Key Terms

Active learning Any approach to instruction in which all students are asked to engage in the learning process. Active learning stands in contrast to “traditional” modes of instruction in which students are passive recipients of knowledge from an expert. Active learning can take many forms and be executed in any discipline. Commonly, students will engage in small or large activities centered around writing, talking, problem solving, or reflecting. (Center for Educational Innovation, University of Minnesota)
Anti-bias education Refers to an approach to teaching and learning designed to increase understanding of differences and their value to a respectful and civil society and to actively challenge bias, stereotyping, and all forms of discrimination in schools and communities. (Anti-Defamation League)
Anti-racist education Refers to an approach to teaching and learning that acknowledges that racist beliefs and structures are pervasive in all aspects of our lives—from education to housing to climate change—and then actively works to help students of all races understand what it means to be intentional about dismantling racism. (SEL Roadmap for Reopening School, Teaching Tolerance)
Blended/hybrid learning Situations in which a student learns at least in part at a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home and at least in part through online delivery with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace.(
Continuous improvement Continuous improvement (CI) is a process for addressing a specific problem of practice—the specific student-focused problem or issue—by developing, testing, and refining promising solutions. Inquiry cycles, once started, are rapid and last no longer than one month per testing cycle. CI Core Parameters are:

  • An understanding of the problem,* the systems that produce current inequitable outcomes, and the opportunities and assets of the community and their students.
  • A clear and specific aim* centered on achieving equitable outcomes for Black, Latinx, and/or low-income students.
  • An equity-centered theory of practice improvement* for how to reach the aim.
  • Disciplined inquiry cycles to test interventions* and collect and analyze data to assess if changes are an improvement.
  • Collaborative and diverse teams comprising people with the time, expertise, experience, and will to tackle the problem.
  • Use of locally relevant and valued data from multiple sources, relevant research, and measurement as keys to improvement.

*These are anchored in multiple forms of data, an understanding of relevant research, and the specific needs and assets of the students and their communities. (Gates NSI Glossary)

Culturally relevant education (CRE) Broadly speaking, CRE is a way of teaching that empowers students and incorporates their cultures, backgrounds, and experiences into the school environment and classroom activities. CRE involves three different elements: 1) supporting academic success by setting high expectations for students and providing ample opportunities for them to succeed; 2) embracing cultural competence, including a curriculum that builds on students’ prior knowledge and cultural experience; and 3) promoting critical consciousness by providing students with the tools to critique and challenge institutions that perpetuate inequality. (Culturally Relevant Education: A Guide For Educators, The Research Alliance for NYC Schools)
Culturally responsive This type of teaching recognizes the importance of including students’ cultural references in all aspects of learning, enriching classroom experiences and keeping students engaged. (Teaching Tolerance)
Equity-focused Refers to strategies aimed at improving equity in experiences and outcomes for all students and adults, across race, gender identity, ethnicity, language, disability, sexual orientation, family background, family income, and other characteristics.

  • Educational or instructional equity: reducing the predictability of who succeeds and who fails, interrupting practices that negatively impact students, and cultivating the gifts and talents of every student. (National Equity Project)
Family engagement Refers to reaching out to engage families in meaningful ways to actively support their children’s learning and development.
Family support Refers to being proactive and responsive to help families access supports and resources that they need for well-being and security.
Formative assessments Refers to a wide variety of methods that teachers use to conduct in-process evaluations of student comprehension, learning needs, and academic progress during a lesson, unit, or course. The general goal of formative assessment is to collect detailed information that can be used to improve instruction and student learning while it’s happening. What makes an assessment “formative” is not the design of a test, technique, or self-evaluation, per se, but the way it is used—i.e., to inform in-process teaching and learning modifications. Formative assessments are commonly contrasted with summative assessments, which are used to evaluate student learning progress and achievement at the conclusion of a specific instructional period—usually at the end of a project, unit, course, semester, program, or school year. (Glossary of Education Reform)
Instructional leadership A focus on improving the classroom practices of teachers as the direction for the school. School leadership is second only to teaching among school-related factors in its impact on student learning, according to research. Hallinger’s model has been the most researched; it consists of three sets of leadership dimensions (Defining the School’s Mission, Managing the Instructional Program, and Promoting a Positive Learning Climate), within which are 10 specific leadership practices. (How Leadership Influences Student Learning, Wallace Foundation)
Mobile application A mobile app is a software application developed specifically for use on small wireless computing devices, such as smartphones and tablets, rather than desktop or laptop computers. (
Online, distance, or remote learning
  • Online learning (sometimes called e-learning): Students can be together in the classroom with an instructor while working through their digital lessons and assessments. Online learning can be an excellent way to increase student engagement when used as part of a blended learning technique. Blended learning involves using a variety of instructional resources and teaching methods to deliver content in multiple ways. (See Blended/hybrid learning definition).
  • Distance or remote learning: Students work online at home and there is no in-person interaction between teachers and students. As a result, teachers rely on digital forms of instruction and communication including messaging apps, video meetings and calls, discussion boards, and a school’s learning management system (LMS) such as Google Classroom (What’s the Difference Between Online Learning and Distance Learning?, Applied Educational Systems). Teachers and students may or may not be separated in time (asynchronous vs. synchronous) ( Distance learning can provide greater flexibility for students to work at their own pace, access course material at the times that work best for them, and review work as needed. (Applied Educational Systems)
Trauma-informed lens Trauma is a disruption to development that is agnostic to the event. It produces alterations in mood, focus, concentration, memory, behavior, emotions, and trust. A deep understanding of how stress and trauma affect the brain and body can help guide our response—a response that needs to be comprehensive, holistic, multi-dimensional, and specific. By incorporating both social emotional learning (SEL) and an asset-based, culturally sensitive trauma-informed lens (Trauma Sensitive Schools Training Package, AIR, 2020), schools can create a foundation for supporting whole-child development. (CASEL, SEL Roadmap for Reopening School, July 2020)

Other glossary sources