Believe in Possibilities, Get Happy, & Slow Down

There’s nothing like the impending New Year to send the web into a fierce storm of retrospectives and Top Ten (or any other number) lists reflecting on the highlights of 2014. So, I’m jumping on the bandwagon. Here are some (six, if you’re counting) of my favorite things worth noodling on as we hit the “refresh” button for another year.

2014: The Year in Ideas – An 8 minute recap of the most watched, most powerful, most moving TED talks of 2014. Prepare to have your curiosity piqued and your excitement ignited for the ideas ahead in 2015.

NASA Emails Working Wrench to Space Station – Wait, what?! This is just too cool. 3-D printers are being used to manufacture tools to suit the need-of-the-minute for astronauts troubleshooting in space. Need a tool? No problem – have that to you in an e-jiffy. Another reason to think carefully and innovatively about the future we are preparing our children/students for.

What Believing in the Possibilities can Do for Teaching & Learning – Meaningful, connected relationships and positive, authentic beliefs matter. Growth mindset. Growth mindset. Growth mindset.

TED Talk: The Surprising Science of Happiness – Whoa….a person can be happy when they don’t get what they want? Equally happy? EVEN MORE HAPPY?! Amazing stuff about the power you have to define and actualize your own happiness.

Women In Science Illustrations – An incredible look at one artist’s representation of key female figures in the history of science. Graphic design + inspiring women advancing the field of science = even more reasons to go forth into the new year ready to meet what comes.

Why We Need to Slow Down – Pause. Read it. Go slower.

Above all this bustle…

IMG_6682So, here we are, approaching the season of holidays galore…and with that the hurried making and checking-off of lists, cleaning, shopping, attending, hosting, cooking, etc. etc. etc. As we think about being thankful, as we think about giving and all of the ways it truly allows us to receive, as we think about what matters…may these two articles provoke some thought for teachers and for parents on behalf of keeping all our children anchored in what we truly value and taking time to slow down and be present.

Are you raising nice kids? A Harvard psychologist gives 5 ways to raise them to be kind. – including the why, how, and concrete strategies to try.

How two minutes of mindfulness can calm a class and boost attainment. – including links to relevant scientific research and resources for specific ways of using mindfulness practices with children.

Do you have what it takes to be hired?

When our students/children begin their post-schooling job search it will without a doubt look/feel differently than it does today. The landscape of types of careers, companies hiring, and qualifications needed will have changed (multiple times over, even). It is difficult to predict, and thus imperative that we prepare children who are versatile, creative, and confident thinkers, collaborators, and communicators. An article published by Forbes earlier this year, How Google Picks New Employees (Hint: It’s Not About Your Degree), highlights the changing nature of career paths and the nature of skills we deem most “employable.” The article references How To Get a Job at Google written by Thomas L. Friedman in the New York Times. In order of least to greatest importance the currently most employable qualities according to Google (and transferably to other cutting edge companies) are:

5. Expertise: However, Google executives have found expertise pales in comparison to the other attributes below.

“Experts are more likely to simply default to the tried-and-true…there’s a much higher likelihood that they will strongly defend their existing point of view when questioned, rather than being curious…their identity is all too often wrapped up in being the authority, vs. finding a better solution.”

 

4. Ownership: This means individuals who are proactive and navigate obstacles innovatively and confidently go beyond a mindset of “Just tell me what to do.”

“They look for people who take responsibility for solving problems and moving the enterprise forward – who feel passionate about making things work…it’s a huge disadvantage to have employees who are passive doers of tasks and order-takers.  You need people who are internally motivated to figure out how to make things better.”

 

3. Humility:

“You need a big ego and small ego in the same person at the same time…when someone has both these qualities – a fierce drive to make things better combined with a welcoming attitude, an assumption that others have as much to offer, or more – that person tends to be both enormously effective individually and a wonderfully useful member of any team.”

2. Leadership: At every level and in both small everyday and larger significant ways.

1. Ability to Learn:

“Pure learning ability – the ability to pick up new things, to learn on the fly, to find patterns in disparate pieces of information and take the next step – is the number one thing hiring managers at Google have learned to look for in candidates. In the very wise and prescient words of Ari De Geus (he said this in the mid 90s): “The ability to learn faster than your competitors may be the only sustainable competitive advantage.”

To be clear, I don’t want jobs at Google for all, or even most, of our students/children. Google is representative of an innovative company that has successfully navigated the tricky waters of a changing global market and community. There will be many such innovative companies in the near and distant future.

I want our students/children to be as prepared as possible for the future that awaits them. I want our students/children to have the opportunity to choose a career (or maybe many over their working years) that inspires them and is fulfilling. I want them to have the freedom as highly skilled learners & doers to walk through a variety of doors that are open to them, rather than being restricted as specialists to permanently walk a narrowly defined path. These hopes & dreams I have for the future of our students includes looking at how innovative companies are approaching hiring NOW, and trying to predict how that will shift in the coming years…adjusting what we value and how we instill excellence of knowledge, character, and habits in our current student population. It means becoming more skilled learners and generalists ourselves as adults

Skimming vs. Absorbing Meaning & 3 new Rs

It was not THAT long ago that smart phones were a rare luxury found in the hands of high-powered entrepreneurs and financiers. Today they fall out of the half-zipped backpacks of young children and are left forgetfully behind by over-scheduled adults. We touch them within minutes of waking up, and turn screens off just moments before falling asleep. We fear missing out. We fear a great catastrophe if we aren’t instantly accessible….but didn’t nearly everyone who can read this post grow up in an era where if you left your house, you weren’t reachable until you returned?

