13 Tired Education Buzzwords to Stop Using Now

By Kimberley Moran – Senior Digital Editor at WeAreTeachers and School Leaders Now

Sometimes you use a word because you are comfortable with it. It tends to garner a certain kind of reaction, and you’re counting on that. We call these buzzwords.

Some people use them to help them sound smart, especially when they’re selling something. The use of buzzwords, also called jargon, can be effective in many situations. But some buzzwords, especially in education, should really be retired. Unlike the medical or legal fields, education doesn’t have an oversight agency that regulates the definitions of professional words. Without common definitions, buzzwords are white noise. Here are 13 tired education buzzwords to stop using now, so your message is clear:

  1. 21st century skills

There was a time when saying 21st century skills felt like futuristic innovation. Now that we’re two decades in, its lost the thrill. Talking about skills like teamwork and creativity that will help students regardless of the job they secure is more productive.

  1. Growth mindset

Carol Dweck’s research uncovered the reality that if we give kids the power to believe they can do things, we increase the possibility that they will. This was such a powerful notion that everyone and their mother began talking about it. Now, though, it’s time to begin talking about the practical uses and moving beyond the term as a concept. Try talking about one or two actionable steps students or schools can take to move towards their ideals.

  1. Grit

Grit is another term used to describe the value of passion and stamina. It became commercialized after Angela Lee Duckworth’s TED Talk. At that point, you couldn’t say grit without getting lots of understanding nods. Now though, you’re better off talking about how every person achieves at different rates and in different ways.

  1. Differentiated instruction

Much like “reaching your potential,” differentiated instruction doesn’t really mean very much unless you know the person it’s being used to discuss. Instead talk specifically about the expectation that all teachers teach the kids in front of them, not the ones they wish they had or those they had in years past.

  1. Personalized instruction

Much like differentiation, personalized instruction is just “good teaching.”

  1. Life-long learning

I think we can all agree that being an educator who thinks everyone should continue to learn throughout their lives is somewhat redundant.

  1. Brain research

This always sounds smart and I admit to being a sucker for the science-sounding term brain research. That said, even scientists and researchers say the research being done on the brain has been done in small sample sizes. So small that they aren’t yet sure how it will look when applied to the general population.

  1. Research-based

If you look hard enough, you can find research that backs everything you do. Indeed it is important to use materials and strategies that have been tested and proven, but the valuable part lies not in the research. It’s more important that teachers know how to use the materials properly.

  1. Student agency

Student agency basically refers to giving students voice and choice. Unfortunately it has been overused to the point of total obscurity. The way to dig deep into this conversation is to work to get students to do the work of learning. The most tired person at the end of the day should be the one learning, not the one teaching.

  1. External stakeholders

Keep it simple when to communicate your message. Don’t use words like utilize when you mean use. And don’t use terms like external stakeholders when you mean real people who don’t work in schools.

  1. Paradigm

This is just a big word for a model, prototype, or template. We change those all the time to fit what we need to help students succeed. Instead of making them sound mystic and out-of-reach, bring it back-to-earth by sharing concrete ways to show an idea or structure for learning.

  1. Building capacity

There are so many components to building capacity that it feels like your hiding what you don’t know by going with this umbrella statement. Instead target what you want to work on: skills, instincts, abilities, processes, or resources. Don’t be afraid to be even more specific within those categories.

  1. Rigor

Rigor triggers a lot people to think of rigor mortis because the first definition of the word is sudden onset of cold which is not something you want to align education with. It’s second definition means very difficult. This is what people want you to think about when you hear the word as it relates to education, but should it really? What we are really saying when we refer to a program as being the most rigorous or difficult is that it might be too hard. We want kids to learn and not just feel like it’s too challenging. Let’s stop scaring people with this word and instead bring back the word challenge, cause who isn’t up for a good challenge?

Let’s take up the challenge of finding new, more concrete words to communicate how we want to improve education. The more sophisticated the concept, the simpler the language needs to be.

Kimberley Moran is a senior digital editor at WeAreTeachers and School Leaders Now. She was a K-8 classroom teacher and literacy coach for 12 years. Kimberley has worked on integrated marketing campaigns for numerous clients, including Learning Ally, Scientific Learning, Its Learning, Scholastic, and Epic Books. She holds an MS in literacy education. She is the author of the book Hacking Parenthood. Outside of work, Kimberley knits constantly and eats all things Maine from blueberries to lobster.


  1. The buzzword “Scaffolding” should top the list. By scaffolding a teacher teaches a particular topic or subject to a wide range of students having understanding and knowledge at different grade levels. When higher-level students learn the real deal, others are deprived by being scaffolded. They mostly copy from those who are naturally learners and interested in learning. What scaffolding really does is give false sense of achievement, keep students allegedly engaged and make teachers allegedly proud.

    1. Thanks for the addition!

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