What Am I Thinking?

Here is a taste of reflections I have made throughout MAELM.

May 17, 2014: Facilitation, Constructivism, and Sticking with It

My study of participation and persistence has revealed that students are motivated to learn because of three things: 1. They love learning (idealistic keeners) 2. They have a goal (or obligation) 3. They like spending time with like minded people (they are lonely) As much as I buy in to the tenets of constructivist learning, most students still need facilitation. In fact unless one (or more) of the above motivations is abundant (paying a lot of money for a course, for example), the frustrations of learning will not be overcome because it is difficult to overcome Margaret Wheatley’s 8th Principal for Healthy Change:

“Everything is a failure in the middle.”

Here are all 10 of Wheatley’s principals for change:

Wise woman!

  March 2014: Showcase Alumni Adult Education is different than K-12 because students are deemed able to make appropriate choices about their educational path. The schools support the students in their learning in the classroom and by liaising with community services when possible, but the individual is ultimately responsible for his/her commitment to learning. Our school’s current initiatives to connect with the community are based in the concept of outreach. Specific staff members go out into the community to strengthen ties, inform, and recruit. At this point, we are facing decreased enrolment for reason(s) yet to be determined. Some have suggested a redoubled effort in outreach, but it is my thought that more of the same behavior might not be the most effective solution, especially if the reason for low enrolment is unknown.   Many of our graduates drop in for a chat to thank us for our support in their educational journey. It is my thought that an event or a display showcasing their post graduation success will serve to inspire current students and build connections between students and the community. In this way, positive student feeling and networking could increase word of mouth about the benefits of our school. Given that word of mouth is traditionally our best  marketing strategy (minimal PR support from VSB), I think that this event would help increase student retention and bring in new students as well.

February 2, 2014: After reading Brene Brown’s book.

I was ready to dismiss this text because, well, it was just too darn popular. Then I read a bit more and found that Brown’s book holds a lot in common with Carol Dweck’s Mindset, a book that has encouraged me to see the value in learning over being right. In the spirit of learning, I tried using a new (to me) technology mediated environment. Now I am doing a bit of daring greatly myself. What follows is my first attempt to make a Haiku Deck. The quote is from the introduction from Brown’s popular book, Daring Greatly.  

January 21, 2014: Lost Dog Lessons

On Sunday, my niece called in a quandary. She had taken on the responsibility to help a dog she hadn’t “saved”. At this point, she had had the collarless, tattoo-free dog at her house overnight and was now wondering about whether she should give the dog to a friend who expressed interest or take the dog to the SPCA.  I suggested that she come over and we discuss this important matter over a strong coffee. I emphasized that this was an imperative action given that I had not yet properly assessed and experienced the lost dog’s cuteness. She came over and I was instantly bewitched by this charming and tiny black puppy with wee white paws and soft floppy ears. We drank our coffee and played with the dog for some time before we were able to begin a serious discussion about the best way to deal with the dog, now called Bruno. The issues were as follows:

  • The dog was saved by someone who could not care for him.
  • The dog was being cared for by someone who did not want him.
  • A third person wanted the dog and had even convinced her husband.
  • I now want the dog too.
  • Every person mentioned so far has at least two children who are becoming increasingly attached with each passing minute.
  • The SPCA is about to open.

As it turns out, the SPCA doesn’t take stray dogs, so we called the pound and found that phone inquiries are now dealt with by a central switchboard run by the city. The city operator informed us that an animal control officer would make contact within 48 hours. This did not suit my niece’s interests at all. We decided to go to the pound in person and see what the options were. We were concerned about being forced to leave the dog at the pound: no one wanted the dog to go to “jail”. At this point my niece was prepared to give the dog to her friend. My concern was that someone is most likely looking for the exceptionally cute young dog, particularly because he was healthy and well behaved. Truthfully, I wanted the dog for myself. On the way to the pound, we made a stop at the very busy intersection where the dog was found. It had occurred to me that we could find the owner without help from the dog catcher. My idea was initially poo-pooed and then condescended to in effort to keep everyone (me) happy. Lo and behold the second house we went to had a sign posted about a lost dog that had been seen taken into an SUV by a woman and two children. There was a tearful reunion of owner and dog. Well, the human cried, but the dog was suddenly expressing a hitherto unseen expression of joy and I became aware of how my interest in the dog had coloured my decision making process. I will keep this story in mind as I move forward in my major paper for my final course at RRU. It was difficult fro me to keep my interests at bay and work for the best interests of the dog and his unknown owner. Discussions had been fueled by interests that wanted addressing:

  • the owner must be derelict in duty
  • the friend who wanted the dog deserved him because she had overcome her husband’s long-standing objection to getting a dog
  •  I should take the dog because my dog liked the puppy almost as much as I did
  • the pound is a terrible place to go
  • the pound just wants to collect the fine
  • the children LOOOOOOOVE him
  • my niece wants to divest herself of her responsibility and get on with her sunny Sunday afternoon
  • my niece wants to make her friend (or me) happy with the gift of a dog

This afternoon revealed the power of bias. In my research for my major paper, I  will vigilantly observe the difference between following the findings and reinforcing my opinion. In the end, the best actions were taken with the interest of the dog at the forefront. In fact, the actions were only negotiable because the dog had no voice, and the actions were only negotiated because of the interests of people involved. This is very much like discussions that happen in schools as the community of (mostly) adults consult about how education should be delivered. I think if the interests of the students are kept as the focus, the decisions will be easier to make. The challenge of leadership is to help the community agree on the focus. The question that remains is what would I have done if the dog’s owner turned out to appear irresponsible. Would I have refused to return the dog? We had not considered this in our plan. Hey! He knows how to sit!!

