The Way We Speak

The way we speak has been on my mind a lot lately. I read Peter Johnston’s Choice Words: How Our Language Affects Children’s Learning (Stenhouse, 2004) when it was fresh off the press. At the time I remember thinking, What’s the big deal? This is a book filled with common sense and conversations that are second nature.

It was one of those books that needed to settle in for me to realize what a big deal it is indeed. Today I consider Johnston’s book a must-read for every educator. What I realized is Johnston’s practical advice isn’t second nature for many people. The way he suggests we use language is vital for educators to understand and apply.

Not only that, but there are times when my words can be altered in order to support students more. I began to analyze the word choices I used when addressing students.  Even today, years after reading his book, I am still sensitive about the way I speak with students. I am often found cracking open Choice Words to read bits in an effort to refine the way I speak with others.

Recently I’ve been looking at another book about teacher language. The Power of Our Words: Teacher Language that Helps Children Learn by Paula Denton, EdD (Northeast Foundation for Children, Inc., 2007). This book is a gem because it gives specific ways for teachers to refine the way they talk with students.  I was struck by Denton’s words:

Because language is such a powerful shaper of identity and perceptions, it’s vital that teachers carefully use it to open, rather than close, the doors of possibility for children. Our language conveys our assumptions and expectations, which, in turn influence students’ assumptions and expectations (19).

Sometimes in the midst of all the mandates being forced upon teachers I forget that my voice matters. This is a slippery slope to tread and one I jump off as soon as I realize I’m on it. My voice does matter. Your voice matters. Everyday we are given the opportunity to encourage and strengthen and uplift. It makes sense we learn how to use this powerful tool to the very best of our abilities.  Because, you see, our voices can change the world.