A bright idea for gently yet firmly saying NO

how to tell people noOn my way home from the TpT conference last Saturday, I overheard a random conversation between a JetBlue flight attendant and a passenger. It’s now the topic of a blog post here, so I suppose that’s a lesson to all of us that even our most off-handed words can have a tremendous impact and reach.

We were taxiing away from the gate when a passenger asked her if he could get something from a bag he stowed overhead. I expected to hear her say, “No, sorry, we’re taxiing, you can’t get up now.” That’s what I would have told him.

Instead she said this: “The seatbelt sign is on so I can’t say yes.”

It took a moment for me to register the brilliance of that phrase: ___ so I can’t say yes. Instantly, the listener knew she was empathetic, wanted to give him what he asked for, and had a legitimate reason for not being able to acquiesce. She said no clearly and succinctly without ever saying no.

Imagine all the possible in-school uses for ___ so I can’t say yes and I can’t say yes because ___:

  • If you go get a drink right now, you’ll miss the instructions, so I can’t say yes.
  • It’s fun to stand up on the swings, but I can’t say yes because it’s not safe for you.
  • I wish I could make those photocopies for you, but I have a meeting after school, so I can’t say yes.
  • I’d love to have an impromptu conference, but I can’t say yes because I have another parent scheduled.

If you are person who struggles with telling other people no and creating boundaries around your time, these phrases can be a real life changer! Try them out and let me know how it goes.

Bright Ideas practical classroom solutions

For more bright ideas from other bloggers, please browse through the link-up below and choose a topic that interests you. What makes this link-up unique is that none of these posts have products or printables of any kind, just practical classroom solutions. The grade levels for each are listed in the post titles. Enjoy!



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Angela is a National Board Certified Teacher with 11 years of classroom experience and 7 years experience as an instructional coach. As founder of Due Season Press and Educational Services, she has created printable curriculum resources, 4 books, 3 online courses, the Truth for Teachers podcast, and The 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club. Subscribe via email to get her best content sent to your inbox!

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Pippi July 19, 2014 at 9:53 am

Brilliant! I love the phrasing!


2 Kate July 19, 2014 at 10:51 am

I’m terrible at saying no, so this post is perfect for me! This is such a positive suggestion and I’m definitely going to give this a whirl. Thanks!!


3 Kim July 19, 2014 at 11:23 am

Such an interesting post! Definitely gave me something to think about. Thanks for sharing!


4 Kathy Griffin July 19, 2014 at 12:13 pm

I love it! Simple, effective, and just requires restructuring how we say it. Thanks for sharing. You are like me. You find teachable moments everywhere – even on an airplane :)


5 Tori July 19, 2014 at 12:25 pm

This is a great idea and so positive!


6 Jennifer July 19, 2014 at 1:19 pm

Isn’t it amazing how just changing what we say can have such a huge effect on kids! (Well people in general but still!)

So this year a teacher told my son she did not care what his mommy told him about how we read. (We were diagnosed with dyslexia and so we do things a little differently.) He came home all upset because a teacher at school did not care about his mommy! So sad. I get what she was trying to say… we are doing things this way in my class but I surely think it was a poor choice of words for sure! (Not to mention I completely don’t agree with her saying he can’t use his strategies in her class if they work for him!)

Thanks for adding another slight change to my vocabulary so kids get the right message!

Simply Kinder


7 vicky July 19, 2014 at 2:41 pm

Love this Angela! I’m keeping this one in my back pocket.
Vicky :o)


8 A Peach for the Teach July 19, 2014 at 3:42 pm

Ohhh, I live for rewording the positive! Thank you so much! My behavior support kiddos will like this.

Thanks for sharing!


9 Rachel July 19, 2014 at 3:43 pm

This is brilliant!!! I’m so using this next year!


10 Sheryl July 19, 2014 at 7:30 pm

Thanks for sharing this idea, Angela.


11 Erika July 19, 2014 at 8:27 pm

This is absolutely brilliant!! I’d like to know who trains the flight attendants. :)


12 Molly July 19, 2014 at 8:46 pm

On my way home from Vegas I heard a flight attendant from Southwest say something very similar when someone asked if they could get up to go to the bathroom!! How funny!!


13 Sally Bondelevitch DeCost July 19, 2014 at 11:22 pm

I like the idea of not having to take the “blame” for saying no! Love this idea! Isn’t it amazing how much we learned in Vegas?


14 Rachel July 20, 2014 at 12:10 pm

I really needed to read this. Saying no is one of the things I struggle with the most, especially with adults. I end up taking on more work than I should and becoming overwhelmed. I am going to put this into practice immediately. Thank you so much for this tip.


15 Susan Mescall July 20, 2014 at 9:00 pm

I always pick up a nugget when I read your blog! I, too, struggle with saying no to both adults and students. This is so going in my pocket of strategies! What a great way to take the negative out of saying “No.”
Sue Mescall


16 Karen July 24, 2014 at 3:54 pm

I’ve tried those with my toddler, son, too….worked great :) The word “no” is so powerful and should definitely not be overused.


17 Angela Watson August 4, 2014 at 2:13 pm

Thank you all for commenting! I really appreciate that, and I’m glad the post was helpful. :)


18 Malena August 12, 2014 at 11:05 pm

I love this! It made me laugh and start thinking how I could use it. :) Shot in the dark…do you know Tasha…moved there from California? I think she was working in NY as an educational adviser of some type.


19 Angela Watson August 12, 2014 at 11:45 pm

Nope, sorry! Glad you enjoyed the post. :)


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