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The language of education is complex. I often forget the constancy of codified, jargonized, technical, and acronym-ical terms we use each day. We deal in it fast and loose. The common tongue can unify in most cases. But what about the moments of dislocation? How do we know that we have dropped the audience?

What happens in education and how it happens can be frustratingly fascinating. Counter-tensions can sometimes seem to pull actions out of alignment with intention. Stay vigilant, remain calm, and talk it out.

Some words, despite our exhaustive professional discussions, still elude my understanding. Derek Rhodenizer explored some these keyword challenges in his podcast, words like ‘risk‘ and ‘relationships‘ hold a powerful sway over educators. And regardless of the point of view, the positive potential in these elements evaporates when assumptions overtake mindful communication. Losing the tread and thread on these terms can happen quickly. For example, when teachers and support staff each voice their approach towards student success, or a new school board initiative emerges, or an individual from outside the silo, for instance, a parent, enters the convo.

Getting lost in translation can be confusing and once in a while, regrettable. Social language conventions can add a further flavour to the challenge.

During my teacher candidacy, I witnessed some language dislocation in rich 4K HD surround sound.  A student, new to the class, thanked my associate teacher for the use of a pencil. The teacher in response to their gratitude replied ‘No problem.’ The student paused, then retreated pensively. I reflected on that moment for a day or two and wondered if the kid wondered if asking for a pencil could have been a problem. Did they just unlearn a social grace with one offhand comment? And maybe, just maybe, do they now feel that they should not ask the teacher for a pencil the next time? So then I surveyed my colleagues and found that ‘No problem’ topped the list for responding to a gratitude. I remember the funny look on several of their faces when I asked if they meant to imply that there could have been a problem in the gratitude. One colleague laughed and accused me of overthinking, and I agreed that I was.

When unnecessarily and unintentionally loaded language meets concrete comprehension, stuff happens – unintended stuff. And when we do not notice that our words have landed awkwardly, stuff breaks – valuable stuff. And when we lose intention in our words, relationships can suffer – sometimes permanently.

Every day, teachers build the bridges for others to pursue their learning experiences. Educators have to be pro wrestlers when it comes to making ‘the way, fit into the day.’ No big surprise then, that even us professionals are constantly beta testing our best understandings of our profession, in the hope of serving students effectively. And when we do, we make words purposeful and hold ourselves and others accountable for the effects words have.

Words matter.

Right now, could you..?

  • Revisit a conversation from this week, either professional or personal, intentionally check in with that person – clear up any loose language or dislocations from your intention. This will remind you that emotional states are shared and need tending.
  • Examine your communication logs –  once for words that were said and once when they weren’t. This will create new fluencies and opportunities for professional reflection.
  • Honour gratitude with clear language. This will reinforce a primary tenet of the social contract that must exist in school – “If I feel safe, I can learn.”