Lauren Hodson | October 2016

We Buried “I Can’t” Today

As teachers, we often hear students deflated and defeated about their abilities.  They may have tried something and it did not work out quite as expected. Students may be afraid to try something new in the first place or take creative risks. Many times we hear them grumble and say, “I can’t do this.”

Because we know that all students are capable and all students can, in fact, do extraordinary things, we quickly step in with encouragement. Our statements of positivity can fall flat, however. Students are on to us! They know that we believe in them, but they are not buying it. To them, the evidence is clear… they simply Can’t.

“I Can’t” needs to be buried. For good and for real. It is not enough to just tell students that it is untrue and not to say it again. It needs to be a true burial. It needs to feel serious and important. I propose that we all bury this and other negative sayings in our classroom… Literally. Have a ceremony celebrating the demise of “I Can’t.”

How to Bury “I Can’t” through Creative Risks


  • Discuss how “I Can’t” can change us through creative risks.
  • Speak with students about why and when they use the phrase.
  • Ask
    • How does it limit us?
    • What can get us over the feeling of defeat?
    • How do we turn “I Can’t” into “I Can?”
    • What steps can we take as students and teachers to help battle “I Can’t?”
    • What strategies can we set-up, as a classroom, to overcome these negative feelings about our abilities?


  • Find a place where you can dig on your school grounds and have a decorated rock garden
  • Each student…
    • Writes “I Can’t” on a piece of paper
    • Decorates a rock to be placed above their buried message
      • Options: Paint, Permanent Marker, Wire, and Beads, Yarn or Twine
  • Have a ceremony
    • Students can write
      • poems about overcoming “I Can’t” to recite
      • songs saying goodbye to “I Can’t” forever
      • 6 Word Memoirs about how “I Can’t” will turn into “I Can”


  • Instead of writing “I Can’t” …
    • write any saying that creeps into our minds when we are struggling
  • Instead of writing the negative saying on a piece of paper…
    • write it on a package of seeds that can grow in the location
  • Instead of burying the sayings in the ground…
    • place paper on the bottom of a mosaic with cement
    • mix them together with some water and create a handmade paper pulp. Turn “I Can’t” into a work of art demonstrating that you, in fact, Can and Did!


Go outside and dig a little hole to place the paper in. Have students place their “I Can’t” statements in the holes and cover them with dirt. Take a moment to reflect on what this means. Say your goodbyes. Recite poems or sing songs. Cover the plot with your decorative rock and celebrate!

After the ceremony, it is important to follow through.  Some students might forget and still say those buried words. Gently remind them that “I Can’t” is gone and redirect them to the strategies that the class agreed upon when this was first introduced.

Good Luck and Happy Burying!

Hopeful and Helpful Links:

What negative saying do you wish you could bury for good?

About the Author

Lauren Hodson is a middle school visual and computer art educator in Plymouth, Massachusetts. As a mentor teacher and professional development presenter, Lauren is passionate about creativity and making art accessible for everyone. Her passions in STEAM and Arts Integration are at the root of her goal to collaborate with classroom teachers everywhere.