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Buzzwords for the Professional Development Conference

Jordan Catapano

Education – like any professional domain – is dominated by a cyclical barrage of trendy terms for topics we’re passionate about. These trendy terms are known as “Buzzwords,” and are part of speaking the appropriate teacher lingo at any professional development session in your district or at a conference. To make sure you’re ready to talk the talk, I’ve compiled a brief list of trending educational buzzwords and a little professional development-based game to make of it.

Professional Development: The Game

So you’re on your way to another conference. Congratulations! I recommend educators should regularly attend conferences that equip them with appropriate professional development and inspire them to continually raise their game.

But you know that once you’re at the conference and listening to presenters and engaging in conversations, there are a predictable set of trendy ed terms that will make an appearance. While you should get the most out of the conference as possible, there is also an opportunity for some fun with these terms.

You can play alone, but it’s more fun to have a few colleagues to compete against. Make sure you’re familiar with the terms on the list below, and you can even add some of your own. Here’s how you play.

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How You Keep Score:

1 point = You hear someone mention one of these words.
2 points = One of these terms is in the title of a presentation session.
3 points = You are able to use two of these in the same sentence.
4 points = You make up your own buzzword and get someone else to say it later.

Whoever earns the most points wins!

Let’s take a brief look at each of these terms to make sure we’re on the same page.

  • 21st-Century Skills/Learner: The skills needed for success in this century are different from previous centuries. Do you know what these skills are? Do you know what the unique learning needs of modern students are?
  • Best Practice: This is the idea that no matter what concept or skill is being taught, there is a research-based “Best” way of doing it.
  • Blended Learning: Blending the real and the digital, learning can take place through a variety of mediums.
  • Data-Driven: While making decisions, those decisions about your students or your school should be based on information gleaned from previously collected data.
  • Differentiate: No two students are the same; therefore, material should be presented in a variety of ways to reach each learner’s skill, background knowledge, pacing, and preference.
  • Engagement: Are students sitting like passive lumps of gravel in your classroom, or are their hearts and minds being activated in ways that lead to learning? Engagement is the extent to which students are interested and involved in what’s going on.
  • Evidence-based: Like “Data-driven,” evidence-based refers to the types of teaching practices we should be conducting, ones that are grounded in affirmative research.
  • Grit: An educational term for persistence, teachers like when their students have enough “Grit” to get through a tough lesson and tackle challenges that lead to growth.
  • Lifelong Learner: Students will ideally keep on learning long after they leave our superintending care, if only we can equip them with enough skills and passion to continue the journey.
  • Makerspace: This refers to a space for making things, like music, PVC piping creations, broadcasts, robots, and computer code.
  • Mindfulness: Yes, we grow our minds in an academic sense, but mindfulness is our reminder to take care of the social-emotional components of our beings as well, particularly through meditation and breaks.
  • Mindset: Growth or fixed? A student’s mindset is their belief that either they can learn and improve, or they can’t.
  • PLC: An acronym for Professional Learning Community, this is your team of teachers you work closely with to generate ideas for your common courses, common students, or common problems.
  • PLN: An acronym for Professional (or Personal) Learning Network. This network includes individuals in your building, your district, your region, or your digital world with whom you interface with to improve your knowledge and skill as a teacher.
  • Project-Based Learning: Instead of learning by just listening to a teacher or watching someone else do something cool, student learning can be reinforced by having them actually create or apply something based on the content.
  • Restorative Justice: Punitive justice refers to what punishments a student receives for whatever misbehavior they have engaged in. The justice becomes restorative when the intent is to repair relationships, fix what’s wrong, and train the individual(s) involved to make positive decisions down the road.
  • Rigor: Code for “Challenging,” there is perennial concern as to whether or not a given course possesses enough difficulty to lead to student growth.
  • SAMR Model: This tech-integration model is a summary of the various levels of how technology can Substitute, Augment, Modify, or Redefine the type of tasks in a classroom.
  • SMART Goals: We all make goals, but a SMART one makes sure that your goal is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Having these components makes it earlier to know if you’re achieving your goal or not.
  • Standardized Tests: State and national tests are always lurking in the background of our discourse, for better or worse. These, of course, are the assessments the success of your students and possibly your school are measured by.
  • STEAM or STEM: Take your pick if you want “Art” involved or not, but this trending term focuses on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Where’s the literature?

So get your scorecard ready and see how many times these terms cross your path at the next education conference!

Not To Make Light of Things …

While it might add some levity to have fun with the terms we’ve been hearing so much about, we have to remember how sincere each of these buzzwords is. Sure, calling something a “Buzzword” automatically gives it a negative connotation as something trite, overused, and fashionable. But let’s not confuse these educational terms listed above with concepts that are meaningless and passé.

We have to, at the end of the day, take these terms seriously, no matter how predictable it is for presenters, leaders, and ambitious colleagues to use them. Why? Well, can you imagine a school that ignored giving restorative justice a role, or failed to make data-driven decision making a priority? Can you imagine a teacher who refused to develop a PLN, or who never considered the extent their students were engaged?

Let’s laugh at the fact that our profession is inundated with well-meaning but overused terms that we can practically finish one another’s sentences with. But let’s also remember that these terms give us a common ground for engaging with relevant concepts that, when properly wrestled with, may help make a bigger difference on our students’ outcomes.

What terms would you add to this list? Do you have your own “original” educational professional development buzzword you want others to start using? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below!

Jordan Catapano taught English for 12 years in a Chicago suburban high school, where he is now an Assistant Principal. In addition to being National Board Certificated and head of his school’s Instructional Development Committee, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and has experience as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website www.jordancatapano.us.