Do You Believe In The Power of Words?

Do you believe in the power of words?

By Daniel Bauer


Recently the LeadUp tribe has been deeply engaged in exploring the power of words.


This is for good reason to – we are in a season of New Year’s Resolutions and a trending way of creating resolutions is through choosing One Word that will be like a personal mission statement for the year.


My 2016 word is Honor.


I chose this word because I’ve been under the spell of the following idea shared nearly by every leader I interview on my podcast


I’m in a season of learning to improve my people skills and connecting with others.


Listening is a great way to connect. Encouraging through a note or kind word is a great way to connect.


Underneath all of this is the idea of honor. I want people to feel better about themselves, their situation, better about everything … after I’ve interacted with them.


I know this is a personal BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) as Jim Collins would say and it’s worth it!


What would my school look like … what transformations would occur if I could accomplish goal and honor everyone I come in contact with leaving them better than when I found them?


How do we know words have power?




Two of my favorite verses about words come from the book of Proverbs.


Proverbs 18:21a states “There is both the power of death and life in words.”


Proverbs 16:24 teaches, “Kind words are like honey – sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.”


One doesn’t have to be familiar with these proverbs to know the power of words. Think back to some of your fondest or even worst memories.


Can you remember the words spoken during that time?


Educators, both admin and teachers, are keenly aware of the power of words.


Through assessment and evaluation educators are constantly sharing feedback about performance. This is tricky territory with the ability to give life and death.


My worst moment was as a novice teacher with poor classroom management I once told a student that he was an embarrassment to his school, family, and country.


Ouch! What was I thinking?!? Why did this venom spew from my mouth?


I was incredibly frustrated at some negative behavior in my class and I didn’t have the emotional intelligence needed to deal with the stress involved in teaching.


Thankfully years of experience and a drive for self-growth has helped me develop into a leader that uses his words wisely.


With my words I have been able to inspire nearly 100 at-risk students to complete the Chicago Marathon and raise over $25K for clean water projects in Africa over the last three years.


It is common for staff members to stop by my office and let me know how much an encouraging word or note I shared with them meant, or they might send a note via email.


(Look for Part 2 from Daniel on


More Resources


This post was inspired by some of my fellow LeadUp tribe members. I highly encourage you to read their one word blog posts below.


Neil Gupta – “Not Yet


Sandy King “Growth


Sara Holm “Up & Winning


Mark French “Gratitude


Matthew Arend “Moment


Heidi Veal “Significance


Lena Marie Rockwood “Balance


“Untitled” by Lauren Peng licensed via CC2.0


Daniel is passionate about education, and serves as a high school administrator in Chicago, IL. Daniel also is the founder of @_BettterSchools

To Be a Great Teacher

Today’s post is written by Ryan Steele, a lead learner and principal of an elementary school in Plano, TX. 


I always knew I wanted to be a teacher.


I am not sure when I made that decision. The story has changed so many times in my mind…was it because of the good moments growing up? Moments like Mrs. Shiffner who taught me to never give up, or Mr. Benzo who found a way to bring humor to almost any subject…Mrs. Griffith, the one and only teacher who ever sent me to the principal’s office, yet offered grace when I returned. Was it a teacher? A single moment?


The fact of the matter is it was all of those teachers, and many others. It was also because of the difficult moments growing up… I wanted to become a teacher so other students wouldn’t get ignored, passed along, or unprotected when being ridiculed and left on the outside looking in just as I had been. I wanted to become a teacher to build self-efficacy in others, create an educational foundation that could last a lifetime, or offer compassion and grace when a student continued to make bad choices…instead of being a teacher who simply gave up with the signing of an office pass.


I volunteered as a teenager in youth ministry and took early education classes in high school. I went to college with teaching as the one and only plan, and worked hard to get volunteer/observation hours in all grade levels K-6 because I planned to be an elementary teacher. After all, those were the things I thought you were supposed to do to become a teacher, and as I stated before…I always knew I wanted to be one.


I graduated, and with degree in hand I began my journey as a classroom teacher. It took only one week of my first year of teaching to realize something…being a teacher is one thing, being a great teacher? Well, that is on an entirely different level.


I could pass as a teacher pretty easily without even coming close to being great. After all, all one would really need to do is pass out a textbook, tell students to turn to page 13, ask them to read the next three pages and then answer the five culminating questions at the end. Keep the room quite, grade the scores when done. Boom…there you have it – a teacher. My boss could walk by and see kids on task through the small window in my door, and as long as the grades were good most of the parents and students would be happy enough. How do I know? I have had this teacher, I have seen this teacher…I have been this teacher. It was the first week, of my first year, and it was the only time since.


To be a great teacher…now that was the right target, yet I never knew it existed. I don’t remember seeing a textbook on it in college…didn’t read about it in an article, or hear about it in a lecture. I studied the content, I learned how to manage a room, set expectations, and plan a lesson that would end with an appropriate assessment. I took a state test on content, and was given a certificate that said I was ready to change the world one student at a time. Now to be fair, that might have always been the goal of my professors and published authors…but somehow, the idea of a great teacher passed me by.


Five days. Five days of “Turn here, read this, answer that, be quiet and pay attention.”


While I don’t pretend to be the expert on all things education. While I don’t pretend to have all the answers, make all the right decisions, and never make a mistake. While I don’t pretend to see the next educational trend around the corner or have a program for all students. While I can’t offer any of those things, I can offer this…what I believe it takes to be a great teacher. While I never had this down perfectly, this is what I strive for:


Great teachers never give up, and never stop believing in the kids in their classroom. They understand a child’s worth is not measured by the letter grade next to his name, because they believe in focusing on the process of learning, and the power of the one word question… Why? Great teachers understand that learning is an ongoing process, and the team of people they work with are there to ensure every student’s success.


