Jennifer Abrams -Consultancy that informs, inspires, and empowers VOICE
November 2008

Hello! Be it teachers focusing on issues of equity in their classrooms, instructional reform facilitators moving their schools forward, or administrators doing their fall supervision conferences, everyone is interested how they are coming across to others.  Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey, in their book, How We Talk Can Change The Way We Work, start off with the premise, "All leaders are leading language communities.  Though every person, in any setting, has opportunity to influence the nature of the language, leaders have exponentially greater access and opportunity to shape, alter, or ratify the existing language rules." Given that I think we can lead from any position in our organization, we all need to think about our use of language and choose language that fully reflects our intent.  This month's newsletter will focus on the idea of creating change through changing our language.

If you have any questions, comments or topic suggestions, please feel free to email me at I look forward to hearing from you!

Creating Change Through Changing Our Language

Do You Mean 'Our Students'?

My colleague and I were having a discussion about our frustration with the ways teachers linguistically distance themselves from certain students. In staff meetings, we often hear others say, "You know, THOSE kids..." Or "Well, you know, THAT group of kids'..."  We decided we would reframe those conversations by saying, "By THOSE kids do you mean OUR students?"  Bringing responsibility back to the teacher and reconnecting the teacher with his or her students shifts the conversation back to looking at our own practice and placing it in closer relationship to those whom we are serving.  

Low vs. Emerging

A colleague shares the story of a mother who responded to a teacher who had told her her son was in the low reader group. "My child is not a low reader.  He is an emerging reader."  What a difference an adjective makes.  'Low' defines in concrete terms a state of achievement that feels stuck and ultimately permanent. Emerging is an active word. It implies development, evolution and progress.  Using a word that has energy and movement to it helps all of us think about how to move forward.

Increasing Academic Achievement for Students of Color
This feeling of possibility, action and transformation is also seen Palo Alto USD's change from the wording, 'closing the achievement gap' to 'increasing academic achievement for students of color.' The implication with the word 'gap' is a chasm between those who are academically successful and those who are not.  Gaps imply a deficit and a deficiency, and while we acknowledge that there is a present disparity in test scores between White and Asian students and African American and Latino students it doesn't mean we need to frame the conversation with the word 'gap' as move forward. By using the word 'increasing' we are once again in an active mode and, as everyone can grow and increase their achievement under this premise, it doesn't leave out any student.  A positive reframe shapes our outlook on the work ahead. 

When someone asks me if I have been to a specific country or town I say, "Not yet." My positive presupposition is that I will get there someday.  I am always seeking out a choice of language that suggests for me there is a possibility for movement.  As we work towards social transformation, we need to consciously think about our choices of language and how those choices offer the opportunity for movement and growth for those with whom we work.

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Cool Resources

On the topic of the conscious use of language in positively shaping our conversations, take a look at these books...

  • Check out Marshall Rosenberg's Nonviolent Communication: The Language of Life and the website for the Center for Nonviolent Communication, NVC language strengthens our ability to inspire compassion from others and respond compassionately to others and ourselves. NVC guides us to reframe how we express ourselves, how we hear others and resolve conflicts by focusing our consciousness on what we are observing, feeling, needing, and requesting.  My colleague, Edmundo, suggested to me just one concept from NVC - 'connection before correction' - and I was hooked.  Interesting work for those of us who want to increase our ability to interact with others with more awareness and care.

  • To be read on the airplane this coming week - Failure to Communicate: How Conversations Go Wrong and What You Can Do to Right The by Holly Weeks.  ( Weeks is Adjunct Lecturer in Policy Advocacy and Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School and a Communication and Speech Consultant to the Urban Superintendents Doctoral Program at the Harvard School of Education. I will let you know my thoughts on her newest work in an upcoming newsletter!

Upcoming Events

Each month I will share with you information about a few of my upcoming trainings.
If I am going to be in your area, contact me so we can say hello, hopefully in person!

Nov 7
Leadership for Equity

Administrators’ Training
Palo Alto Unified School District
Palo Alto, CA

Nov 13
Presentation Skills and Strategies: Instruction That Works

Center for Education and Professional Development
Stanford University Hospitals and Clinics
Palo Alto, CA

Nov 20
Advanced Mentoring Skills

BTSA Coaches’ Training
San Francisco Unified School District
San Francisco, CA                   

For additional upcoming events, please visit my Web site.

Until next time,


Feel free to forward this newsletter to friends and colleague. You may reprint this newsletter in whole or quote with attribution to Jennifer Abrams and a link to

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© 2008 Jennifer Abrams | Email Jennifer | 4290 Wilkie Way #L, Palo Alto, CA 94306 |  (650) 858-0699


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