Many of the most memorable teachers are respected for their skill in delivering learning, but also for the way they made students feel in the classroom. Creating a supportive classroom environment – one where students are encouraged, listened to, and feel valued – is one of the most meaningful ways teachers can contribute to their students’ academic success.
As a teacher, the language you use is a crucial way to foster a supportive classroom environment. Being intentional and thoughtful about the way you speak to your students – whether providing encouragement or discipline – will allow you to motivate and empower them daily.
Think about the common classroom scenarios that you find most challenging as an educator and reflect on your go-to responses in these situations. Is the language you use powerful but supportive? Or could you benefit from a fresh approach to encouraging learners with powerful and effective communication that shows awareness of the power of your words?
In this blog, we share some ideas about the language teachers can use to empower learners and create a supportive classroom environment.
1. “I’m listening.” This simple phrase shows students there’s space and respect for their voices and opinions in your classroom. “I’m listening,” is especially effective as an open-ended prompt if a student looks concerned or frustrated – just make sure you pair it with open, genuine body language and don’t rush to fill the silence after you’ve spoken.
2. “I know you can do it.” Teachers must assess students’ work, assign grades, and discipline bad behaviour, which can cause a tricky power dynamic and sometimes even conflict – particularly with secondary students who may be less willing to defer to a teacher’s authority.
Looking for opportunities to boost students’ self-confidence with statements like “I believe in you,” can redress the power imbalance inherent in the teacher-student relationship by reminding your students that your primary goal is to support their learning.
3. “Let’s work it out together.” Instruction usually flows in one direction in the classroom. Using collaborative language where a student is struggling to grasp a concept positions teacher and student as partners and co-learners and encourages pupils to see themselves as capable and valued participants.
4. “We missed you.” If a student has been absent, respond with a positive statement like “We really missed you in class yesterday,” rather than asking “Where were you?”, which can come across as accusatory. Flipping this sentiment shows that you noticed the student’s absence and reinforces that they’re a valuable part of the class.
5. “I made a mistake.” or “I’m sorry”. Admitting you’ve made a mistake can be challenging, but it’s also a powerful way to build a strong relationship with your students. Whether it’s a minor mistake or something more significant, being prepared to say “I was wrong” instils trust and builds respect.
Depending on the error, you might choose to use humour to show that we all mess up sometimes. Creating an environment where students are comfortable making mistakes builds academic resilience – failure is a completely natural part of the educational journey.
6. “You’ve really improved.” or “I’m proud of your progress.” When teachers notice and articulate progress with specific and focused feedback – “You’ve made really great progress with your writing… I especially loved the way you used similes in your latest story,” – students see that their effort and learning has been recognised and rewarded.
Avoid inauthentic feedback – even primary students can recognise when praise isn’t genuine. Regardless of a student’s achievement, you can motivate them to persevere by acknowledging their effort with sincere and actionable feedback.