The Power of Yes: Making Your Classroom A Happy Place

This post was originally published on TeacherPop.

In the urgency and stress of trying to run a college-bound classroom, I’ve often found myself acting as a small “no” factory. No bathroom breaks. No red ink. No choosing your own partners for group work. It’s like that scene at the beginning of Mean Girls, Lindsay Lohan’s character is barraged by negative answers.

Of course, I had a reason behind each one. We don’t have time to waste, I need to be able to grade work, and I know which “work partners” will get off task.

But the power of yes, when wisely used, has infinite potential.


A retired teacher at a recent training I attended had a momentous example. Each year, her students made quilt squares to honor strong women. The first year, they had free reign.

Glitter? Sure! Puffy paint? Why not?! You want to use your teacher as your strong woman? Let me pose. The result: an eclectic, if mashed up, quilt.

In the second year, a professional painter was brought in to aide students. He had a vision for the quilt, and said no often. No puffy paint- it wouldn’t lend well to the consistent image he was going for. No glitter- it was tacky. Only famous women- they were the easiest to recognize for strangers.

Each “no” had a reason, but the final product, while neater than the first, lacked the spark the first one so clearly possessed.

As I heard this story, I remembered vaguely Institute’s mention of choice. Choices that seem trivial to us can make a huge difference in the classroom. It took this stark comparison (I was able to see and touch both of these beautiful quilts – the teacher brought them with her) for it to hit me.

I’ve started my second year focusing on as many yeses as possible.

Sometimes it’s as simple as “Do you want a blue or yellow marker?” It gives kids options, and I feel that I’m slowly earning up a savings of “yeses,” so when I need to give a no, it’s well earned.

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