5 Components that Enhance Positive Expectations: #2: Say Please

5 Components that Enhance Positive Expectations: #2: Say Please


You can help students believe in themselves, by believing in them. This post series focuses on ways to let your positive expectations show.

You may recall asking for something as a child and hearing your mother respond, “What’s the magic word?” The word, of course, is “please,” called “magic” because politeness can turn reluctant givers into willing ones.

“Please” is something of an endangered species these days. In most customer-service lines and busy shops, the “magic word” is heard so seldom that it might well have power to make people faint. Even in politer days, most children knew the word primarily as something they had to say, not as something they expected to hear from adults. The best of parents were more likely to ask, “Would you bring me the newspaper?” than “Would you please bring me the newspaper?” Or they used “please” in a frustrated, sarcastic way: “Will you PLEASE take all that yelling outside??!”

To kids, “please” is still particularly magical when offered to them by adults.


The Source of the Magic

One reason even loving parents were traditionally reluctant to say “please” to their children was fear of implying, “It’s your choice; you don’t have to do as I say.” If that’s true for parents, it’s truer yet for non-family authority figures such as teachers. Are kids really more likely to respond, “No, I don’t want to” if what should be taken as clear instructions come with a “please” attached?

A lot depends on what that “please” means to you. Most parents who use the “magic word” technique know you’d better not answer the subsequent “please” with a “no”—not if you want kids to retain confidence in good manners. Whatever you’re thinking, kids pick up on your attitude:

  • If you think of “please” as a simple gesture of respect and appreciation—a way of saying, “I’m thankful in advance for your cooperation”—most children will comply gladly and promptly.
  • If you think of the word in terms of an inferior begging consideration from a superior, kids will sense your uncertainty (or reluctance) in saying it, and they won’t feel particularly cooperative.
  • If you use the annoyed form of “please,” you’re openly inviting a hostile response.

Say it in the right way, and you’ll gain more, not less, cooperation.

The Right Time

Ideally, every specific request—from stepping out of the way to being classroom-picker-upper for the week—should come with a friendly “please.” There are, nonetheless, a few times when the word is out of place:

  • When danger is imminent and immediate action required, the fewer words the better.
  • If an initial request meets with defiance, any additional “please” could be interpreted as begging or wavering—when kind-but-firm assertion of authority is what’s needed.
  • If you toss the word about for things that shouldn’t really need requests (“Will everyone please pay attention?” repeated with each change of the slide, whether or not anyone is showing obvious signs of boredom), “please” will soon lose its magic.

When used appropriately, though, it can magically turn many a problem student into a cooperative one!