25 Handy Words We Need In Schools

You may have already seen this post, 25 Handy Words That Simply Don’t Exist In English. It looks like it’s been culled from Christopher Moore’s In Other Words: A Language Lover’s Guide to the Most Intriguing Words Around the World.  Reading the list, I couldn’t help but think how helpful some of these words might be in our work in schools and communities.  Namely:

Nunchi (Korean): the subtle art of listening and gauging another’s mood. In Western culture, nunchi could be described as the concept of emotional intelligence. Knowing what to say or do, or what not to say or do, in a given situation. A socially clumsy person can be described as ‘nunchi eoptta’, meaning “absent of nunchi”

Supporting leaders to develop emotional intelligence is a huge part of our work (see blog post Emotional Intelligence and School Leadership).  Imagine if we could just tell a principal she needs to work on her nunchi… and she actually knew what we were talking about!  It literally means “eye measure” and “is a kind of antenna one has to sense another’s feelings or state of mind.”


 Desenrascanco (Portuguese): “to disentangle” yourself out of a bad situation (To MacGyver it)


I’m going out on a limb here, comparing National Equity Project coaches to MacGyver.  But our work often involves supporting our partners to desenrascar conditions in their school or district.  This is no simple fix, but instead involves following entangled trails of distrust and disempowerment to get down to the root causes that limit a school or district’s success. Surfacing root causes helps identify “the points of greatest leverage: the places where the least amount of effort provides the greatest influence for change.” (For more on root causes, see Peter Senge’s Schools That Learn). 


Tatemae and Honne (Japanese): What you pretend to believe and what you actually believe, respectively

Most Americans would say they agree with the statement “All children, regardless of race or social background, are capable of learning.”  But much of our work involves unpacking whether a person tatamae (pretends to believe) in educational equity, or honne (actually believes).  It’s not always obvious to the person, but if they only tatamae, it will be obvious in their language and actions.  We see this all the time.

The good news is that when people only “pretend to believe” in equity, we can still guide them toward creating systems and structures that create more equitable conditions and outcomes.  Once they see that equity is possible, they can actually believe in it.


Waldeinsamkeit (German): The feeling of being alone in the woods

Alone in the WoodsTeaching is often described as an isolating profession.  Teachers are surrounded by students in their classrooms, but most schools lack adequate collaborative structures. Professional learning communities give teachers a chance to learn from and with each other  to continuously improve their teaching practice.  They also help teachers fight the waldeinsamkeit. 


Meraki (pronounced may-rah-kee; Greek): Doing something with soul, creativity, or love. It’s when you put something of yourself into what you’re doing

Finally, we envision schools and communities lead by people full of meraki.  We work to create humanizing structures that enable and encourage people to bring their full self into their schools.  Almost every educator has meraki but not every system is designed for it.

Meraki - Soul

About Sara Gray

Director of Communications & Marketing at the National Equity Project www.nationalequityproject.org
This entry was posted in Changing the Discourse, Emotional Intelligence, Leadership and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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