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Words Matter

Updated: Apr 11, 2022

Words express our thoughts. Coming to deeper understandings of language has the power to shift our thinking. And our practice. It might seem simple but if we are brave enough to ponder on the words that shape our practice, and genuinely consider what they mean in our context, we might just find ourselves with deeper understandings, and in a stronger pedagogical position.

“Language shapes our thoughts”


This statement from Vygotsky reminds me that some of the most powerful changes that can happen and connect us in our workplaces come from the attention to, and dialogue with, the words we use to frame our practices. The seemingly simple act of dialogue is actually much more complicated than it seems. We all have ways of seeing, hearing and being and particular words are often connected to our experiences. I think it is an absolute necessity we pave the way for conversations that give us insights each other’s understanding of particular words. This enables our teams to move closer to shared meaning in our practices.

I believe words, and the way we come to understand or interpret their meanings in our own context and with our people, will shape the pedagogical focus of an early childhood service. You may be conscious of this or not but either way the shaping still happens, good or bad and anywhere in between. The words and their local interpretations lead to the broader pedagogical culture in a workplace over time.

Let’s look at a few examples of words and their meanings I have engaged in my work over the years and have now been woven into the fabric of my conversations:

I know you will read these words and have some initial thoughts and connections which also might include stories or memories you associate with these words. I wonder what these stories are and what they mean for your practice?

Let’s brave the wilderness of pedagogical ideas as I describe to you how I define these words and what implications for practice they have for the way I work.

Planning / Documentation

I have always worked with the idea that every day I show up and engage in planning. It’s part of the teachable moments I tune into and think about every day when I’m with children. I believe it is important that as a team we all engage the practice of planning – everyday. I don’t mean the group program on the wall type of planning I mean the responsive practice type of planning. Making decisions to listen, to offer, to wonder or be curious is what I mean.

This is what planning looks like to me in the context of the child.

I notice the unexpected and interesting aspects of children’s engagement and recognise the opportunities and/or challenges that might be on offer for learning. It is then I make decisions about what to do, and this may be to actively do nothing. This is how I see planning. I also often reflect on these moments with my colleagues, children and families during the day, inviting their thoughts and wonderings. For me this is planning. It is something that happens every day and often. I am constantly in a practice and cycle of planning.

Documentation is the conscious decision I make to write about chosen aspects of learning.

Implications for practice

Planning is every day and documentation is not always every day.

I know this statement has more implications than I can write about in this post, but I believe when we position these words in this particular context it allows the educator to be sensitive to what is worth writing about and to trust that not everything has to be written about. It harnesses their professional abilities to tune into what matters.

Observation / Insight

An observation is something I see, hear or notice whereas an insight asks me to have some thought about what I see, hear or notice. An insight requires more of me. An insight is the capacity to gain an accurate and deep understanding of something. It literally means ‘looking inward’. An insight offers some understanding and relevance to the observation being written.

Implications for practice

There are a couple of implications for practice if I am to embrace the idea of an insight. It means I must think before I decide what to write. I come to writing with a sense of meaning and purpose about what it is I am going to say.

The second way I bounce off this word is in the way I write what happens in my program. Instead of saying ‘the children enjoyed splashing in the puddles outside today’, which is more like an observation, I would say ‘I was intrigued when I noticed only 2 of the 7 children outside today splashing in puddles – I wonder what the hesitation of the others was?’

These are two short examples of words I have come to find a deeper meaning to, and connection with, in my practice. They might not resonate with you in the same way and they might even raise a different view. The point is, we are able to engage in dialogue to redefine and collaborated on what words mean in our local context and within our team.

Which words matter to you and your team? What do they really mean for what you do?

Let’s remember sometimes the biggest changes in practice might come about by knocking down the barriers we have constructed around the meanings of words. What opportunities for conversation are ahead of you tomorrow?

Words Matter. Kelly Goodsir

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