The Importance of Our Language
Language is so much more than a collection of words, but a representation of our values, mindsets, and perspectives. It reinforces behavioral norms and conditions expectations. From our beginning, I’ve wanted to shift the culture in our classes and for the past several years, I’ve been consciously shifting my language to intentionally create the environment in which our values can be best represented.
For example, I’ve begun very intentionally referring to what we offer as a “learning experience” rather than a “training”. Sometimes the word “training” is unavoidable, mostly because I think the phrase “learning experience” sounds pretentious in casual conversation and doesn’t easily convey what we do into the common expectations of those unfamiliar with our work.
But the language is important because it shifts our (implanted, unconscious) mindset from primarily an instructor-focused “I’m training you in X” to an (intentional, conscious) participant-focused “I’m here to facilitate your learning of X.” This may seem subtle, but signals the distinction between the many classes with little attention or sensitivity to the experience of participants and our classes with a learning-centered focused.
The lack of attention to the learning experience isn’t intentional on the part of the instructors. Most care deeply about their students but still can’t help falling into a pattern that has been long established to “stand and deliver” information whether it resonates or not. Likewise, participants have been conditioned in this pattern to smile and nod so the instructor feels good about their instruction and helping just get through the material without owning the learning experience for themselves.
Our goal is to break this pattern.
Which leads me to another point of intentional language: “facilitator” rather than “instructor.” If we view these classes as experiences for the participant, the person in charge isn’t the person standing up in front of the class but the person in the seat. As such, the people standing up front are really just facilitating the learning experience by ensuring a proper learning environment, guiding participants through various experiences, assisting the participants in navigating any obstacles to learning, and then closing the experience. Like a tour-guide, we can’t control what participants choose to take in, we can only expose them to the sights to be seen.
Another point you may have noticed: “participant” rather than “learner” or “student.” I feel that “participant” better acknowledges that we are designing for those making the conscious decision to participate in the learning experience. I want everyone sitting in our classes to participate in the experience, but that is their choice. We can only set the necessary conditions, but they must choose to enter into this experience with us.
To my ear, “learner” has a certain passivity to it, being associated with the taking-in of the information offered rather than actively pursuing knowledge. Since we teach working professionals, “student” feels a little demeaning, with its implicit connotation they are at some deficit from the much more knowledgeable “teacher.” I’ve often received as much learning as an instructor as I’ve given my students. Avoiding this artificial divide between the giver and receiver of information acknowledges this reality about the experience.
If we seek change in the world, we must manifest that change in ourselves. As is often said:
Be the change you want to see happen.
- Arleen Lorrance
Word choice may seem a small and insignificant way to change our culture, but it is a lever against the world of unintentional assumptions and conditioned behaviors, creating ripples that radiate out in all directions.