Monday, August 14, 2017

Promoting Inclusivity Through Language



2017 is a difficult time in America. Many counselors are wondering how they can make their schools feel safe and welcoming for all students when many may feel feel scared, angry, or hopeless looking at how certain groups are treated in our country.

It is incredibly clear how important it is for counselors to make children feel included. We work with students and families who are diverse in their race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, and more. In the ASCA Ethical Standards for School Counselors, it is stated that we are responsible to “promote cultural competence to help create a safer more inclusive school environment” (B.2.m). In Mindsets and Behaviors, we want to encourage a “sense of belonging in the school environment” (M3). But how can we do this?

A nurturing and accepting school environment needs to be fostered through more than just bulletin boards and schoolwide assemblies. Classroom discussions about tolerance and cultural diversity are important, but if the attitudes are not carried over from a thirty-minute lesson, can the impact really be as lasting? As counselors, we have a great opportunity to be models to students and staff for how to be inclusive. And this can be done through something as simple as the words we choose.

Language is incredibly powerful. Words have the power to help or hurt, to empower or belittle, to welcome or exclude. When we use inclusive language we are telling students that we accept everyone. That everyone is important and that no one group matters more than another. That everyone deserves to be represented. We are letting all students know we care, and not just the ones in the majority. We are saying “I see you”.

Think of it this way – as counselors, how might you feel if your principal announced to all the parents at back-to-school night how lucky your school is to have so many marvelous, hardworking, dedicated teachers? Would you feel valued or unimportant?

So what does it mean to use inclusive language?
  • It means when a child asks “can I have the skin colored crayon,” responding “what color skin were you looking for?” rather than handing over the peach one, implicitly teaching that there is no one color skin that is most important.  
  • It means asking “what is something you’re looking forward to now that you’re back to school?” rather than “what did you do over break?” recognizing that break is not fun or relaxing for all students.
  • It means avoiding gendered terms when talking about healthy relationships, talking about partners rather than “boyfriends and girlfriends”, knowing that love comes in many forms.
  • It means saying “hello class” instead of “hello boys and girls” so that those who don’t feel they fit in with either are represented.
  • It means saying firefighter instead of fireman, police officer instead of policeman, so that little girls see that they can do those jobs too.
  • It means using person-first language, saying “student with autism” rather than “autistic student”, so that we don’t define people by their disabilities.

Of course, these are just a few examples. Inclusive language is a small gesture with a large impact that you can work into your daily practice. It may take some extra thought, but the meaning it will have to your students is worth it!

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