Contributed by Linda Gross Cheliotes, Ed.D.
As a young child, I remember my Mom teaching me how to remember all of the conjunctions (those little words that connect words and parts of a sentence to other parts of the sentence). She told me the conjunctions were “and”, “or”, “but”, or “nor” – say it several times quickly to get the full effect!
Over time, I came to realize that “and” and “but” were the most popular connectors in sentences. Fast-forward twenty years to my early experiences as a teacher, specifically to those times when my supervisors gave me feedback on my teaching skills. I worked very hard to be a great teacher and my evaluations generally reflected my efforts.
However, I noticed that my ears and eyes were always drawn to one word – “but”. “Your lesson was well paced, but you should consider more wait time before calling on students to respond to questions.” “You actively engaged all of your students in the lesson, but please consider tighter discipline procedures.” “You respond quickly to parent concerns about their children, but you could also initiate contacts more frequently.” Just the use of the word “but” even once was enough for me to dismiss any and all positive remarks in my evaluations and conferences with supervisors.
I quickly taught myself to ignore the first part of the feedback I received from others and focus instead on whatever words followed “but”. All of the positive feedback I received was negated by the few phrases beginning with “but”.
Later, as a supervisor myself, I began to realize that I, too, often used the word “but” when giving feedback to others. I witnessed the negative impact this three-letter word had on both students and staff, even though my goal was to reinforce people through positive interactions.
Eventually I learned how to overcome the negative power of but and noticed a tremendous difference in my interactions with others. I will let you in on the simple secret:
Instead of using but in your feedback, substitute the word and.
What a different impact you will have on others! Imagine how much more useful it would have been to me as a young teacher to hear, “You are an enthusiastic staff member and I want you to think about how you might use that energy to get your students excited about learning.” “You obviously spend much time planning your lessons and I am wondering how you are sharing your ideas with your colleagues.”
If you would like to learn how to use the power of “and” over “but” in your feedback to teachers, students, and others, here are some practice sentences you may use. Replace the word “but” with “and” and rephrase each sentence.
You are always quick to volunteer to help in our school, but I wish you would also spend more time working with your colleagues.
Jackie, you frequently raise your hand to answer my questions in class, but you need to think more before responding.
You usually hand in assignments on time, but you need to be careful about your spelling.
I want to congratulate you for taking risks in your instructional practices, but your lessons also must align with standards.
As you get into the habit of using “and” rather than “but” in your feedback to others, I am confident that your words will result in others becoming more reflective and positive in their practices, too.
Linda Gross Cheliotes has over 38 years of successful educational experience, including fourteen years as a school administrator. As principal, she transformed her underperforming school to a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence. She was named a National Distinguished Principal in 2002 and holds a doctorate in Organizational Leadership. She is the co-author of Coaching Conversations, a Corwin bestseller.