Using Inclusive Language: Celebrating All Learners

As a dedicated educator, you want to nurture each and every student in your classroom to live up to their unlimited potential.

To be successful in this endeavor, teachers, and administrators must acknowledge the potential for implicit bias to affect student outcomes. Recent research reported by the Harvard Graduate School of Education found that, in regions where bias against Black students was higher, there was a wider gap between Black and white students in terms of testing results and disciplinary action.

Similarly, bias against students from a wide variety of different backgrounds and experiences could also lead to negative educational outcomes.

By acknowledging this reality, schools can take deliberate steps to counteract exclusion, allowing them to celebrate all learners. One important component of this effort is to ensure that the language of the classroom is as inclusive as possible.

Identity and Language in the Classroom
There are many dimensions of diversity. For example, students, teachers, and support staff may identify with a broad array of identity markers associated with:

  • Race and ethnicity.
  • Religious background.
  • Gender identity and expression.
  • Ability status.

This list is by no means complete. There is an infinite number of different attributes that can be important to a person’s identity and that can influence how individuals interact with, and are perceived by, other members of the classroom community.

When we talk about these facets of various identities, it’s important to keep in mind that, as the American Psychological Association (APA) pointed out, there are two leading approaches to how we talk about diversity:

  • Person-first language: These constructions literally place the person before the condition that is being described in a particular phrase. For example, you might use the term “person experiencing homelessness.” In this way, you emphasize the humanity of the individual while presenting the descriptor as being simply a fact of the individual’s life for the present moment.
  • Identity-first language: In other situations, it makes sense to prioritize the identity marker, especially for individuals who consider the attribute to be an important part of who they are. For example, some Deaf people capitalize that adjective and use identity-first constructions — as we have done here — to underscore the shared cultural and communal aspects of Deaf identity.

It’s important to remember that not all people who share some aspect of their identity with others will feel comfortable with the same terms. The best policy is to take your cues from the person you’re speaking with about their language preferences.

As a matter of practice, no matter which construction you employ in a given situation, it’s important to avoid terms that have an inherently pejorative connotation, as well as phrasing that portrays an individual in an unnecessarily victimizing or valorizing role.

How to Ensure You’re Using Inclusive Language
Like language itself, ideas about inclusive speech are always evolving. It’s important to stay current and remain open to change. No educator is perfect, but the best teachers are those who always strive to improve.

Reviewing Prepared Materials
As you take a look at individual lessons and instructional supports, pay attention to the language that’s being used. Not everybody uses the same criteria when determining how they’ll speak or present ideas. If you come across anything that differs from what’s acceptable in your classroom, it may be beneficial to provide additional educational context for your students.

Inclusive Language During Instruction
You can’t script everything, but pay attention to how you speak, just as you would monitor for other signs of implicit bias in your classroom. When chatting informally with your students, do you use certain terms that you otherwise wouldn’t say? Have you realized that you tend to associate pronouns of a certain gender with specific academic subjects?

It’s also a good idea to make sure that you avoid presenting people from underrepresented communities as outsiders, regardless of whether anybody who currently identifies with a particular attribute is currently present in the room. Strive to create an inclusive environment where anybody would be welcome to join and in which individual identities can change over time.

To learn how educational materials from TCI can be a part of your journey to a more inclusive educational environment, talk to a sales representative today.

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