OnCUE

The Power Of Can’t

closed door

 

Words have power…we know this…we say this, but let us really think about this. There has been one word that I have been hearing a lot of lately- the word is “can’t”. It seems as though I am hearing this word, now more than ever. Either that or I am just now tuning into it.  What happens when we use this word? What is the power?

I believe that when we use that word, it automatically shuts the door. It puts a stop to possibilities and it puts an end to forward movement. It is one thing when we say WE can’t, but it is a whole other, more powerful thing when we say our students can’t.Picture

We have all used the word, I have caught myself saying it multiple times in the last two days. But since I have had this post in my mind, I catch myself and I reframe it. I have heard many educators say “But, I can’t…” followed by a reason to justify. Some of these are legitimate, but some might be more of an excuse. When we find ourselves at this crossroads, we need to stop and think…

Brent

Is it that we can’t, we won’t, or we don’t know how? This is a hard question to ask ourselves, but the answer makes all the difference.

My friend, Brent Coley, shared this graphic today. His words here are important. In terms of being an educator (or parent), the implications are tremendous. Our decisions and actions have an effect well beyond ourselves. It affects children. And to me, if something has a negative effect on kids, we need to stop it.

But, I can’t…

This is often heard when someone is being asked to do something differently. I am guilty of saying this, a lot. But I have also realized that it is a great roadblock and I do my best to choose a way to jump over, go around or bust through for kids.

But, I can’t…
because I don’t have time…
because I don’t know how…
because my students have so many needs…
because my students won’t…
because my students don’t…
because of the district…
because of my principal…
because I have so much…
because I have so many…
because I don’t have help…

Whenever I hear these things, I do my best to approach it with empathy. I try to understand where this is coming from. I pose questions, I listen and I try to help reframe, I try to help come to some solutions or brainstorm ideas to counteract their statement. Why?

Because school is about the kids, not us. We can’t let our own limitations, place limitations on them. We owe it to our students to let them live in the land of possibilities.

I say- let’s take risks for kids. Let’s get comfy with the uncomfy…for them. What if something doesn’t go as planned? We yell, “plot twist” and keep going. We won’t break and we won’t break the children. In fact, those moments are an amazing opportunity for growth- for you and them.

But, they can’t…

This one is a lot harder for me to swallow. Why? Who are we to decide what our students can and cannot do? By making that decision for them, we take away their power of possibility. We have shut the door before they even had a chance to approach it.

Our students have already had many doors closed to them before they even walk in through ours. Let us not be another.

But, they can’t…
do…
focus…
understand…
do the work…
figure it out…
use this…
pay attention…
So how do we remedy this? We can reframe our thinking. Rather than focus on what we perceive they can’t do, let us focus on figuring out what they can do and use that to move them forward. We have no idea what our students are capable of if we don’t even give them a chance. We need to know what is going on inside of their brains. We are not minds readers, so how do we do that? Well, we talk with them. We need to know them to grow them. In order to do this, we need to be intentional with our time with students, our talks with students and our tasks with students. We need to make students’ thinking visible (and audible), not only to us, but to them and to their peers. It is only then, that we can help them unlock their own learning and their own potential.Here is a scenario:In a discussion about students and math, a teacher says “But I have a handful of kids that just can’t to do that.”Here is the beauty of math- there are so many ways for students to access, understand and explain…if given the right kind of tasks. If we give “lower floor, high ceiling” tasks- this allows all students to have an access point. So let’s get into their minds and see what they can do. Rather than ask students to come up with an answer, what if we asked them how they would solve something? Or ask “where would you start?” With this change in questioning, students’ thinking is honored and shared. What if they struggle to come up with a solution? We shouldn’t end it there. Give them the key ring to unlock their thinking.

Ask them open-ended questions:
What are you thinking?
What do you see?
What do you think?
What do you wonder?

And then listen…by doing this, you can quickly assess where your students are in the process. Use that information to plan forward. Use what they can do, to their own advantage. They may not be able to produce what you were looking for, but is that what this is about? I hope not. At this point in education, we know that a focus has shifted from “knowing” to “doing”. The focus is more on the process, the thinking…these are the skills that our students need to live beyond the four walls of our classroom. We want our students to be thinkers, creators, and problem solvers. When we say they can’t do something, we close the doors on those possibilities.

*The above isn’t isolated to just math- the questions and ideas can be used with any content and in any context. If this kind of questioning is new to your students, know that you will probably get “crickets” at first. Don’t stop. Model, meta cognate, support and scaffold…but they can do it. We must operate from the belief that all students can learn. They can do it in Kinder and they can do it with limitations. They just need time, space, guidance, support and a culture where they are comfortable to risk.

My call to action: Be cognizant of our word choice…for us and our students. Reframe things to ensure that we are door openers, rather than door closers.

Author’s note: This post was cross posted on Cori’s personal blog site: leadinginlimbo.weebly.com/

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CoriCori is a mother of two amazing children and currently works as a TOSA in Simi Valley Unified School District. She is a co-moderator for both #SVTChat and #VCHSchat. Cori has presented various sessions for CUE Rock Star, CUE BOLD as well as within and outside of her district and county. She is also a frequent blogger on her site: http://leadinginlimbo.weebly.com/  Follow her on Twitter: @CoriOrlando1

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Cori Orlando

1 CommentLeave a comment

  • Thanks for the article! For me, I hate saying “I can’t.” A huge personal vulnerability is created for me. Well, by nature, I’m a pleaser, so that plays into it. That being said, to grow others on the team, I have struggled at saying, “I can’t” but it is necessary sometimes. It’s very possible someone else can say, “I can” and the mission can move forward.
    The other thought that crossed my mind is the correlation or lack thereof between “I can’t” and saying “no.” Covey endorses saying no as a time mgmt skill, also hard for me to do.