The Importance of Developing a Common Language

common language 4If you’ve been reading my blog, you probably noticed that I believe in the importance of foundational pieces to support effective instruction, assessment, and student learning. For example, a literacy-rich environment in classrooms and schools is an important K-12 foundation to support and extend authentic reading, writing, speaking, and listening activities. And, effective vocabulary instruction is an integral part of a comprehensive literacy framework and supports student learning and achievement.

Building a common language across schools and districts is another foundation that I believe is important, though frequently lacking. A common language helps teachers, coaches, and administrators communicate more easily and specifically around the processes and strategies associated with literacy instruction, educational initiatives, and the Common Core State Standards.

The principle of developing a common language among members of any community to facilitate effective communication is well established. Examples can be seen in all walks of life including healthcare, manufacturing, entertainment, sports, religion, politics, and even clubs such as Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. Similarly, developing a common language among teachers, coaches, and administrators in your educational community is essential for effective communication.

Developing a common language is an important initiative and one that takes time. However, I’ve seen the difference creating a K-12 common language across schools can make in building and sustaining professional learning communities and educational initiatives. Moving from the former model of isolated workshops to job-embedded teaching and learning calls for all members of the educational community to have a deep understanding of key terms around teaching, learning, literacy, and the Common Core State Standards.teachers

In order for educators to engage in conversation designed to bring sustained changes within a school or district, there must be a culture of learning and sharing that allows all members โ€” teachers, instructional coaches, and administrators โ€” to discuss important issues. With recent shifts brought about by the Common Core State Standards, perhaps there is no better time to develop a common literacy language as it applies to each grade level and content area.

To support teachers and leaders in bringing about sustained change in teaching and student learning, educators must share a common language along the path of implementation and improvement. Our glossary of educational and literacy terms is designed to help support that process. It is a working tool โ€” a means to create a common language within a school or district.

When developing a common language, we’ve found that working informally with small groups is best so that educators can have conversation and share examples specific to the terms, processes, and strategies. Use the glossary with school teams, leadership teams, and professional learning communities to develop and clarify thinking around the specific language integral to education, literacy, and the Common Core.

For the first time, we are offering the glossary we developed and use when supporting K-12 educators to create a common language. A Glossary of Key Educational and Literacy Terms is currently available as a digital download (PDF) which can easily be viewed, shared, and printed. (In time, the glossary will be available in all forms for e-readers.)

In addition, we’ve also developed a handy companion resource – Tools and Strategies to Develop a Common Language which includes two processing strategies, resources, and activities to use with small groups and leadership teams to create conversation and language around the terms. If you’re pressed for time, the companion resource provides essential resources and activities to get you started on the path toward creating a common language in your setting.

We’d love to know if you’ve worked on creating a common language in your school or district. If so, how did you do it and how has it helped create community and move initiatives forward?

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Kimberly is an educational consultant who works with district leaders to improve instructional effectiveness and student learning. No Tears for Tiers, a book about Common Core Vocabulary that she is writing, will be published by Solution Tree in 2014. In her other life, you'll find her in her gardens, biking, reading, or hanging out with her two teenagers (when they let her, that is).