Professor Gibson
Thought Bubbles

228,132 Words

Stock photo by Free-Photos at Pixabay.

According to the Oxford dictionary, there are roughly 228,132 words in the English language. It only takes one to impact your confidence. Words matter and the particular combination of them can have a lasting impact on your life.

My daughter has entered the terrible 3s. 2s were a breeze. She is no stranger to trouble. In fact, as a toddler, there were months where she was convinced her middle name was “no.” But, this season has been particularly challenging. On one of our hardest days, I found myself in a continuous loop. I’d tell her no. She’d do it anyway. I’d punish her. She’d cry. Timeout. Repeat.

After several hours of this cycle, I knew things had to change. We couldn’t, for our own sanity, continue this cycle. Since she is 3 and change may not be in her vocabulary, I knew the change had to come from me. Not wanting to give up on my demands, I made a slight alteration to my choice of words. Instead of saying “stop that,” “no,” “what are you doing,” I selected the phrase “you need to change your attitude.” That phrase immediately stopped the cycle. The scream ceased, the tears remained, but she began to compose herself. The silence was a welcomed reprieve.

Why, at this moment, were these words magical? Where “no” and “stop that” make definitive judgments on her character, “you need to change your attitude,” says what you are doing right now is not acceptable, but it can change if you want it to. Now, I do not claim that a 3-year-old understands these nuances, but even without a complex understanding of particular connotations, these words impacted her emotions. Before she found herself in a cycle where she was innately bad and operating at a deficit without any hope. With the opportunity to “change her attitude,” while still in the negative, there was hope and the outcome was up to her.

Nothing in the situation had changed, but there was a shift in her perception. Words matter. They have the ability to impact our thoughts, emotions, and perceptions. As a professor, one of the things I try to do is consider my word choice and the perception it is painting for the students. There are some students that need strong words, but others react to a more delicate approach. My choices have to be unique, specific and targeted to the individual student. There are times when I’ve found myself across the desk from a seemingly unmotivated, academically challenged student. But, that classification is a perception I am bearing. Often by shifting my word choice or approach, I can find a way to connect and motivate the student. Once you find the correct shift, the change in the outcome can be dramatic. The unmotivated student can become a star student. I’ve seen it happen.

This type of individual attention is difficult with a traditional load (like mine). But, when possible, the reward is well worth the effort. The ability to connect, motivate, and ultimately teach is what I am here to do. Roughly 228,132 words and they all matter.