The Language of Agency

Arriving back to school today after a week off for the Tet holiday, I found myself in a professional development session about “choice words”. To kick off the session, our principal provided us with the following quote from the book How to Create a Culture of Achievement:

“Language creates realities and invites identities”

This provocation led me to start thinking about the language of agency.

What words are we using that create realities of student agency in our classrooms and schools?

What words are we using that invite identities of students as agents of their own learning?

And perhaps…

What words are we using… that don’t.

This reminded me of one of the sessions I attended at the 3E conference this past fall, where myself and a colleague spent our time thinking of all the words we use as educators that don’t reflect the ethos of agency.

Words we use when we talk about students:

  • Make them…
  • Force them…
  • Get them to…
  • Have them…
  • Let them…
  • Allow them to…

Words we use when we talk to students:

  • You must…
  • You will…
  • You have to…
  • You are going to…
  • You can…

If we look at many of the words we currently use when speaking about and to students, we might need to acknowledge the fact that our words may actually be creating realities and inviting identities of compliance, even though our intentions and actions are striving towards agency.

So what can we do about it?

Notice these words. Write down all the words that you think reflect an ethos of compliance, then try to catch yourself using them. Listen to the instructions you give to your students. Look at instructions on your slides, assignments and hand outs. Read the notes you take during PD.

Bring the words to the collective attention. Discuss these words with your teams and staff. Co-construct a list of words to watch out for. Tally and track when these words are used at collaborative planning meetings and staff meetings. See which words are used and how often. Turn it into a game. Help each other catch these words when they slip out.

Dig into what those words reveal. It’s one thing to acknowledge that we are using these words and phrases… it’s another thing to dig a little deeper into what they reveal about us, our beliefs, our philosophies of education, our biases. And not just on an individual level, what do these words reveal about the current paradigm of education, the system of schooling, the traditional power structures of teacher and student.

Strive for agency-supportive words. Brainstorm the words that create realities and invite identities of agency. What would those words be? How often are we using those words when we talk about students? How often are we using those words when we talk to students? How could we use those words more, and what impact might a change of language have on our practices in the classroom?

What comes first… the words or the behaviors?

How does one impact the other?

How can developing a language of agency help develop a culture of agency?

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s