Opening Up To The Power Of Words

by Kayla Harrison

I stand in front of my students and ask them if they want the world to change. I watch as hands go up across the classroom. I ask if they think they can change the world as they are now: this age, this stage of life, this classroom. Now. I get a hand or two, but the room is still. Students look down at their desks and twiddle their thumbs, they laugh, some get red in the face. A student says, “Not yet, anyway.”

I say, “Raise your hand if you think you must wait until you get a degree.” Hands go up before I finish the statement.

There’s something worth noting here: the fact that this society has trained us to think a certain way. It has shifted our mindsets, enslaved us to one way of thinking. We must change that.

One of my favorite sayings by Margaret Atwood is this: “A word after a word after a word is power.” I read this to my students frequently. We have the power, as writers, as communicators, as humans, to shape this world with words. Our words.

Imagine being able to say something or write something and it comes to fruition. All acts start with communication: letters, whispers, text messages, social media posts, videos, podcasts, books, scribbles on a napkin, internal thoughts, phone calls, etc. Our words hold power. But we have to learn how to first listen, then learn how to get our message across in the most effective, meaningful way.

It frightens me that my students are growing up in this world, in the state that it’s in. It worries me that every time they walk out of the classroom they face things that I can’t control, that I can’t protect them from. But what I can do is teach them how to use their voices, how to stand up, how to communicate effectively.

“Your words matter. You matter.” I write this on my students’ papers as a reminder that what they have to say is important, just as all of the authors we read in class are important. Each person’s writing offers a different worldview, and each of my students can only offer their unique perspective on life.

I encourage them to be vulnerable in their writing, to offer their opinions, to challenge others. I attempt to teach them how to listen to other sides of an issue before making their stance. I attempt to teach them how to put different writings into a conversation and how to add themselves in.

My hope is that they will learn to listen before they act, but also learn that they have the power right now to do something.

They can put themselves into the mix of others talking about worldly issues through their everyday conversations, social media posts, group chats, etc. There are so many platforms available for them to take advantage of, and I have hope that they will impact the world on some level. I have hope that at least one will begin speaking out and beginning to make a change.

Though the world is not in a state that I particularly love, I have hope that it can change starting in 2020. I can’t necessarily change the world as a whole, but I can start by teaching my students to own their voices, to use them, and to go out into the world. I can care for them, I can change the environment in the classroom. I can start small in hopes that it will ripple forward into the future.

My goal is to foster an environment where students feel safe to explore their questions and their struggles, an environment where students can learn what their voices sound like and see the result when they are used to communicate in a larger conversation outside the classroom. I’ve seen the impact it has on some students – I can see their confidence and their essays growing stronger as they begin to realize they can create change. Some have already changed the way I view the world, which is one step forward.

I’ll keep teaching and caring and listening so long as they are willing to open themselves up to possibility.

© 2020 Kayla Harrison

Kayla Harrison is a Writing Arts graduate student, freelance writer, and graduate instructor. To Kayla, reading is a way of discovering the world, and writing a way of making sense of it all. You can read more of Kayla’s writing at insearchofthewritedirection.com

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