Change the practice by changing the words!

George Couros is a thought provoking educator whose blog is a daily read for me. His post of today titled, “5 Terms We Need To Rethink In Education” has inspired me to write (which is one of the main reasons I read blogs!).

In his post, George asks us to rethink the terms we use in education, to unpack the perception of their meaning and the possibility of what they SHOULD mean. I agree completely, and write to extend the thinking.

My proposition is that our educational reality is strongly shaped by the words we choose to use. Let me illustrate.

A few years ago I was tasked with leading a K-12 school, which had not previously considered itself a “K-12” school. It had always had a Kindergarten program, elementary grade levels, middle school classes and a high school. It was lead by a Director, an Elementary Principal and a Secondary Principal. But they had been “Divisional” principals. The culture had never been K-12.

So upon my arrival, with the leadership structure changing to include a K-12 Principal, I changed the words.


We began to use the word “sub-school” instead of “division”. There was no longer an elementary division, or a middle school division or a high school division. We deliberately chose words to reinforce the thinking required to build a K-12 culture. We referred to the elementary sub-school, the middle school subschool, and the high school sub-school. A little bit wordy, but important. Now in year three of making that seemingly simple change, we are almost at the point where the word “division” is no longer used. Almost!

We also discussed the idea of banning the word “homework”! Not banning the activity of homework, but banning the word “homework” to describe the activity of doing school work at home. Instead, I was suggesting the terms “preview” and “review” be used. The ensuing discussion was one of the most animated, charged, emotional, informative, full-participation discussions I have ever experienced in a faculty meeting! Just to change a word!!!

A school-wide blanket ban of the word “homework” was a bridge too far for the present faculty, but a number of faculty members DID rename their school-work-at-home and reflected that it did result in some changes in their practice.

As George prompts us to reimagine or rethink what the words we use in education mean, I am prompting you to be very critical when choosing which ones you will use. Words are very powerful influencers of practice.

What practices in your school or classroom can you change by changing the words you use to describe them?



What Evil looks like!

A few things have been swirling around in the media over the past few days and weeks have gradually coalesced into something worth writing about, and this morning over breakfast, my beautiful wife summed it all up in a single sentence, “Zombies aren’t the face of evil, this is!” Cue swirling…

Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

Last weekend I had the privilege of joining some very good North American friends for their Thanksgiving dinner. Not being of a nation that celebrates Thanksgiving, I was interested to learn more about what it is, what it stands for, what families do, what the traditions are, etc, etc and left their home with a full belly and a much better appreciation of the celebration. Family, togetherness, thankfulness. All wrapped up in a big cooked bird and some stuffing, of which the secret family recipe shall never be revealed!

And then we woke to learn that Nelson Mandela had died.

If ever there was a person who epitomised “thanks” it was this incredible man. Having had the chance some years ago to stand outside the cell on Robbin Island in which he was held for 27 years, that thankfulness is even more incredible. So incredible that through him, and through him alone, a whole nation is healing.

Sustainability Milestone Meeting March 17th 2011

And then this week there has been a media flurry around WalMart. For 2013, Walmart posted a net income of US$17 billion (source here), up from 15 and some change the year before. Now that is a lot of coin. A. Lot. And the flurry was surrounding the fact that one store plonked a couple of buckets down by the front door with a sign on them, asking employees to donate food to fellow employees so that they could “enjoy thanksgiving dinner”.

And then… (yes, another “And then…”), this morning as I sat with my daughter reading the news together over our bowls of cereal, we found a news article reporting a possible nation-wide (USA nation!) strike across fast food outlets, in protest of low minimum wages. The aim of the protesters was to raise the minimum wage from $7 and some to $15 and some.

I was shocked!

Not by the effrontery of the protesters, but at the amount of the current minimum wage. 25 years ago I was just about to turn 17, and McDonalds (yes, that fast food megalith) sacked me because I was about to jump to the next step on the pay scale. Apparently I wasn’t meeting targets (whatever that was!). It was the best thing that happened to me because I then found a job as a cleaner and started earning $12 an hour. That was in 1989. I was 17, unskilled and uneducated.

Kayne West

2013 is now drawing to a close and companies that are earning B.I.L.L.I.O.N.S! are paying their staff a wage that doesn’t allow them to provide a Thanksgiving dinner, and are asking their employees to donate food to help them lay a table.

This is the face of evil. Not vampires, or zombies, or Kayne West’s latest excuse for a song. THIS is the face of evil.

As my daughter grows up, THIS is the type of thing she needs to be scared of. This is the sort of approach to people that should truly frighten her. And like those protesting the minimum wage, she (and anyone else who cares about others) should be standing up and lending their voice to the chorus demanding respect. Respect for individuals, respect for what someone is worth, and running a business with that respect at its core.

For 27 years a man stood behind bars espousing respect. He was eventually heard.

Apparently Walmart still isn’t listening.


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