The following article comes from International Educator and School Leader Jenny O’Fee.

Why we need to go beyond being inclusive to honouring.

There are about 7,000 languages in the world. Being multilingual is now the ‘norm’ for the majority of the world’s population. It is more ‘typical’ for learners and their families to have knowledge of more than one language than to come from a strictly monolingual experience. I find this amazing. So many languages, so much diversity.

In all my conversations with teachers, parents and students about what it means to be multilingual and nurturing multilingual learners I have been thinking a lot about the language we use, the expectations this sets and the beliefs that sit behind these words.

Being truly inclusive is a critical shift in how we evolve environments around us to ensure equity in our communities. When I think of being inclusive it conjures up thoughts of:

  • nurturing belonging
  • removing barriers
  • being invited
  • being present
  • empowering others
  • enabling access for all
  • being in an active state

Learning environments are being urged to be more inclusive, and rightly so, learning spaces must be accessible to all. Curricula are being challenged to be more inclusive and to question content, perspectives and representation and rightly so. The curriculum and learning context must be representative of our communities and allow for multiple perspectives. Teachers are designing inclusive learning experiences and exploring pedagogical practices that champion access to learning for all learners. Rightly so. Every learner must be provided opportunities through which they can access learning.

I have however been pondering when we zoom in on language diversity that ‘being inclusive’ as an approach is not enough, and at the same time, may be too much – it might even set too great an expectation.

I want to propose that we consider supercharging being inclusive of all languages with ‘honouring’, Why?

  1. Respect – When we think about ‘honouring’ all languages and what sits behind these languages – identities, cultures, beliefs, understandings, perspectives and traditions – we elevate from invitational, to permit ‘in’, to cultivating a culture of respect and ‘awe’ for each other and indeed ourselves. With honouring all languages this comes from a place of equity of value in our languages. With honouring we express respect, wonder, value and step back to give space.
  2. Power – In any classroom, being inclusive of all languages can feel overwhelming and shifts this responsibility onto the dominant language speakers and therefore also the ‘power’. If we shift our thinking to consider ‘honouring all languages’ we move to a space of connecting authentically, to making connections between and across languages and to elevating every individual in our community.
  3. Connection – In ‘honouring’ all languages we introduce opportunities to uplift each others’ languages and the emotional connection and meanings that these hold. Creating this culture of ‘awe’ and wonder in the beauty of so many languages fosters empathy and affirms identities.
  4. Curiosity – If we treat all our languages with a sense of ‘honour’ we encourage curiosity and making connections through learning about all our languages. Finding patterns, delving into meaning of phrases all helps learners begin to develop a broader understanding of how languages work.

All of these reasons are grounded in truly embracing equity in the learning environment. When we ‘honour’ each others’ languages we elevate one another, we remove isolation and we nurture a culture of curiosity and respect in our students and in our broader community.

This article was originally posted at


Jenny O’Fee

Jenny O’Fee is an international educator, school leader, creator, and consultant who is fascinated by all the complexities of learning. Over the past 22 years, she has worked internationally in diverse international school settings as a teacher and then as a school principal. Jenny is committed to promoting intercultural understanding, valuing multilingualism and fostering inclusive, active, empathetic learning communities. Her experiences have led to her own journey of inquiry exploring how to nurture truly equitable thriving learning communities.
Connect with Jenny via her blog
Follow on Twitter @JenOFee or LinkedIn