The language we use to talk about students matters. It reflects and shapes our perceptions, and most importantly, our expectations for student success. Sometimes the words we use to talk about students have biases within them we never intended. It’s easier to focus on our good intentions than to dig deeper into the implicit biases behind our words.
It’s time to change this—change our language together to reshape the relationship between schools and the students and families we serve.
Make a Courageous Commitment
In your school, make a courageous commitment to shift all staff conversations about kids and their families from a deficit mindset, which views diversity as a problem kids bear, to an asset mindset: one which truly values students and their communities for the diversity they bring.
Let’s get specific about what this looks like by reframing four of the most harmful statements commonly made about students of color, English learners (ELs), and students living in poverty.
Four Statements That Perpetuate Bias and Low Expectations
Please agree together to stop saying the following statements, and to speak up when you hear others say them:
“These students can’t…”
“They aren’t motivated.”
“They have no background knowledge.”
“Their parents don’t care about education.”
There are real issues to discuss in these sentences, and we should not be silent on the issues of students’ current achievement levels, motivation, prior knowledge, and family involvement; but we must reframe our conversations entirely.
We must be intentional in shifting our discourse from:
- a fixed mindset to a growth mindset
- assumption to inquiry
- blame to ownership
- generalizations to specificity
- culturally biased to culturally relevant
|Instead of saying…||Reframe your idea with a growth mindset, specificity, ownership, inquiry, and cultural relevance. Say and reflect:|
|Our students can’t…
These kids can’t…
Black students don’t…
|Some students can’t YET…
(Name students) struggle specifically in these areas (be specific with the data).
We need to create more opportunities for our students to…
How might we better help our students be successful with…?
|They have no background knowledge.||Our school curriculum doesn’t connect to students’ background knowledge.
|Our students are not motivated.
ELLs aren’t motivated.
Many of our African American and Latino boys are not motivated to achieve.
|Our current approach to instruction does not motivate our students.
Our current approach does not engage the majority of our African American and Latino boys.
What implicit biases might exist in our school culture that de-motivates students? How will we address these?
|Parents don’t care about education.
Their parents don’t participate in the school.
Parents don’t help at home.
|Parents are involved in different ways than I would expect from my own experience with parent-school partnerships.
Our current efforts to increase parent involvement are a mismatch for our parent community.
Our school is not effectively engaging parents as partners.
How might we best support parents in supporting their students?
Collaborate to End Deficit Discourse about Kids
Please collaborate with colleagues to raise awareness of how we talk about students—especially students of color, ELLs, students in poverty, and any student group whose identity differs from majority culture in your school. Use my chart for reframing deficit statements, or create your own together. Post it in the staff room and use it to support one another in establishing and enacting a norm of respectful, asset-based talk about students and kids.
This isn’t just about changing our words. It’s about reshaping our mindsets together, in order to create effective and equitable schools, and in turn a more equitable society.
What deficit-based statement most bothers you?
Which are you most likely to say yourself?
How will you help end deficit discourse in schools?
A Framework for Educator Mindsets and Consequences by @RobFilback and A. Green
Do They Really Care? Latino Parent Involvement in Urban Schools by Desireé Vega
English Language Learners: Shifting to an Asset-Based Paradigm via Voices in Urban Education
Recommended Books and Articles:
Browne, R. (2012). Walking the Equity Talk: A Guide for Culturally Courageous Leadership in School Communities. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
Davis, B. (2012). How to Teach Students Who Don’t Look Like You: Culturally Responsive Teaching Strategies. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
Muhammad, A. (2015). Overcoming the Achievement Gap Trap: Liberating Mindsets to Effect Change. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.
Nuri-Robins, Lindsey, Lindsey, & Terrell (2011). Culturally Proficient Instruction, 3rd Edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.