At my own school site, my colleagues and I are aware of the impact of our word choice, but often do not consistently think about our actions until after the fact. Thinking about various classroom scenarios and how to react in certain situations in advance can go along way to prevent poor word choice and regrets. Even after years of teaching, I occasionally find myself choosing words unwisely or not knowing what to say. Experience has taught me to think about my word choice and the consequences of my actions, but it is something I still need to develop. Based on conversations with colleagues and recently at our Instructional Council meetings, our faculty our aware of the impact of word choice and in trying to make our school culture more welcoming, it is something we feel needs to be developed and practiced, but cannot be achieved overnight. More recently in trying to develop a welcoming school culture, I am trying to be more conscience of my word choice with students in my classroom and in the ways I interact with them. I know over the years, I have shaped many of the choices my students have made. Whether these have been beneficial choices, I’m not sure but would like to think so. Because I value world travel and experiencing other cultures, many students I have taught have gone into similar fields of study and are traveling in various parts of the world. I received a letter from an alum sharing with me all of the ways I affected her live. Last I heard from her she was doing some fieldwork at Berkeley and was in Malawi, Africa. I continue to keep in touch with past students via Facebook and other forms of social media, and many have returned to visit over the years, imparting their own words of wisdom to my current students.
If I were the school leader, I would first focus on creating a more welcoming school culture and then build in the concept of do no harm and the use of choice words. Although several important elements that make-up a school culture, to be more effective and actually achieve the culture desired, it is necessary to do this in steps and not all at once. Given the degree of change our school site has experienced within the last few years and our current culture, we have the potential to create the best school in the universe but only if we do this strategically. Currently, our Instructional Council team is in the planning stages to create a more welcoming school-wide culture and we are including activities to assist staff with this in professional development trainings. Part of training will focus on restorative practices and on choice words. Since I am on the Instructional Council Team, as well as on several other leadership teams, and our current Principal has embraced the need to improve our school culture, these practices are within my sphere of influence. However, a concern for many at our last Instructional Council meeting was the period of time needed to effectively develop these practices to effect change, and whether these efforts will be abandoned next year when Principals are given another book or school-wide focus to be embraced. This concern stems from passed initiatives everyone has invested in that were tossed aside with the next administration or superintendent coming aboard.
In terms of my own classroom environment, I am continuing to focus on improving the environment, making it a more welcoming place and have been more conscious of my word choice and interactions with students. Part of this for me, involves checking in individually with students and getting a sense of where they are at. Given that I had a student teacher last semester and have had two classes of students to get to know this semester, I was fortunate to be able to implement practices like do no harm and choice words into these classes right from the start. I have already noticed a difference in the classroom environment and the way students interact with me. Several students are taking more risks in their work than previously and students who were not turning in work last semester are making a conscious effort to do so.
Commitment to 6 things I am willing to do this semester that will make my school choose words more wisely:
- Assist with staff development trainings
- Share planning ideas while on the Instructional Council Team
- Model best practices such as the use of sentence frames. I already do some of these in my classroom when training students to do scored discussions but plan to try out the language frames for argumentation (Figure 4.1 Language Frames for Argumentation, in How to Create a Culture of Achievement, 20120. I plan to video some of this and share with colleagues and common core planning days.
- Work with horizontal teams and training.
- Continue to work on my use of word choice by using words like “and” instead of “but” and using the power of “if”.
- Exploring the concept of "yet" and the growth mindset involved in learning. Ways of helping students to move from a "fixed mindset" to a "growth mindset" by word choices I use.
References:Fisher, Douglas, Nancy Frey, and Ian Pumpian. How to create a culture of achievement in your school and classroom. ASCD, 2012.
Dweck is a professor at Stanford and the author of Mindset, a classic work on motivation and "growth mindset." Her work is influential among educators and increasingly among business leaders as well.