 November 10, 2013: Who Are You?

It’s a good idea for me us to know.

 September 11, 2013: Lessons from my Achilles

I continuously improve my teaching practice by following my muse. Lessons learned outside of my professional practice improve the quality of my teaching. An obvious example would be how a week spent in Paris informs my practice of teaching English to adults. As my husband and I boarded the plane headed for our great adventure, we made a pact to speak as much French as possible on our holiday. We celebrated the beginning of our adventure by reading a copy of the French newspaper provided on the flight. I will admit that speaking French for a week was challenging but fun. What I did not expect, however, was just how incredibly exhausting it would be. As much as I LOVE Paris, I was overjoyed to return to the comfort of an English environment. Needless to say, being more aware of the challenges my students face has improved my curriculum development and assessment. But not all lessons are so clearly linked. My most recent lesson began on July 31st, when I ruptured my Achilles tendon. I have, for the most part, been couch-bound ever since. The few times I have ventured out of the house, however, have proven exceptionally enlightening. Leaving important medical appointments with more questions than before I arrived has renewed my understanding of how daunting it can feel to be intellectually exposed. Ten minutes waiting on a busy street outside the hospital for my husband to bring the car around has given me a very immediate understanding of how emotionally unsettling it is to be physically vulnerable. Being taken out for a drive downtown one warm Saturday night revealed the acute joy of locomotion and a deep connection with strangers that I have previously taken for granted. Perhaps most significantly, weeks spent doing “nothing” have shown me that my standard frenetic and overscheduled life is a result of choices made by me, not by my circumstance. Which is ironic, given that I learned this though choices I did not make. These days, when I come up with some fabulous new idea to save the world, I am more aware of how unlikely it is that others will see it exactly as I do. Yet I am also more hopeful of the possibility that we can all change. And that we will.   May 7, 2013 There is a vast chasm between intention and action. Goals are key to closing this gap, but igniting the engine of change requires people. People are the community. If a leader sees an opportunity for amelioration, it would be foolish to attempt to exact that change without the support of the community because the community has its own intelligence and values. February 20, 2013: Autonomy vs. Accountability I love the idea of student-directed learning, but I worry that a school system based in curricula determined by the students risks over-estimating the ability of most participants. Experience and executive thinking skills are what move us to ask interesting questions and make appropriate choices about our education. Many students do not have such skills and will  be excluded from the education offered by such a system. Teachers will lose their depth of expertise in their field because there won’t be enough time to prepare for or spend with each student. Ah me, why isn’t there a perfect answer? Not to worry, as the students flounder under the burden of added choice, the academic excellence pendulum will swing back toward accountability. Then we can be indignant about the inadequacies of testing. January 15, 2013: I’ve Found the Subtitle of my Portfolio!

“Example has more followers than reason. We unconsciously imitate what pleases us, and insensibly approximate to the characters we most admire. In this way, a generous habit of thought and of action carries with it an incalculable influence.”         — Christian Nestell Bovee

BOVEE, Christian Nestell, author, born in New York City, 22 February 1820. His early instruction was obtained at private schools, and included some time spent under the teaching of Goold Brown, the grammarian. He served for six years in a flour store, but subsequently was admitted to the bar and followed law for many years with success, gaining thereby a fortune, which in later years was lost. At one time he was the law partner of Clarkson N. Potter, and later was associated with other firms. He was associated in the founding of the Athenaeum club of New York, and was for some time in its management, and was also for many years a regent of the Long Island College Hospital. He devoted his leisure to literature, and has published “Thoughts, Feelings, and Fancies” (New York, 1857), and ” Intuitions and Summaries of Thought ” (Boston, 1862). Many of his epigrammatic sayings, extracted from these volumes, have had a wide circulation. “Thoughts and Events,” a paper for the poorer classes, was edited by him during its short-lived career.

Edited Appletons Encyclopedia, Copyright © 2001 VirtualologyTM

December 29, 2012: On Prescribed Learning

The problem with the American education system is that the real needs of communities have been disregarded. First with chronic cuts to funding that made effective instruction more difficult than rewarding. Second with a system of reparation that punishes schools for not addressing the social problems the government ignores. All of these difficulties stem from decisions made for communities by a remote power. The closest thing the American public system has to a solution is charter schools, which are successful because they respond to a community need. Unfortunately, charter schools cause further harm as they lure motivated learners away from their geographic communities and leave local public schools with an even more difficult job of continuous school improvement.

