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Language matters

On Wednesday morning, I had the opportunity to listen to Ashley Burns discuss communicating about equity issues in a school district. Ms. Burns came at this topic as a communications professional and she shared insight into how to message conversations surrounding equity with our families and community.

I was appreciative of the conversation. Although it can be frustrating, to me at least, that I have to worry so much about the how of the message and not just on the content of the message.

The main message I took away was that language matters. We have to find words and phrases that communicate our message that do not alienate our audience. Ms. Burns identified how simple changes in how we message, in the language that we use, can have a profound impact on whether people will listen or whether they will tune us out.

For example, the phrase help students feel “accepted and valued” resonated more than the message help students develop a “sense of belonging.” The underlying message is the same but the words make a difference in how parents and community members will react.

The message “what students should learn” resonates more than “what students should see.” A simple change means that parents will listen instead of react.

One important message from this conversation is that we must wrap conversations in shared values. There are messages that all parents can accept and identifying what those are and using those shared values to move people forward is a successful strategy.

One message that Ms. Burns shared that made sense to me was that our language helps to paint a picture of what is possible. Parents are invested in the possible, the possibility of their children. As we look to communicate with our families we need to identify and be able to create that picture of what is possible.

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