5 Empowering Phrases for Elementary Teachers

We know actions speak louder than words. But some simple, carefully-chosen words that lead to exemplary action can speak volumes, too. This is especially true for teachers.

My approach to classroom management has been deeply influenced by two programs adopted by my last school: International Baccaleuraeate (IB) and Love & Logic.  Both programs ask how we can empower the child to think, question, communicate, and grow.  Through various professional developments, discussions with other teachers, and trial and error, here are 5 of my favorite phrases that have helped me reach my students in a way that encourages them to take ownership over their learning process and choices.

Solve problem

How are you going to solve that problem?

This question encourages students to look inward to solve their problems, ranging from a broken pen to a broken friendship.  It is priceless to watch the realization dawn on students’ faces that they have the power to fix their circumstances.  Children are vulnerable enough in this world of grown-ups without being trained to believe they always need an adult to solve their problems.

Sad choice

So sad you made that choice.

Say it and mean it.  This statement lets students know that while you are empathetic towards their problem, it is in fact their problem because of the choice they made.  Follow up with letting them know what the natural consequence is, and perhaps return to phrase #1 to encourage continued thinking on how they can solve their problems now.  “You didn’t complete your writing project? So sad that you made that choice and now cannot participate in our publishing party!  What can you do now to solve that problem?”


What do you notice?

When we generously ask this question, we start to see a shift in the classroom.  Students gradually stop depending on us to tell them what to notice, and start actively searching out patterns and connections for themselves.  The beauty of this question is that it works across a spectrum of purposes.  You can use it to prompt students to discover the usefulness of base ten blocks in math, the power of effective punctuation in a story, and even cause and effect in they way they treat their peers.


That’s such a bummer!

Picture the simple exclamation of “My pencil broke!”  Despite our best efforts to teach airtight pencil-breaking procedures, this somehow manages to become a calamity for at least a few students each year.  Responding to their exclamation with “That’s a bummer” informs students of two things: 1) you are sympathetic to their plight, and 2) you aren’t going to solve that problem for them.  This is also a wonderful way to train students to distinguish between situations in which they really need help (and learn how to concisely ask for it), and situations they could figure out if given the opportunity to do so.  Bonus: not only does it empower students to evaluate and solve their own problems, but it empowers teachers to be freed from continuously putting out small fires.

Better day

Tomorrow will be a better day.

It’s essential that even at the most trying of times, students can look forward with the hope of a fresh start.  Let them know that mistakes don’t have to follow them day after day, and that you will always stand by them as  their advocate and support.

For more on the subject of classroom management, check out our post on how to avoid power struggles!

For a list of fantastic Love & Logic-specific phrases from their website, click here!

Featured image: Valentino Tombesi via Flickr

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