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Peter DeWitt's

Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and independent consultant, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at

Education Opinion

12 Words That Should Be in Our Educational Vocabulary

By Peter DeWitt — March 22, 2016 5 min read

On Sunday, I posted a blog about 10 words that should be banished from our educational vocabulary, which you can read here. The blog post brought in numerous comments that ranged from readers adding to the words that should be banned, and others who thought that I should be ashamed of myself for adding certain words.

I understand that the words on the list are words that are used in very positive ways in many schools. And I also understand that some of the negative ways those words on the list are used are in ways that are contrary to what the words actually mean.

That was part of the point of the blog.

Truth be told, I use some of the words I put on that list. However, there were other words that I didn’t add, although they come up in certain circles as having bad connotations. Overall, I believe we have to get a better understanding of why the words on that list are seen as so negative.

The words I chose to add to the list were grit, rigor, accountability, mandates, standardized, data, achievement, technology, and high stakes testing (yes, I know that’s 3 words. I was actually going to title the blog, Have These 10 Words Fallen Out of Fashion? I decided to use stronger language, not just for the purpose of a stronger title, but because there are educators who actually believe these words should be banned.

In an effort to not only focus on the negative, I decided to compile a list of words that I believe should be a part of our every day vocabularies in school. Just like with any list, I have most likely left off a word you prefer, so please feel free to add it to the comment section. Additionally, I am sure that one or two of these words are words you wish were banned in your school...or they will become words that you will want banned next year.

The interesting thing about words that should be banned from...or added to...our vocabulary, is that their success is dependent on how we use them in school. If they are words that are seen as pushing more compliance, then educators will want them banished. If they are words that bring people together in a positive way or foster teachers maintaining their identity, they will be used more positively.

The words I believe should be a part of our vocabulary are:
Resilience - I have always been a fan of this word. If you remember the blog the Benefits of Failure, you know that I was a struggling learner growing up. I don’t think I had grit, but somehow I did have resilience. Perhaps it was in me or I learned it from my family, teachers or coaches, but resilience is what brought me through the tough times. I do believe that some of our students already have resilience, because some of them still make it to school despite tough obstacles, or they can be taught resilience through our every day conversations and interactions.

Feedback - I am taking this from John Hattie, someone I work with as a Visible Learning trainer. Feedback, not grades, is where the real power of learning is. We should make sure we are giving and receiving effective feedback from students, parents and colleagues. Feedback is what moves learning forward.

Learning - This is another Hattie word. John says we focus too much on adult issues, and we talk too much about teaching, when we should really be focusing on learning. Imagine how different our conversations in the faculty room and our faculty meetings would be if we discussed learning?

Voice - This is from the work of Russ Quaglia and the Quaglia Institute. Student voice, teacher voice, parent voice, and principal voice are all important. It doesn’t mean we get what we want, but it does mean that we have a place at the table. We need to respect the diverse voices in our schools and maximize the benefits of what they offer.

Responsibility - I hinted to this one in the “banish” list. Russ Quaglia is responsible for this one as well. Instead of focusing on accountability, we should be focusing on responsibility. We have all entered into the field of education based on the fact that we wanted to be a more positive influence in the lives of students. Let’s get rid of the carrot and sticks ideas behind accountability and use more positive language like responsibility.

Inclusivity - We have marginalized populations (ex. LGBTQ, etc.) that do not feel welcome in our school. There are minoritized populations that feel as if they are entering our schools but are very much on the outside looking in. Through our curriculum, conversations, and collaboration among students, we need to use more inclusive language so that all populations feel as though they have a voice.

Collaboration - This actually came up in several comments on the banned list blog. Some readers wanted to see collaboration banned but I do not. Perhaps it’s because I have a book coming out about collaborative leadership (Corwin) but it’s also due to the fact that I became a better teacher, and then a better leader, through collaborating with those around me...including those I didn’t always agree with.

Relationships - Hattie has shown through his extensive research that teacher-student relationships can have an effect size of .72. We need to really understand how important relationships are in our school communities.

Engagement - If students aren’t engaged, why should they come to school? If teachers aren’t engaged, and the research on teacher self-efficacy (Bandura) says they aren’t...why come to school? We have to figure out how to engage everyone in the school community, and it takes collaboration to get us there.

Growth - Instead of our constant focus on achievement, we need to have a bigger focus on growth. As I said in the last post, we have students who are high achievers who haven’t really grown as learners, and learners who have grown tremendously, but they aren’t necessarily showing it through their achievement level on a test.

Leadership - This seems to be lacking in politics these days, and we need it in education. I’m not just referring to building or district leaders, but to teacher, parent and student leaders as well. We need positive, authentic and impactful leadership in our school communities.

Whole Child - Yes, I know that’s two words. However, ever since ASCD introduced the Whole Child initiative many years ago, this is has been one of my favorite focuses. Sean Slade, a friend and co-author, is the Director of Outreach and Whole Child programs, and their constant and consistent focus on educating the whole child is something we can always learn from. We need to stop worrying so much about test scores and focus more on the whole child.

There are my 10. What are yours?

Connect with Peter DeWitt on Twitter.

Creative Commons Photo courtesy of Geralt.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


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