Words Matter

Our teaching spaces should be as inclusive as possible so that all of our students see themselves in the curriculum, and feel safe and respected, as teachers model the behavior and language that they expect from all present. In the health classroom we no longer talk about male and female condoms, replacing those dated terms with external and internal condoms. This weeks guest blog post reminds us to consider our language, and comes from Kevin Shephard. Kevin is the Director of supportREALteachers.org.

I used to think that words didn’t really matter. I was a “sticks and stones” kind of person. It wasn’t until my undergraduate work that I began to understand the effect words have, particularly when it’s looked at holistically. Is using the term “guys” to refer to all students dismissive of other gender identities? On its own, maybe not. But when many words/sayings are male dominant it begins to send a message. This is further exacerbated by males having many privileges that women do not. The cumulative effect of these messages and others (some obvious and some hidden) can change the way students think about themselves and others.

Below are some examples of words/phrases that can be changed to be more inclusive. While there won’t be universal consensus (we can’t even agree on what to call soda, I mean pop, I mean Coke), the discussion is important. What other examples do you hear and want to change? To what words do you have an aversion?

While we all have a lot to improve, it is important to keep in mind that changing one’s language is a lengthy process and should be viewed that way. We are essentially attempting to change well established mental habits! In my observation, I have found that people go through 4 phases.

· Stage 1: Recognizing what they said AFTER saying it.

· Stage 2: Recognizing what they are saying AS THEY ARE saying it.

· Stage 3: Recognizing what you they are ABOUT TO say and changing it on the fly.

· Stage 4: The new vocabulary is a HABIT.

As we all reflect, I hope we will continue to evolve, both individually and as a profession.

Additional Resource: 15 Ways to Bring More Positive Language into Your Classroom and School

If you liked this post, then you should check out the following:

Use of Language in the #HealthEd Classroom

Starting a Purposeful Practice of EDI

Pronouns: Getting Personal

Give Students Language

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