Woman in red sweater sitting in a beanbag chair shakes words out of an open dictionary.

Educationese: Why Language Matters

Educationese: Why Language Matters

By Patricia Jiménez-Latham | Assistant Director of Capstone Communications and Outreach, Future Focused Education

Woman in red sweater sitting in a beanbag chair shakes words out of an open dictionary.

"To truly “transform” schools, we need to ensure  administrators, teachers, and families are in clear understanding of what we mean and what “transformation” looks like in practice."

There is a lot of education jargon that needs thoughtful clarification as we enter a new paradigm shift in how we measure the knowledge, skills and attributes our students bring to the classroom.

A group of education non-profit leaders recently came together to discuss the language associated with the Innovation Zone Application (IZ) Rubric. There is a lot of passion, confusion, and miscommunication of educationese. “Educationese” is the jargon used especially by educational theorists (Merriam Webster, 2023).

As educators, we too often throw out education jargon and acronyms without fully taking into consideration the students, families, educators and communities we serve.

Why Language Matters

As we move forward with the innovative work of changing how we measure and celebrate students’ knowledge, skills and attributes, it is important to not get lost in the perceived jargon. With more clarity, we can move toward an equitable and sufficient education for our students, especially those students named in the Martinez/Yazzie vs. the State of New Mexico lawsuit of 2018 (Native American Students, English Learners, Children with Disabilities and Children Experiencing Poverty).

In this blog, I hope to share some insights about some of the language that our education non-profit partners feel needs to be clarified as we move forward with our statewide Innovation Zone implementation and work toward remedying Martinez/Yazzie. 

The time is NOW! This is not an exhaustive list but rather an opportunity for us to think more deeply about the language we use to define our work as it relates to capstones, graduate profiles and work-based learning.


Capstone (noun)

A capstone is a months-long project rooted in authentic contexts and building on local assets and culture. Students engage in active, self-directed, and community-based learning experiences to produce a body of work that teachers periodically assess for evidence of competence. Capstones result in public exhibitions of learning to school, family, and community.

Care (verb) 

Demonstrating awareness and concern for whole person wellbeing. Knowing enough about the individual to have the feeling of care and taking action to foster and protect circumstances that allow a child to thrive.

Culturally-responsive (adj)

 Also: culturally-meaningful, culturally-authentic, culturally-purposeful 

Relevant to the community, culture, and lives in which students participate in the experience/learning; Reflective of the values a student brings to the classroom; Creating opportunities for students to connect their culture, language, and heritage on a deeper, more personal level.

Equitable Outcomes (noun, plural)

The concept in which a school’s goals and means are as diverse and inclusive as the student body, including factors such as race, ethnicity, language, disability or learning difference, gender, or sexual orientation.

Graduate Profile (noun)

A Graduate Profile articulates the knowledge, skills, and attitudes that the local community identifies as important for graduates to have when they exit high school.  Valuing and engaging with local wisdom often includes competencies beyond traditional academics. These include employability skills, social-emotional skills, and students’ cultural and linguistic identities and sense of belonging. The graduate profile serves as a North Star for system transformation, providing strategic direction for the redesign of the overall educational experience for students, and reinvigorating and re-engaging students, educators, and community stakeholders.

Innovation (noun)

1) Unique 2) Hopeful 3) Locally informed 4) Equitable, 

Opportunities that allow for educators to be agile, willing to change, eager to be flexible and consider alternatives as part of instructional delivery and assessment.

Linguistically-relevant  (adjective)

Validates and affirms an individual’s home culture and language to create connections with other cultures and languages in various social contexts and improves outcomes for students by valuing and celebrating the home language they bring to the instructional process.

Rigor (n)/Rigorous (adj)

Intentional, focused, and meaningful learning that is experiential and allows for student ownership and agency. There is a high value outcome informed and supported by students and community.

Shared Power and Voice (noun)

The voice in the design process of graduate profiles and capstone projects which students and community members bear responsibility in.

Underserved Students (noun, plural)

Children experiencing poverty, English learners, Native American students, and children with disabilities (Martinez/Yazzie). This also includes students who by personality,  trauma index and family circumstances are less likely or able to access support services or develop meaningful relationships with adults.

How to Make Educationese More Comprehensible

 The new school year is an exciting time to plan and set goals. As a school leader you present your outlined vision for the school year in the form of a mind map or bulleted points. With clarity, you create a picture for your learning community to understand the new initiatives and goals set out for the school year, but you suddenly realize that you just threw out a lot of educational terms that could be confusing or interpreted in different ways. How can you make this academic jargon more accessible to your learning community? Perhaps one important way to solve educationese is to co-create with teachers who are closest to the issues and can provide solutions.

Terms like “student-centered”, “innovative”, “culturally responsive”, etc. can mean different things to different people. Take time to reflect on the language you are using with your learning community to share new initiatives and learning. Once the terms have been identified, take the time to define them as you see them. What does “student-centered” learning mean? What does it look like? By sharing the defined terminology with your staff before you roll out any initiatives to family and community, you will help to ensure that your learning community better understands your vision and hope for the school year.

In addition to defining the jargon, you can take things one step further and write them out in actionable terms, like sharing how a staff member or community member would go about implementing the initiative, such as “student-centered” in their classroom. For example, if you would like “student-centered” learning to take place at your school, what should classrooms look like? What should classrooms sound like? How should lessons be delivered? Providing your staff and learning community with concrete examples and steps to follow eliminates the chances of misunderstanding and misinterpretation.

Language Does Matter

To truly “transform” schools, we need to ensure administrators, teachers, and families are in clear understanding of what we mean and what “transformation” looks like in practice. Some educators feel that when we use the term “transformation” we are suggesting we want to “fix” school communities. This is not the intent here, “transforming” schools in New Mexico is focused on creating equitable and meaningful opportunities for students that honor the whole child and the cultural and linguistic assets each student and community brings to the classroom.

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