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 buzzwords 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 24 tired education buzzwords to stop using now so your message is clear.
1. College- and career-ready
“College- and career-ready” is the go-to answer to the questions “Why does school matter?” and “What is the purpose of school?” The problem with this buzzword is that it places emphasis on the result of learning, not the process. It also disregards the astronomical cost of college and suggests that college is the only way to get “career-ready,” which just isn’t the case. Also, let’s be honest: What does “career-ready” even mean? I am pretty sure no one knows…if you do, please fill me in!
2. Asynchronous learning
Try saying this one three times fast! This buzzword rose to popularity during the pandemic when students were learning remotely and in hybrid settings. However, teachers have been asking students to do independent work for a long time, so I don’t think this buzzword is necessary … or easy to say!
3. Professional learning community (PLC)
A PLC is a group of teachers that meets regularly, shares expertise, and works collaboratively to improve teaching skills and the academic performance of students. This blanket buzzword is the go-to name for any type of professional development at schools. Really, PLC = meeting. Nothing annoys a teacher more than fancy names for something that they believe is not an accurate description of their last meeting.
4. Best practices
We have Andy Hargreaves and Michael Fullan to thank for this buzzword, which they define as “existing practices that already possess a high level of widely agreed effectiveness” in their book Professional Capital: Transforming Teaching in Every School. Using the word “best” is tricky in education. While a teaching method might work in one setting, it may not be effective in another. Best practices often overlook that effective teaching requires flexibility, creativity, and adaptability to different classroom settings.
5. Flipped learning
Translation: Students watch a video, take notes, and come to class ready to discuss it the next day. This buzzword started trending when schools went 1-to-1 and learning on tablets and laptops became the norm. Why we call this “flipped” is still a great mystery. …
6. Learning intentions and success criteria (LISC)
Let’s keep it simple here. “Learning intentions and success criteria” really means goals. Also, I am pretty sure students have no idea what we mean when we say “learning intention” or “success criteria” in class. I am also pretty sure that they do know what a goal is. Don’t we want to use language that our kids understand? Why jazz up what’s already clear?
In the past few years, there’s been a steady stream of messaging about teacher self-care, mostly due to the challenges of pandemic teaching, teacher shortages, and burnout. Unfortunately, bagels in the teachers lounge, a Starbucks gift card, or telling a teacher to get some well-deserved rest not only falls flat but disregards the systemic problems in our education system that need to be addressed, like low pay and added responsibilities. If you’re selling self-care, teachers aren’t buying it.
8. Learning loss
There’s nothing worse than using a phrase like “learning loss” when marketing to teachers. This phrase suggests that teachers and students are behind before they’ve even started. This deficit-based approach to education focuses on weaknesses rather than strengths. Also, what exactly was lost and who lost it? Let’s remove this one from our vocabulary, please.
Are you teaching with fidelity? Every teacher I’ve asked about this one says they feel like this buzzword signifies they are in trouble or they are a robot. To teach with fidelity means to do what you are told and “follow the script.” The truth is, every teacher has a unique style, and creativity and flexibility are far more important than a one-size-fits-all approach to teaching a curriculum or lesson. Take that, ChatGPT!
You will be hard-pressed to find a teacher who hasn’t been asked this question: Are your students engaged? Please note that this education buzzword has nothing to do with a marriage proposal and everything to do with students being “busy” or “focused.” I have been teaching for almost a decade and I have never been given a formula or set of criteria for identifying if students are engaged in my classes. Teachers know when their kids are with them and when they’re not.
11. Project-based learning and problem-based learning (PBL)
Any time a teacher assigns a project, one of these labels gets slapped onto it. Let’s just call a project what it is: a project.
12. 21st-century skills
There was a time (like in the 20th century) when saying “21st-century skills” felt like futuristic innovation. Now that we’re two decades in, it’s lost the thrill. Talking about skills like teamwork and creativity that will help students regardless of the job they secure is more productive.
13. 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 toward their ideals.
Grit is another term used to describe the value of passion and stamina. It became commercialized after Angela Lee Duckworth’s TED Talk on the subject. 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.
15. 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.
16. Personalized instruction
Much like differentiation, personalized instruction is just “good teaching.”
17. Lifelong learning
I think we can all agree that being an educator who thinks everyone should continue to learn throughout their lives is somewhat redundant.
18. 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.
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.
20. 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.
21. External stakeholders
Keep it simple when you communicate your message. Don’t use words like utilize when you mean use. And don’t use terms like “external stakeholders” when you just mean real people who don’t work in schools.
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 mystical and out of reach, bring it back to earth by sharing concrete ways to show an idea or structure for learning.
23. Building capacity
There are so many components to building capacity that it feels like you’re 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.
Rigor triggers a lot of 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 with education. Its second definition is 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 feel like the work is too challenging. Let’s stop scaring people with this word and instead bring back the word challenge, because 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!