It begs the question: what are we teaching our children and students about meaningful living and learning?

Two articles related to this question (links and excerpts shared below) recently caught my attention. As per usual, the most balanced perspectives on digital tools and media at all levels of education and in daily living are those that advocate for wisdom, moderation, and well-informed intentionality in the lives of both children and adults. If research shows that meaningful living and learning happen in the context of relationships, resilience, and reflection…how are we cultivating THOSE 3 Rs? It behooves us all to think carefully about what we are modeling for children about balance, presence, and self-care.

New York Times: A Conversation With Goucher’s New President

“Transparency improves learning. If you tell students that what they’re doing is critical thinking, they retain it more than if you don’t name it. We know a lot about what works. For example, using a highlighter when you read doesn’t increase student learning; what does is reading the chapter, then taking out an index card and putting it in your own words. We talk about the three Rs: relationships, resilience and reflection. If you increase those things, students will learn more, and teaching content becomes less important. We don’t have to teach you the periodic table because there’s a guy online who teaches it. But those guys online don’t know the names of their students. And there’s hard evidence that students learn more when they feel you know and care about them.” – Dr. José Antonio Bowen

Washington Post: Are You Really Here? Or Are You Skimming?

“It is hard to be okay with letting things drop: being late, or messy or uncomfortable or letting little ones feel impatient. It is hard to feel that you cannot help them all or do it all. It is a hard truth borne from a slowly evolving realization that doing less can, in fact, mean more…As we increasingly read on screens, our reading habits have adapted to skim text rather than really absorb the meaning…Do you know this feeling? It is the difference between sitting at the table versus being at it, or putting them to bed versus tucking them in. It is the difference between eating your food versus tasting it or raising your kids versus enjoying them.” – Jennifer Meer

137,160 Minutes of Homework

In an era in which children are increasingly scheduled and information absorption is increasingly rapid, how much and what type of homework is a perennial topic of discussion amongst educators and parents. Is Homework Helpful? The 5 Questions Every Teacher Should Ask provides some thought-provoking questions for teachers to ask themselves when assigning homework, and parents to consider if/when they find themselves wishing for more. Additional practice to support mastery is useful…and research shows that quantity does not equal quality; there are equally developmentally rich experiences that children can have post-school hours (like PLAY!). From the article:

“The National PTA recommends 10-20 minutes per night in the first grade, and an additional 10 minutes per grade level thereafter (e.g., 20 minutes for second grade, 120 minutes for 12th). If you follow these guidelines, students will spend 137,160 minutes doing homework from first grade to 12th grade. That equals 2,286 hours or 95 straight days of homework.”

95 straight days of homework IF we are abiding by the 10 minutes per grade rule. “Is homework helpful?” seems to be the wrong question. Is 95 straight days of homework what we most desire for their development and growth into individuals of intellect and character? Food (but not homework) for thought.

Velcro-ing to the Positive

There is a cognitive principle that psychiatrists call negativity bias, which has powerful implications for the work we do in schools: with children, and together as adults (parents, teachers, administrators, etc.). I believe an awareness of and active work against this cognitive instinct of ours can shift the sometimes inevitable slumps in mood and perspective, and ultimately create an even richer culture of trust and positivity amongst colleagues and between school and home.

What it boils down to is that our brains are wired to instinctually react to negative stimuli more often than the positive. And not just a little more often: upwards of three times more often. As neuropsychologist Rick Hanson puts it,

“The human brain is like Velcro to negative experiences and Teflon to positive ones.”

In fact, research shows that it takes three positive things to counteract one negative. Moreover, this ratio increases to five positive interactions to counteract one negative when it comes to interpersonal relationships. Schools thrive on a foundation of healthy interpersonal relationships: those that exist between colleagues, administration, students, and their families. Our profession involves a thoroughly interwoven web of human connections.

“When it comes to enjoying life and making use of who we are, all of us can; it’s just that some don’t…It’s sometimes referred to as the Snowball Effect, which can remind you of the time you pushed that little ball of snow along, and it got bigger and bigger until it got so big you couldn’t stop it, and it rolled all the way down the hill and flattened the neighbor’s car, and soon everyone was talking about the Huge Snowball that you let get completely out of control…Now the principle can work negatively or positively. It can promote cynicism as easily as it can encourage hope…the important thing is to make it work for yourself and for the benefit of others.” – Benjamin Hoff

 

 

Play Hard. Learn Better.

In his book Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life, author Peter Gray, an evolutionary developmental psychologist, examines the nature of play and the scientific research associated with it’s powerful educational benefits. It is simultaneously a very engaging and highly informative read. It’s worth buying a hard copy, it’s worth reading, and it’s worth taking seriously as we work as parents and educators to create environments, learning experiences, and opportunities for our children to become smart of mind and good of heart. Some quotes to highlight:

“Imagine that you had omnipotent powers and were faced with the problem of how to get young humans and other young mammals to practice the skills they must develop to survive and thrive in their local conditions of life. How might you solve that problem? It is hard to imagine a more effective solution than that of building into their brains a mechanism that makes them want to practice those very skills and that rewards such practice with the experience of joy. Perhaps play would be more respected if we called it something like ‘self-motivated practice of life skills’…”

“Playing with other children, away from adults, is how children learn to make their own decisions, control their emotions and impulses, see from others’ perspectives, negotiate differences with others, and make friends. In short, play is how children learn to take control of their lives.”

“In play…children bring the realities of their world into a fictional context, where it is safe to confront them, to experience them, and to practice ways of dealing with them.”