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Rethinking our language through Critical Reflection

The other night, I was scrolling through Facebook and I came across a post seeking feedback about how other educators would feel about hearing their fellow educators say to children (when doing unwanted behaviour) “that makes me very sad” and it got me thinking about our professional practice changing over time based on research and our own learning and this is a great example to research and think about together with our teams.

I have often heard this exact phrase used in different contexts and with different tones. I often wonder with educators if it’s an automated response rather than something intentional. Maybe they heard it from another more experienced educator once upon a time and now they’ve said it so many times, it has become part of their vocab. Maybe they haven’t even given pause to think about the possible impact of what they are saying.

"We know this from neuroscience — language does not just communicate emotion, it shapes … how we respond to emotion," she said. Brene Brown (ABC News Brené Brown explains the misconception around feelings of guilt and shame - ABC News). Recently, we held a training day with Kelly Goodsir and she said something that resonated with me so much about critical reflection in our sector, she said ‘I have a responsibility to think out loud’ Kelly Goodsir, and I wholeheartedly agree!

Give your team time to change these things and start with why. Remember, our words have the power to shape young minds, so why not create an environment where children feel empowered, supported, and ready to thrive. In education and care settings, effective communication is vital for building strong relationships with children and promoting their emotional well-being. Language plays a crucial role in shaping a child's understanding of the world around them. While it's important to acknowledge and address emotions, I struggle with using phrases like "that makes me very sad" for a range of reasons…

1. This phrase focuses on the Educator, so even if the child modifies their behaviour, it is extrinsically motivated rather than intrinsically motivated.

2. This phrase has a blame and shame air about it and "what we know from studies is that shame does nothing to move people in either direction," Brene Brown (article above).

3. The use of this phrase elicits a power over children, ‘creating awareness of how our need to use power and control shows up then allows us to make a conscious choice’ Teresa Graham Brett

4. Often the phrase is now followed up with conversation with the child, instead it is used as a phrase that is followed by a full stop and doesn’t support the child.

When critically reflecting, we at Hourglass Consultancy recommend a Cycle of Critical Reflection which includes, time to consider how we currently do something (reserving judgement about our current practice), time to research and discuss together, making a commitment to change (deciding together how we will enact the change – Leadership plays a role here), opportunity to practice what we have decided and a scheduled reflection to ensure we avoid getting ‘stuck in our new way’ without reflection. We believe that going slowly creates depth and meaning (This is what Hourglass Time is all about – going slowly with intent and embedding our practice).

Some good questions to start with your team when critically reflecting on the use of such phrase include:

· ‘What is the outcome we seek when we say this to children?’

· ‘Do we think it is having the desired effect?’

· ‘Where did this statement come from and is there a better option?’

Maybe over a week or two you could all pay attention and document how many times your team say it and then if it had the desired outcome (possibly the child doing what has been asked) or not. Sitting in this data collection phase for a period of time is an essential element to critical reflection and improved practice. Once you have finished collecting your data and analysing the effectiveness, you could do some research and start to come up with a host of alternative things to say. Sometimes I find that when we can discuss what else might be an option, people can more easily change a practice which has ‘settled in’.

Let’s be brave together to question how we phrase things to children – we owe them that much!

Consider doing our Critical Reflection Training to support you and your team to implement a Cycle of Critical Reflection!


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