Great teachers are not afraid to be honest and transparent with their students. They are willing to take risks in the name of learning, and understand that a child’s education is invaluable. Therefore, are willing to push beyond bubbling letters and comprehending textbook material. Great teachers understand that an education is the key to a child’s future success, and so they never take learning lightly.


Great teachers understand it’s not about them, nor is it about presenting on stage to open ears ready to hear. They know it’s about the students in the seats, and the minds in front of them needing to be pushed to the greatest extent possible, even if that means it’s a different approach for every child in the room. Great teachers understand it’s not about a 40 hour work week, but however many hours it takes to ensure that every child’s education is created and individualized just for him or her. They understand the charge that comes with students in their classrooms needing to learn something new each day, and I assure you, it is quite a heavy responsibility.


Great teachers know education is about self-efficacy and self-esteem. It’s about risk taking and idea sharing. It’s about students coming to school every day excited because they don’t know what their teachers are going to be sharing with them that day. It’s the excitement that comes when learning is authentic and purposeful. Great teachers allow students to have ownership over their learning, and provide students with the opportunity to ask why, even at the risk of the teacher not knowing the answer. Great teachers believe it’s not about knowing all the answers, but knowing how to ask the right questions.


Great teachers can motivate the uninterested and challenge the student whose learning always comes far too easily. They know how to pick up a student when he loses hope, and is willing to take the tangent when the discussion provides a new untraveled and unplanned road. Great teachers are student focused and team driven. Great teachers, the very best…teach not only with their minds, but with their hearts.


I always knew I wanted to be a teacher. But today? I want to be great…Because our students, every one of them, deserve nothing less than great.


To Read More by Ryan


You Are Enough

Today’s guest post is by Aaron Hogan, a high school assistant principal in College Station, TX.

Before I started teaching, I heard a lot about what to expect during the first year. But other than the (much maligned) “Don’t smile til Christmas” warning (that even as a baby teacher I knew was garbage), I didn’t hear much about the first day.

My eighth first day will be here in another month, and I’d love there to be some stories out there for new teachers to see about something that I’ve heard many educators commiserate about since I started.

My first day of teaching

My first day was terrible. Not in the “I’m supposed to say I was bad because I can tell I’ve grown since then and I don’t want to boast” sense either. It was bad.

I had first period off (which is great any other day of the year for this non morning person), but on the first day it just left time for the knots in my stomach to themselves into more dense knots.

Our numbers were growing, so we had portables set up for the first time outside. I was teaching in one, but I didn’t know anything different. I was just happy to have secured gainful employment in July. I would have taught anywhere.

I can remember it like it was yesterday: As I was walking back into the main building to get some water, the power went out. I was going to get a day reprieve! We couldn’t have school with the power out, right? Wrong.

My department head walked around the corner, and instead of telling me she would see me the next day, she said that they were working on getting everything fixed up as quickly as possible.


So I go back to my portable and begin to put on this ridiculous costume that I’m going to use on my first minutes of teaching ever. On top of my uncomfortable shirt and tie teacher clothes I put on a rain jacket. On top of that, I’m wearing my graduation robe. The plan was for me to start with the end (graduation) in mind, then point to how I was going to be their guide on the path toward that goal, and then end with the realization that I was the teacher who could get them there.

What actually happened was more like this.

I put everything on and begin to sweat. Blame it on the first day of school or on it being MY first day of school or on not having any power on August 25th in central Texas. Whatever is at fault, I’m really sweating by the time. Like beads of sweat I can feel. Not fun and not exactly how I wanted to start the day or my career.

I’ll spare you the details about the rest of the day and offer this summary: I pushed through the entire morning of classes packed with 30 high school juniors in a portable with no power for the video clips and slideshow I prepared or for the music I had carefully chosen to let them know I was someone they could relate to. Also there was no power for the air conditioning.

I remember sitting in the lunchroom thinking about what else I could do with my life. The morning left me embarrassed, frustrated, and pretty intimidated about actually coming back on Tuesday.

But I came back, and things got better.

Be yourself

The power was certainly a contributing factor in the great undoing of my first day. Really, though, there was a greater issue: I wasn’t being myself. I’m not the guy who dresses up or can pull off something like what I tried. I gave this a shot because a great teacher I had in high school started the year like this (though one of the outfits she wore was a cheerleading outfit and I do have limits). She was such a memorable and effective teacher because she was herself. Yes, she did the crazy “three outfits” first day that I tried to emulate, but really she was just being herself. She was an encourager, and she was our champion throughout the year.

I think that’s important to remember. Whether you’re a new teacher or a veteran, it’s not your job to be someone else. Just be yourself. You are enough.

I’m not saying stop growing or stop learning, but do know that you are where you are for a reason. You have an incredible power to influence the students who are in your classroom over the next year. Nobody but you gets that opportunity. It is an awesome responsibility and an incredible opportunity.

I love my job as an assistant principal, but, honestly, I’m a little bit jealous of the kind of relationships you’ll begin to develop with students in the coming weeks. Good luck to you. Your work is worth it. Thank you for the time you invest in your students.

you are enough

What can we do to help new teachers?

If you have a crazy first day or year one story, take time to share it. I think there’s a lot of good that can come from new teachers seeing that they’re not alone in those first experiences that can feel really defeating in the moment. Past that, take time to find a new teacher on your campus or in your district who you can help take care of this year. Those little bits of encouragement that seem like small things–a note, a Coke, or an encouraging word–end up being the things that get you through the day.

For more from Aaron’s blog