Given the situation of American public schools, it is not surprising that a prescriptive text like School, Family, and Community Partnerships (Epstein, 2009) has been widely distributed. With a lack of teacher expertise and the pressures of standardized tests that determine (under)funding, these schools are in a state of emergency. If I were a leader in this dysfunctional situation, I would be reassured by enacting a series of activities prescribed by an outside body that purport to improve the school because I could point to it if school achievement did not increase and then blame the community.

November 12, 2012: On Collaboration among All Stakeholders Some people prefer to work alone, but that is not the best way to improve a dynamic organization like a school. Collaboration and teamwork are essential to a healthy school environment. Peer mentoring in schools has been linked to increased teaching expertise, and expert teachers are considered a contributing factor to academic improvement. Nevertheless, the vitality of a school is also related to how well the school connects to its community because student success is also related to parent involvement. Although it is the teacher’s responsibility to prepare and deliver curriculum, without parent support of learning, students often fail to see the benefits of academic improvement. For good or bad, parents are role models for their children. By tapping in to parent support, the odds are increased that children will be continually motivated to learn. Motivation for collaboration can also be found outside of the school or family community. Extra curricular activities that are sponsored by local businesses also create a winning situation. While business gets the double-edged bonus of advertising and staff morale boosting, the students benefit from extra funding for school programs.

October 10, 2012: Inspiring Myself to Write a Little Bit More 
Amazing Facts on Writing and How it Affects Our Brain [Infographic] - An Infographic from BestInfographics.co

August, 2012: Road Trip Musing

Leadership comes in many forms. One with which we are usually familiar is found in the construct of family. Consider me. I am a wife and a mother of two school aged children. My goal is to lead us through a summer vacation filled with happy memories and growth through adventure. The plan is not to get hurt in the process.

Consider our next door neighbours. They are also a nuclear family of four and have similar education and income as ours. Will their family vacation differ from ours? Yes. They are different people with different interests, abilities and experiences. As it happens, that family will also visit relatives in Alberta, but that doesn’t mean their holiday will mirror ours. Or maybe it will. Either way, they still have the same goal as us: a summer vacation filled with happy memories and growth through adventure, hopefully without pain.

Despite any differences in holiday itineraries, our families are statistically congruent and share a goal. This should be enough to objectively determine whose summer vacation will be deemed most successful, but it isn’t. There are too many variables that are out of our control. No one can predict natural disaster. No one can know whether such an upheaval will be a boon or a bust to the holiday. If the tent gets eaten by a bear, will the experience of sleeping under the stars become a lasting and good memory? Maybe not if it’s raining. Or if the bear comes back.

There is no end to possible scenarios that are beyond our control, so let’s consider the variables that are within our scope of influence. Of the four people in our family, no two have the same style or power of negotiation, but everyone needs to be considered in the decision making process. This means that we are not a dictatorship, but we are not a true democracy either because despite all appearances, the adults have more control than the children. It is they who need to manage the children’s needs, emotions, and preferences. Whatever political construct family is, each person has veto power. Be it a staunch because I said so or an irrational fit, any one person can stop any event at some time. For example: the driver refuses to stop the car, and the trees continue to fly by. The rider vomits, and the car is stopped. Tears roll. Tempers flare. But the family sees itself as a cohesive group and no one is left at the side of the road. Everyone is working together.

The challenge of leadership is to contribute to making an experience as productive and rewarding as possible. First and foremost this involves managing ourselves. If we can understand our own motivations, we can begin to manage our actions. We cannot control the people around us and achieve the goal of everyone having a good holiday, but if we acknowledge our thoughts and emotions we can use our actions to influence outcomes. For example: I don’t want to stop the car but if I don’t there will be repercussions that are greater than my desire to keep moving, and ignoring someone else’s needs will not get me any closer to the goal of a fun and memorable family vacation. Leadership is not giving in to the greater need, but doing so while honoring everyone’s needs, or at least recognizing the pull of needs. Ultimately, even the things in your control are influenced by the dynamic web of possibilities. Control, as pleasing and quantifiable a concept as it may be, can’t always get you what you want.

To make matters even more complex, our powers of processing information are also contextual. At the time the car is (or is not) pulled over, consensus might well be that there is nothing to smile about. Years later, however, the experience may morph into a happy memory that strengthens familial bonds. Or alienates your loved ones. Or somewhere in between. Even then, some days we can laugh at ourselves and others, well, not so much.

To expect that every time the car is not pulled over as requested there will be an unfortunate incident is a simplistic response to a complex event. There are myriad ways to resolve the issue and just as many opinions about which way works best. Some might ignore the child (Travelingnorthon, Hwy 99, 2012), while others might give the child chocolate milk (Travelingsouthon, Hwy 99, 2012). To expect to study and apply a single leadership theory to a school is misguided. Even if I understood a theory well, I would be evaluating and implementing it through the lens of my thinking and experience. Given the complexities of a single human, it unlikely that a single theoretical leadership approach could be continuously effective. My every day is unique. Trying to apply a single theory to a group of people, each with their unique days, has so many possible outcomes that it would be impossible to have continued reliable success. So what leadership style do I aspire to? It’s complicated. And it starts in the self.

car panorama Stitched panorama of inside of car 8 hours into the family road trip to Alberta.

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