Happy Steve

Innovation and Learning

Start with clarity of intent.

Now build it out with an evocative vision. Improvise progress by tinkering: with lots of trial and lots of error. The not knowing is the best bit: the mysteries the surprises, and from time to time the windfalls! 

Hello there, I'm Steve Collis! 

Click on "contact", won't you, and wave right back at me?

That Which We Call A Rose

It’s all in the language.

“Well, I’ll worry about that later,” I thought to myself
yesterday. Then I noticed what I had said to myself and mentally reworded. I
find myself doing this very often nowadays.

You have to be very careful with the words you choose to
think with. Words are the bricks of reality. You choose different words for a
different reality. If you simply use the words you have inherited from the
communities to which you belong, then you are confining yourself to very
particular cardboard boxes without even the awareness of your own confines.

“I’ll worry about that later,” is a reality-molecule: a
recipe made of various atoms (words) assembled for a purpose. “I’ll worry about
that later,” is invoked easily and automatically as one of many mind-tools. Its
function, in this case, is to disarm an immediate threat with a rationalisation.

The phrase does its job when we use it. It provides a
strong, common-sense mental scaffold for tucking away a concern for the moment.
This is why it is such a popular phrase, and a standard riff in our internal mental

It works, but we can do better. I don’t like ‘worry’. The
word describes a state of mind that is inefficient and unproductive. There are
much better words with which, if I am deliberate enough, I can supplant ‘worry’.

    I’ll develop…

    I’ll digest…

    I’ll play with…

    ...that one

I’m aware how corny this language sounds. I don’t care.
Changing language works.

So now, turn your eyes to teaching. What mental scaffolding
are you working with, how did it get there, did you have any say in it, and
might you not begin to self-consciously tinker with it and improve it?

First, the word ‘teach’ takes an immediately alarming direct
. Verbs that take direct objects are verbs like: hit,
smack, hug, deny, love, hate, know, bury. It is something you DO

I hit you.

I smack you.

I hug you.

I deny you.

I love you.

I hate you.

I know you.

I bury you.


I lift you up, 

tie you down, 

pass you around, 

pummel you, 

exalt you, discuss you,

 Yes, and I teach you.

In verbs that take direct
objects, you are the passive recipient. There are interesting variations
– “I observe you” is hardly violent. But, you have little choice in the
matter. Even being observed has violent possibilities. Did you ask permission? Where is my privacy? 

I nourish you.

I feed you.

I support you.

These are still direct objects, and hardly violent, but there is still little room for YOU. And if I nourish, feed and support you, I will then



measure you.

Now, verbs with indirect objects have a different
feel. These are verbs that require a preposition between them and you. Prepositions act as a buffer, create space, and allow possibility, negotiation, and
unexpected freedoms:

I talk with you.

I walk alongside you.

I speak to you. (Still fairly aggressive but better than “I
lecture you”)

I negotiate with. (The word ‘with’ is a winner)

I listen to you. (I'm doing the action but the action conveys high responsiveness to you).

Tentatively I wonder, are verbs with direct objects more restrictive, certainly
for the art of so-called ‘teaching’? Should we look for verbs with indirect objects when
conceptualising our relationship with our students?

A bigger question: Why is the sentence beginning with ME at

Or, to put it another way, if I am ‘teaching you’, then what
are YOU doing? Being taught? Passively? You are being hit, smacked, hugged,
denied, loved, hated, known and buried? You have no choice in the matter.

 “What happened to you today at school?”

 “I was taught.”

 This is the core problem with transitive verb ‘teach’.
(Transitive means it takes a direct object, as discussed above). I teach, you
are taught.


 Oh yes, I am going to teach you good and proper.

 I am going to teach you A LESSON.

 (A Maths lesson, English lesson, French lesson, or Science lesson).

 Thence a huge leap across a broad chasm, to a distant point
on the far horizon:

 You learn.

 I teach.

 You learn.

 You had better take a long run up to that chasm if you think
that because you are teaching, the direct object of your teaching is learning. Oh
spectacular assumption!

I teach French. I teach students. I teach students French. I
teach French to students.

Sure, and what are the students doing?

They are doing what I damn well tell them to. Maybe I should
issue a command “LEARN!” I shall be like Gandalf with his staff, bending
reality to my will through sheer stubborn conviction.

I am a teach-er. 

Are you just?

What verbs might we deliberately employ instead of the awful
‘teach’? Verbs for me and verbs for those human beings in my classroom I like
to refer to as students?

Verbs with unexpected potentials.

Verbs expecting surprises.

Verbs creating space.

Verbs respecting relationships.

Verbs for my students and verbs for me.

Leave a comment with your ideas. I walk around with a bit of
paper all the time now, so keen I am to liberate my mind from inherited
vocabularies. Feed me, dear reader.

No ‘learning facilitator’ phrases please. I’d rather teach.
Give me something humane, heartfelt, and encompassing. Metaphors allowed and welcomed.