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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Should These 10 Educational Words Be Banished?

By Peter DeWitt — March 20, 2016 5 min read
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Words in our field are like our favorite songs on the radio, after awhile we get tired of hearing them over and over again.

There are certain words in education that make all educators cringe, or worse...they make us tune out and turn off our mindsets. Sometimes these words are used and we hear Charlie Brown’s teacher saying, “Wah, wah, wah wah wah.”

I guess that’s been the case for as long as words AND education have been around. Perhaps even Socrates, John Dewey and Horace Mann each had students who secretly hated words that they would use when trying to teach new concepts. Sometimes when we hear even the best educators use a word we dislike, we feel a visceral reaction. I understand that sometimes it’s not the word, but how the word is used that is the issue.

The other day I posted a guest blog on Facebook and it was shared numerous times, and I noticed that one teacher wrote on a friend’s wall that she couldn’t get past one of the words highlighted in the blog. To be perfectly transparent she said she “Threw up in her mouth.” A bit drastic, but I understand that it all depends on how the words are used in the media, by policymakers, politicians, and in individual schools.

So, I thought that I would add 10 words that may be out of fashion in 2016...or at least were never really in fashion to begin with but they were certainly used a great deal in education circles. I am sure that there are more than 10, and that I forgot some, so please feel free to add your most despised words at the end.

Let’s get it out there. Add the words and move on. It’s human nature to start to dislike words that we once used regularly. After all, words in our field are like our favorite songs on the radio, after awhile we get tired of hearing them over and over again.

The 10 words I think should be used less, if not eradicated from our conversations, are:

Grit - Grit is the word that seems to get people to roll their eyes in disgust. Some educators and researchers have called it racist while others have said that all students need it. Grit seems to be a word that unifies one side and divides another. Should it fall to the wayside in 2016?

Fidelity - In administration circles fidelity is used quite a bit, when in actuality they are really just talking about compliance. When many leaders say they want teachers using something with fidelity, they really mean they want teachers to be using it the same as their colleagues. The reason? Many leaders have one idea in mind of how they want something to be used before it’s even being used, and when teachers use it in another way, those teachers are seen as not doing it correctly. I’m really tired of the word fidelity...and I have to try to not use it in my conversations this year.

Rigor - I may get in trouble with this one because some of my favorite people use this word. However, this is the word that made the one teacher comment on Facebook about how she wanted to “throw up in her mouth.” And she wasn’t the only one who gravitated toward this word. Rigor is something that many teachers don’t want to hear these days because they don’t agree with what leaders and policymakers think it means. To some educators, rigor means asking students to do something that isn’t age appropriate for them to do. Rigor and kindergarten have been used often and many teachers don’t like that at all.

Accountability - Ok, so this word was never in fashion with educators, but it’s time it gets tossed to the side by politicians and policymakers as well. My friend Russ Quaglia says we should dump accountability and use a word like responsibility instead. We all entered this profession so we could take on the responsibility of educating our students. We have a responsibility to focus on learning every day, and many of us don’t have to be told to be accountable...we just are.

Mandates - School leaders have to spend so much time on meeting mandates that they often have very little time to do anything else. Mandates have gotten out of control. Can we dump this word and figure out how to move on doing the right thing without this word, and the red tape that comes with it, being thrown in the face of leaders so much?

Standardized - I get the idea behind some things being standardized to maintain reliability but standardized tests have been used in such harmful ways to students and teachers over the years that we need to dump this word. As Diane Ravitch has said in the past, students don’t have standardized minds. Let’s get away from using this word so much.

Data - How about we use a word like evidence instead? Data has been used against teachers and schools so often, that wouldn’t it be better if we asked for educators to provide evidence of their impact? I understand that this could be so misused that evidence is not in fashion for 2017! Data has definitely been the new 4-letter word over the last few years.

Achievement - Let’s talk about growth instead. We all know that there are students who achieve really well on standardized tests but it doesn’t mean that they have grown at all, and we know we have students who have grown a great deal as learners but don’t always show it through achievement on tests.

Technology - This may seem like a strange request considering I created the Connected Educators Series (Corwin Press) with Ariel Bartlett and Arnis Burvikovs, but the word technology seems to be used in a way that makes it an add-on to the conversations in education, when in actuality it should be a natural part of what we do every day. Our students don’t come to school saying, “Hey, I think I’ll use technology today!” They just use it because it’s like an appendage that they grew up with. We should stop using it as if it’s an add-on.

High Stakes Testing - Ok, so that’s 3 words but can we limit how often we talk about this in education? There are so many other ways that we can follow the growth of students...like using formative assessment. High stakes testing has brought us all down to a very dark place in education, and I believe there are far better ways to all meet in the middle and focus on learning.

Those are my 10. What would be the words you would choose? How can we use words differently so we like them more?

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.