Teachers: What are your Verbs?

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I’ve recently begun reading Alison Gopnik’s The Gardner and the Carpenter: What the New Science of Child Development Tells us about the Relationship Between Parents and Children. I picked it up because I read an article that highlighted Gopnik’s complaint about using the word “parent” as a verb. Gopnik claims that parent is a wonderful noun, but an ineffective verb when used to refer to the work of a parent:

“’Parent’ is not actually a verb, not a form of work, and it isn’t and shouldn’t be directed toward the goal of sculpting a child into a particular kind of adult …. We recognize the difference between work and other relationships, other kinds of love. To be a wife is not to engage in ‘wifing,’ to be a friend is not to ‘friend,’ even on Facebook, and we don’t ‘child’ our mothers and fathers.”

As an English teacher, I sometimes spoke out against the perversion of the English language, specifically the action of turning nouns into verbs. I have lamented that it’s not okay to “verb” all of our nouns. It’s not that I feel that it’s wrong to change nouns into verbs, but that sometimes these changes come from a form of carelessness or laziness, which often results in less clear communication. When I talk about how someone “parents” another person, I’m no longer talking about a clear action that you can do, see, or witness. As Gopnik points out, we don’t talk about “wifing” or “friending” another person. We talk about the actions we do as a wife or friend.

In my current role as a school administrator, I encourage our teachers to think about the actions of a teacher. Yes, we are all teachers, and yes, “teach” is a verb. But teaching isn’t the only verb of schools, is it? What other verbs matter? If I were to ask teachers to label all of the verbs of a teacher, I’m sure they could fill a page: teach, listen, supervise, facilitate, grade, read, explain, model, develop, and so forth.

I would argue, however, that the most important verb in a school isn’t teaching. It’s learning.

Until we start to pay more attention to learning than we do teaching, I’m afraid we’ll never live up to the potential of our schools. Until we spend more time focusing on the verbs associated with learning, such as thinking, processing, discussing, experimenting, or exploring, rather than the verb associated with teaching, I’m afraid we’ll never live up to the potential of our students.

I encourage teachers to think about their verbs and start to view themselves in terms of the verbs of learning, rather than the verbs of teaching. By doing so, we can shift the focus of schools from teaching to learning, from delivering instruction to facilitating student growth.

As a school leader, I care about my verbs. My title is Director of Curriculum and Instruction, but “direct” isn’t the verb I think about the most. What are my verbs? Think. Talk. Plan. Coach. Push. Organize. Streamline. Challenge. Question. Elevate.

What are your verbs?

A single golf clap? Or a long standing ovation?

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