The start of a new school year holds the promise of new learning and new opportunities for students. As teachers we have the ability to make the weather in our classrooms, understanding that the climate created will influence the degree to which this promise is fulfilled. Good to Great to Innovate- Recalculating the Route to Career Readiness K-12+ highlights the inter-relationship of student voice and student choice in supporting student engagement. Stories shared remind us that a “safe” climate is required for an inclusive, equitable learning environment that fosters creativity and engagement.
How then does one go about creating a “safe-climate” control? One simple strategy is to use our language as a barometer to determine how safe the climate is in our classroom and school. Beyond ensuring that our classroom resources and rich performance tasks are representative of all post-secondary destinations (workplace, college, apprenticeship, community- living or university), what is said or implied can be powerful tools indeed. We need to be mindful that if we want our students to be courageous in exploring new learning and taking risks, then they must feel safe and see themselves in the experience and opportunities afforded. The way in which we frame opportunities, the values we convey, what is said, and what is implied, are all worth examination and reflection. For example:
Used effectively, our language opens the door to further inquiry; used ineffectively, it raises uncertainty and anxiety, closing the door on the possibilities. As an example, asking “What do you want to be when you grow up?” can be a pretty intimidating question for anyone. I am not sure many of us would even be able to answer that for ourselves. It is even more of a challenge for a young person to provide a reasonable response, given their limited knowledge of what might be available or lie ahead in their future. When you change the question by one word, “try,” it opens up for very powerful dialogue and a broad range of possibilities for inquiry and exploration. By allowing your students to explore their passions they can start to self identify the interests and aptitudes they have and then start exploring how that might be transferred into future choices and workplace realities.
Because our words can be value-laden, as teachers we need to be thoughtful about what we are “actually” saying. Are our words reflective of the realities of our students and the world they are growing up in? Do they value achievement as measured by each post-secondary destination? Is our language reflected in our actions within our classroom or is it contrary to a more inclusive school?
As skilled teachers, we are the most critical factor in educating our students. Using thoughtful, informed language as a barometer will be a right way forward to creating curious, learning focused students capable of changing their world to be a better place. Language,a powerful tool indeed.