Skip To Main Content
The Gordon School

Words Matter

A guide to inclusive language

Words matter. Gordon provides the following guidelines for word choice to help ensure that all individuals and groups of people can find themselves included and reflected in the language the school uses. These guidelines are centered in classroom practice and the ways adults speak with students, and these guidelines also apply to communications with parents, alumni and members of the school’s extended family, and with visiting families and other guests on campus. These guidelines should be shared with Gordon families, with Gordon’s community partners, and with the visiting educators, artists, and authors who spend time with Gordon students. 

The default language at Gordon should affirm each and every member of the community. In order to do this, people must recognize that they don’t know everything about the people they meet, that the way people identify can shift over time, and that language needs to adjust accordingly. While each section in this booklet provides specific guidance, the recommendations here can be distilled into these overarching principles: 

  • Be mindful of language to avoid making assumptions about people.
  • Remember that children and adults are in charge of the language and terms they use to identify themselves—and that these decisions can change.
  • Take responsibility for mistakes that happen and make amends if possible.
  • Recognize that as with all language acquisition, establishing fluency takes practice, and everyone is embarking on this journey together.

The specific guidance does not cover every situation, and practices will change over time. When approaching any new person or group, it is most important to follow their lead and respect how they wish to be addressed.

This information was modeled on the booklet “Language Values at Bank Street” developed by the Bank Street College of Education. We received permission from Bank Street to use much of their language and format, which had in turn relied heavily on a collection of sources and work from other independent schools. We are grateful to Bank Street for sharing their work with us. Since language is always changing with advances in advocacy movements, this document will be modified periodically, and we welcome suggestions and additions. The information included here was first compiled by Carly Allard, Lynn Bowman, Katie Cahoon, Rebecca Garfield, Sandy Horton and Tamar Paull of Gordon’s faculty.

Words Matter Guidelines

Download a pdf

Words Matter is available to download immediately as a PDF.

Download now

This guide does not cover all situations. Thoughtful questions are usually the best way to get information, and that information will help you avoid saying incorrect things. Be aware that people may not always welcome questions and a response is not something they are obligated to give.

Do you have questions, thoughts, feedback or suggestions for additions?
Please contact Alethea Dunham-Carson, Assistant Head for Teaching and Learning, at