Mandy Froehlich · reflections

Defining Educationese & Creating a Common Language

Education has so many buzzwords at any given time. We take these words, throw them into goals that we create, revamp our mission & vision statements to include them, and expect teachers and students to meet the goals. What we often don’t do is define what the words mean to the district. How the district defines any particular word that is used as a driver for learning. The term innovation is a perfect example…personalized learning is another. If we don’t take time to define the educationese that we use in our goals, it’s difficult to expect people to know how to meet them.

Recently, I was presenting a workshop on personalized learning. The night before, I had an idea on how I might be able to get this very idea across. I revamped my presentation, and the next day I broke the participants into groups, gave them a word that I wanted them to define and asked teachers to close their devices briefly (gasp! – I know, it was only for a bit, though) so they couldn’t look up the definition. The word was Nomophobia. Teachers were asked to define the word, create a SMART goal to meet the needs for this word, and action steps on how to meet the SMART goal. The result was amazing. Teachers created very real goals and definitions. They had an idea of what the word could be by noticing that the root word “phobia” was there, similar to how we might have an idea of what a buzzword might mean. They created action steps that would be best practice for meeting any goal. They had professional development offered, students were creating content, teachers were running PLCs based on the concept. They had many activities that we see in new districtwide and schoolwide implementations every day. When all the groups finished, we looked at how they had defined the unknown word. Even though they had fantastically realistic goals and activities, all of their definitions, although similar, were incorrect. All of them had an element of truth. The groups recognized that phobia was a fear, but the root word threw them off, therefore while the plans were solid, nobody knew what the goals and activities were really accomplishing.

(Nomophobia, by the way, is the fear of being without a mobile phone. I am a self diagnosed Nomophobiac.)

Sometimes, defining a word seems like an elementary task. Sometimes, it seems like it would be obvious that all stakeholders know what a term means. Sometimes, I think deep down, we are afraid of finding out that we were the ones who didn’t know what it meant. No matter the reason why, when we create goals and implement new ideas without going through this important step, we are risking complete failure because we have no common foundation to build upon.

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