The importance of a shared language across a school community

A shared language (and understanding of that language) is essential for any school community. Education, like many other professional fields, is rife with a variety of terminologies, phrases and acronyms. This language can vary across countries, schools, and even within the same school. There are a range of challenges and obstacles to achieving a shared language but it is certainly possible.

Buzzwords and jargon have plagued education for decades. As education has evolved and moved towards becoming an evidence-based profession, this had led to an introduction of new terms and concepts. EBE’s School Environment and Leadership: Evidence Review, noted that throughout the discussion and literature on leadership there is a lack of clearly defined terms. This can lead to ‘jingle-jangle’ fallacies, where either the same name means different things, or the same construct has different names. The differences across terminologies can include leadership positions and titles, teaching and learning approaches, and strategies—just to name a few!

The curse of knowledge is a cognitive bias whereby someone assumes that others share the knowledge and understanding they have. This can occur in the classroom, staffroom, or during any professional learning. It is important that any shared language across a school community is clearly defined, explained and understood by all, avoiding the assumption that everyone possesses the vocabulary and knowledge that others do.

An example within a school environment could be the use of Lesson Objective or Learning Intention. There should be consistency across a subject department or phase and ideally across a school but this does not always happen. Does it matter if one teacher uses the term Lesson Objective and another uses Learning Intention? The purpose of both is to clearly explain to the class what they will be learning about. This can help all stakeholders have a clear understanding of the content being taught. Arguably the focus should be on the learning not the lesson; learning happens over time and will need to be revisited at a later date. Furthermore, content doesn’t always neatly fit into one lesson, it may span two or more. Having this discussion with colleagues not only works to build this shared language, it also reinforces the focus on the learning.

Additionally, if students arrive at lessons where different terminology is used, they may not understand what the difference in terminology represents. Conversely, they may assume there is a difference when there is not meant to be a difference! However, a shared language can support consistency and understanding of a concept—whether it’s a learning intention or a lesson objective, or something else.

Tips to promote a shared language

There are different acronyms and terms used across different countries; however, within a school community (whether that’s an individual school or a Multi-Academy Trust) there should be a consistent and shared language. This can be achieved by clearly defining the language of learning.

Policies, a glossary, and prominent displays can be helpful and should be accessible to all members of the school community. However, regular conversations and dialogue between members of the school community is the best approach to promoting a shared language. Do not rely on implicit understanding—explicitly work to dispel the jingle-jangle.

And of course, ensure the shared language of learning is used widely and regularly amongst staff, modelled by leaders at all levels, and communicated clearly to students, parents and carers.

The resources that EBE has produced can be invaluable in building a shared language within a school community. A purpose of the Model for Great Teaching and the Great Teaching Toolkit is to support school communities with a shared knowledge, understanding and language of evidence-based approaches that support and enhance teaching and learning. The Great Teaching Toolkit: Evidence Review can be a useful resource to promote a shared language of teaching and learning.

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