In Search of a Definition

We are using the same words, but do they mean the same thing?

I have one of the best possible job. I get to work beside educators as they wrestle with improving the educational experience for the students in their schools and districts. These are women and men who are not satisfied with the status quo in education. Even when they receive accolades for the test scores of their students, they want to improve. These are the people who are making a difference for education.

Nevertheless, some of our conversations are difficult because we use important words like “Personalized” or “Competency” or “Mastery” and when I hear those words I think they mean one thing while they might mean something totally different. If we are going to make progress on any of these areas, we really need to be sure that we are using the same definition for each of them. That does not mean our schools will all be identical, but it will mean that we each agree on what is happening in the schools that are seeing the greatest gain.

As I have searched for help on this issue, I have been impressed with the work that is coming out of an organization called Education-Reimagined. This non-profit organization, based in Washington, D.C. brought some of America’s brightest educators together to talk about the future of education in the United States. They asked hard questions of each other and they took a hard look at schools to discover the most important elements of a high-performing and engaging school. After much deliberation, they concluded that there are 5 interrelated elements that are visible in the strongest schools in America. Those interrelated elements are:

Competency Based Personalized, Relevant, Contextualized Learner Agency Socially Embedded Open-Walled

Not surprisingly, these are words that are often thrown around at conferences and in education journals with an assumption that everyone knows what we are talking about. Unfortunately, I don’t believe we all agree on those words. Misunderstanding of these words can have a serious impact. Teachers become disoriented and parents become discouraged, but nothing really changes for the students. At the very least, your school needs to agree on the meaning of these terms among yourselves.

Fortunately, the folks at Education-Reimagined have created a Practitioner's Lexicon of these 5 important terms. I encourage you to start here ( ). As you are reading those definitions, ask yourself how your school is doing in each of these areas. While speaking with the leadership at Education-Reimagined last week, they informed me that they are in search of schools across the US that exemplify all of these 5 elements. In their search, they have found some schools that are strong in one or two of these areas, but they have not yet found any school that encompasses them all. If you are strong in a few or all of these elements, make yourself known to us. We are always looking to visit shining stars.

Eric Kellerer

by Eric Kellerer

Eric Kellerer is currently the Director of the Doceō Center and the Director of International Relations at Northwest Nazarene University. The Center, established in January, 2013 exists to inspire personalized learning through innovative practices in education. The Center is responsible for the development of the H.A.C.K. Model for Innovative Instruction. He is currently involved in education reform movements in Liberia and China. He has established relationships with universities and high schools in China, Korea, and Liberia.