How Language Can Help Change Mindsets

Steven Moguel
Published in
4 min readDec 8, 2022

Teaching with a lens of equity means rewiring and interrupting the socialization cycles we have all been continuously immersed in as a result of our society. We must rewire our brains around how we think, speak, and instruct our students and human beings. It means creating the counternarrative around students of color, students on IEP, second language learners, female students, and other historically resilient students and families. While there are various approaches, I would say any strategy for creating an Anti-Racist and equitable school and the district contains a multi-faceted, deeply layered, and ongoing approach. To start I am offering one approach to consciously take stock and change our language.

How we change the language we utilize about our children and families where they are in their learning journey, can begin to change the culture of a school and how we interact with our children and their families.

A few years ago, while attending professional development in my district with a partner organization, our superintendent at the time shared the idea of moving away from calling students low. Although he said it casually, I understood his intention behind was to step away from the connotation of being low. Self-admittedly, a man of white privilege, he was able to name the impact of calling kids of color low. Calling students low, and utilizing words like behavior, often connotate that students are the problem. It connotates that students have fixed traits that’ll stick with them forever and that our sole responsibility is to “fix children”. However, we know research says that we as human beings essentially never stop changing in some capacity, whether physically, mentally, or in other facets of life. We also know that children’s brains spend significant time growing into their 20s, yet we still find ways to use fixed language.

We also know fixed traits, specifically utilized with students of color, are a lens that comes from white supremacy. We began utilizing fixed adjectives and labels early in children of color’s lives (feel free to review statistics such as who gets IEPS, diagnosis, as well as social and emotional labels at a young and disproportional rate). This starts at a young age and becomes institutional to a point that we often see this as a way to get our children of color “help” (over medication, early intervention, IEPS at the age of 3). So when my superintendent at the time urged us to step away from using the words low, middle, and high fixed labels…