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Empowering Through Education by Judianne Jayme

Word choice

The power behind the words you use

by Judianne Jayme

Communication is key in any type of relationship, both personal and professional. The words we use can be simple and concise, but can truly convey a powerful message. Our division is compiling statements from each school regarding Mayor Brian Bowman’s challenge in response to Winnipeg being called the most racist city in a Maclean’s article.

My principal asked a student leadership group that I, along with three colleagues, supervise to help with this task. This is the same group I took to We Day and had been recognized formally by the Manitoba Schools Board for our work in advocating for the rights of others, and ourselves, both locally and globally. It seemed fitting that it was suggested that the task of summarizing what our school does to recognize and respect diversity and inclusion was left to our group.

We let the kids reflect on this idea, and decided to host an optional lunch meeting on a Friday. We only had a third of our members attend – but they were the most passionate about this issue. The statement they created was honest and simple, and I wanted to share it with you to show you the power behind words.

“Together, we know that small acts of kindness can make a big difference near and far.”

This was created by a group of 9 sixth graders. Let that sink in.

We often associate intelligence with using an eloquent vocabulary and, depending on context, the two may rightfully be correlated. After all, the more you read, the more you know. This statement above is literally the language of children, but they managed to summarize an idea that could lend itself to a book –in sixteen words. Global idea. Sixteen child-friendly words.

Parent tip: clarify

When communicating with your child, take the time to slow down and become aware of the words you are choosing. I often, as a teacher, pause when I use certain words and I get the students to clarify what those words mean. We take for granted that children don’t always know the meaning behind the words they say.

I recently discussed with my students why I do not accept the word “retarded” being used, ever. They honestly used it thinking it only meant “stupid.” They did not understand the connotations behind that word – this is common to elementary students. I had to explicitly teach that it referred to someone with a mental, physical, or learning disability. Once they understood the weight of that word, I have not heard that word since.

When you hear your child saying certain words, or when you are speaking to your child, make sure you check their comprehension. Ask them to say it in their own words. It may surprise you what they understand from your sentence. Best of luck, families!

Judianne Jayme is an educator teaching sixth grade and a division-wide mentor in the Winnipeg School Division.

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