Envisioning Language

This summer I had the privilege of attending part of a Responsive Classroom® training. This opportunity helped strengthen my understanding of how to nurture conditions that include the four domains of a responsive classroom: engaging academics, positive community, effective management, and developmentally responsive teaching. A key strategy to support all four domains is Envisioning Language. In this post I want to summarize some of what I learned about such language.

Language Matters. It impacts the stories we tell ourselves, the language we use with others, and the beliefs we hold. Envisioning Language is a powerful tool because when we teachers intentionally plan for and formulate our language with students, we can have significant impact on how they see themselves as humans and as students. Such language is oriented to the future, to help students see what we believe is possible for them.Today’s challenge is to __. What are some things you and your partner will do to collaborate and meet the challenge? When students know a teacher truly believes they can be successful, they are able to start visualizing themselves acting in ways to meet challenges and achieve success. I know, as a community that understands the importance of effort, you will work hard together and tackle challenges as they arise. Language and high expectations can be powerful components for student success.

“Plant the seed of student potential, which will take root and
allow students to believe in themselves and their capabilities.”
Empowering Educators


I’ve written quite a bit about Disciplinary Literacy, Cultivating Genius, and Identity. Envisioning language connects to all of these because through language, we define ourselves and others. When a teacher refers to a student in a way that supports their growing expertise (writer, scientist, artist, friend, etc.), the student’s confidence and learner identity grow. Scientists, stop and make a movie in your head of what you will do today.

Envisioning Language zeros in on the zone of proximal development, the sweet spot between what a student can do and what a student is ready to learn next. It “inspires effort and persistence, sets a positive tone for learning, and builds a sense of belonging and community” (Elementary Core Course Resource Book). Not only does it impact a particular student, but it also builds their social and academic capital with other students as they overhear a teacher acknowledging their strengths and actions.

In order to maximize the impact of language, teachers must know their students’ interests and hopes/dreams and connect to these through lesson and unit planning. Instruction must be relevant and meaningful. Language should be specific and concrete. Sometimes open-ended questions or prompts can encourage students to add on and fill in what they believe. If we are going to be the kind of class that encourages each other, how might that sound? or What might success look like for this project

Envisioning Language is tied to setting up rules and expectations in a classroom. It helps students connect who they aspire to be to the ways in which they and classmates need to be present to support those aspirations. This gives the why to rules and expectations, making them more relevant and likely to be honored.

Envisioning Language inspires us to do hard things. It helps us feel seen and heard, respected and important. Most of all it helps us feel a sense of belonging in a learning community.

I look forward to learning more as I explore materials and work alongside teachers. I also look forward to reader feedback which is, as always, appreciated.

Elementary Core Course Resource Book, Responsive Classroom®