I learned something interesting earlier this week. Did you know that there is no Hebrew word that means “to teach”? I was a little surprised by that announcement to roughly a thousand Jewish professionals and volunteers at the 2015 North American Day School Conference this week in Philadelphia.

To clarify, it’s not that you can’t say “to teach” in Hebrew. The word that we use is lamayd (למד), but it comes from the shoresh, or root, as the word that means to learn. Rabbi David Lapin explained to us that lamayd really means to facilitate learning.

“Tomayto, tomahto,” you say. “Teaching and facilitating learning mean the same thing.”

Except that they don’t.

In a model where we just think about teaching as the action, the attention is focused on the actions of the teacher, not on what is going on with the student. If we are facilitating learning, then the focus is on what the student is doing and on the outcome achieved by the student. You can teach a great lesson, but if you have no idea if it has been learned and understood.

With a conference theme of Uncommon Connections: Schools, Systems, and Success, each of the many sessions that I attended was pushing me to think differently about how we learn, examine the systems in place at Schechter and see how a slight shift in thinking might change my practice as an educator.

Another presenter shattered a metaphor that I have used for years to encourage more interactive and student-driven learning. I’ve frequently talked about not wanting to have teachers serve as “sages on the stage” delivering frontal lessons with mostly passive students. Instead, I’ve pushed them to be “guides on the side” as they support learning.

Conference presenter, Grant Lichtman, suggested throwing out that metaphor and, instead, thinking of our teachers as farmers. A good farmer lays out a boundary (think of this as the fence around the field), breaks up the tough topsoil and removes rocks, makes sure that the right amount of nutrients gets to the plants and judiciously weeds and prunes to ensure growth.

Lichtman’s metaphor for what we want teaching to look like aligns neatly with Rabbi Lapin’s assertion about how the Hebrew language wants us to focus on the process of learning, not on the process of teaching.

As a teacher, I knew that my students were truly learning when I heard the comment, “My head hurts.” Not from a headache, but from being engaged in such profound thinking that they were literally abuzz. Having left Philadelphia, I can truly say that my head hurts, and I’m thankful to Rabbi Lapin, Grant Lichtman, the other presenters and the conference organizers. I’m looking forward to continuing to share what I’ve learned with you and our staff and to see how to apply these things at Schechter.

Shabbat Shalom,

Dr. Ari Yares
Head of School

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