November Spotlight: Words Matter – Lebanon Special School District

Lebanon Special School District created an initiative called Words Matter to help students recognize the power of their words and understand that their words make a difference. The district’s goal was to create a positive climate in which threatening language and verbal aggression were not part of their school community. Teachers used the Word Scale below to encourage students to think about where their words might fall on a ‘kindness’ continuum. Students were encouraged to use only Level 1 and Level 2 words from the scale and think about their word choices before saying them out loud.

Word Scale
  • Level 1 Words are sweet and kind and really make others feel special and good about themselves.
  • Level 2 Words are just fine to use when speaking to others. These words build up and don’t tear down.
  • Level 3 Words can sometimes be hurtful. They may make others feel bad about themselves or make them feel others don’t like them.
  • Level 4 Words are usually said in anger. They may be cuss words or labels that are meant to be mean. These words may be intentionally cruel or may erupt from frustration or rage.
  • Level 5 Words are threatening words. When these words are spoken – or gestures made to represent these words – they express harm to others and should never be spoken at school even if they are intended as a joke.

The district created several implementation resources, including a PowerPoint, for administrators, teachers, and school counselors. District leaders used the book 5 Is Against the Law: Social Boundaries Straight Up! to guide the creation of the level system, and teachers used What if Everybody Said That? as a read aloud to support instruction.

Here is feedback the district received from teachers and students in response to the initiative:

“The presentation was very powerful and eye opening. It made us all, adults and children, really stop and think about the words we use.  Since the presentation, when there have been issues among students, they have been able to reflect and assign numbers to the words they were using when it wasn’t a good choice. And they fix it. I think it had a big impact on my fifth graders.  Thankfully, we have had fewer incidents of level 4 words since we did Words Matter.”

-Elysia Stover, Coles Ferry Elementary

“Hearing what the students are carrying emotionally is heartbreaking. It is a real reminder of what they need beyond academics when they come to school. They need love.”

-Amanda Walden, Jones Brummett Elementary

“I think this initiative is helping us move in the right direction, towards kindness and empathy.”


The day after the presentation, a first grader was writing about why he was worthy of friendships. In his paper he wrote, “I am worthy of friends because my words matter.”


“Ugly words hurt our hearts.”


A Jones Brummett student bragging to the principal said, “Mrs. Siever, I’m using level 1 words today.”

If you would like more information about this initiative for your district, reach out to Assistant Director of Schools, Becky Kegley.

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