sticks and Stones

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never break me.

I don’t know where this saying originated, but I don’t think it is true. From my experience, words can break a lot of things. They can break how you feel about yourself or others. They can break your hope and inspiration. They can break your will. Often the words we use stick. Whether we say them to others or ourselves, sometimes words become limiting beliefs. They keep us from becoming our best selves. These words hurt because they keep us in fear and hold us back from trying new things.


Sticks and stones that come in the form of words are thrown at us all the time. Sometimes those throwing them don’t want to break us, they just don’t know much about the words they are throwing around. Take the word, “smart” for instance. Most people would consider this a compliment. But when a child is told over and over that they are smart, guess what happens when they come across something new that they don’t know how to do? They think they are no longer smart and may even give up. They begin holding a limiting belief that they can’t learn. If the child had been recognized for their hard work or persistence, it’s more likely that when faced with a challenging situation, they would persist and find a solution.


That’s exactly what I saw with many of my students, and especially the 4 boys in my story, Because of 4. They believed they were not smart and therefore couldn’t learn. One day I started calling all of my students scholars. I explained a scholar loves to learn and works hard at it. The students resonated with this word and before long it started to become an identity. Students I worked with began to see themselves as scholars.


I worry about some of the words we use in education today. You tend to get what you focus on. If that’s true, I think we are going to see a lot more anxiety and emotional distress. Why? Because these are the words we are giving to students. Students are constantly being asked about their emotional well-being. I’m not against looking out for students and I know anxiety isa really and growing issue. But I wonder if instead of focusing on words like “anxiety” and “stress” we might help students focus on words such as “joy” and “love.” Maybe students wouldn’t focus so much on being broken if we created that asks students about how often they experience joy in their school day rather than how often they feel anxious. We’d get much the same information, but it would certainly leave them with a different focus.


Think about the words you are using. Are they breaking or growing? Can you shift them to help you focus on more on what you want rather than what you don’t want? Try picking a word like scholar. And while we’re at it, let’s change that old saying too!


Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can make you grow!
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