Resilience

Floating around in business, self-help, etc. seems to be this idea of gaining resilience; gaining the ability to “bounce back” from set-backs and keep going.  I have not read many of those books, yet.   But, what if our current perceived lack of resilience comes from a lack of firmness?

I mean, I feel like, growing up (and in general), I learned to “go with the flow,” and accept things in life as they came.  As one book I recently finished phrased it, “…being generally groovy…” School never really helped me search for my ideals, we never even spoke of ideals that I can think of.  There was never time spent, going inwards and finding depth, figuring out what we consider most important as individuals. Now people are apparently feeling somewhat, out-of-control or at a loss and lack this resilience that is being looked at.  I think that these two things are connected.

I would argue that, for something to bounce back, there has to be a certain level of firmness in that same thing; a solid core if you will. That core is actually the thing that creates resiliency.

I always imagine a blade of grass or bamboo when I think of the word “resiliency.” The wind blows and the plant bends or sways but, as soon as the wind stops, the plant goes right back upright to it’s original (or close to it) position. That’s my mental image of resiliency.  Following that image, one part that the grass or bamboo has is a core, an internal structure which holds together even while being bent over.

That internal structure; that is the thing missing from people I think. So, what if instead of resiliency, we looked at a core? We, as a society, are generally too groovy I think, not to mention too schizophrenic due to our focus on television to have that discussion usually. Yes, I can even take a distrust of technology and make it old.

Back to being groovy, you know one thing I was never directly asked through grade school, high school and University: what do I value? I don’t remember that being on any college essay nor scholarship application. We certainly did not have a class on it at any point (maybe kinda-sorta with philosophy but not directly).

Even on a more basic level, some of the words teachers, parents, mentors, etc used were never clearly defined: “be kind,” “be nice,” “be fair,” etc. Those are non-resilient words, they are groovy ones and sway everywhere with the breeze yet have no core to retreat to.

(Yes, I’m enjoying a chance to constantly use the word groovy) 

I have generally been convinced of the power of language to shape thoughts and actions, following this line, weak (non-resilient) words would lead to weak actions and weak individuals since their internal cores are based on words which do not actually have substance, leading to squishy, non-resilient, cores.

As such, using words that have a clearer definition and helping students define those words and learn hard, real examples of those words would be the first step in creating more resilient people.  Defining those words and then using those words to help students define their values, I think, would be the way to create resilient citizens.  What if education spent some time on that sort of work?  The only down side, that I see, would be a distinct down-tick in grooviness.  I would consider that a fair trade for citizens able to handle uncomfortable situations though.

Play SHED

There is a lot of focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) curriculum in schools.  In some places there is a new tag-on so it is becoming STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art & design, Math) instead as a disappointing attempt at bringing in innovation through arts.

First thing, I tend to have a habit of wondering, when so much money is being thrown at a problem, why does it seem like it still is not working?  An example of this is all of the money being thrown at STEM/STEAM curriculum, trying to show people how important it is for the future, etc. etc. etc.  All this time, effort and money thrown at a problem yet, there does not seem to be much headway; that tells me, it is time to reconsider.

People and organizations that promote STEM programming/curriculum always want to say that “no, but it is fun!” to kids and then make attempts to teach the STEM ideas through “fun projects” or something.  So, it seems that the STEM idea comes first and then is somehow worked into something fun.  What would happen if the fun part was first but, it built up and into STEM ideas?  Meaning, what if we cut the end-goal out and let the student(s) play first?  Looking into this idea I stumbled into the idea of “loose parts,” a short description is here.  Really, the inherent basis of science is curiosity I am pretty sure that is agreed upon.  Then, the basic elementary level teaching of the scientific method is to create a hypothesis and then test it, if I remember correctly: basically, problem solving.

Now, think back, which problems were actually worth solving for you as an individual?  Those which someone already had an answer to or the ones that no one really seemed to know and that had all paths open to you for solving?  I can say that I personally like the problems with no known answers and many options and it appears that the children I work with prefer their own problems and their own solutions instead of a problem I create and know the solution to.  When I attempt to do something like that, I usually get “I don’t know, can you show me?” from the children.  So, instead of providing the exact path to get STEM thinking in children, what if we started to let them have those loose parts and go where they wanted?

Continuing on the “loose parts.”  The Arts part of STEAM has been brought in to help promote some more creativity within the curriculum.  As mentioned in the article, loose parts promotes creativity in a material sense by their nature.  Another aspect of education that is becoming a problem is reading comprehension within schools by my understanding.  What if we started sharing “loose parts” with children in a reading sense?

These “loose parts” are actually inherently human to all of us: stories.  What if we started telling stories again?  I call them loose parts because, in telling a story, especially a story of a legend/myth style, children can pick up the parts of the story and imagine themselves as those characters in the story; they are loose, open-ended characters for them to assume and build a world with their friends with just the bits and pieces that were shared, they remember and find important from the stories they have heard.

Stories, in being told, do not have the visual aspect; that lack of visual is the primary opening for visualization.  Somebody can describe something as much as they want to but, due to the nature of communication, the mental image that a listener gets will be slightly different from all of the other listeners.  Those different images, when a child begins to try to turn them into a reality with their material loose parts, will lead to different things and creative solutions to the problem of different viewpoints.

Stories help do another thing too.  Stories help children create heroes, idealizations of an individual and how to act.  Having heroes probably leads to the children wanting to know more about them which can be the gateway to helping inspire them to read on their own, then they do not have to wait for the story to be told, they can read all they want about their hero whenever they want.  The idealizations of how to act can begin to lead to critical thinking and questioning how to be a good person, I doubt anyone has a problem with that.  So, with these sorts of thoughts I came up with a new acronym for curriculum: SHED.

Science, Humanities, Engineering and Design.  The whole thing is Play SHED.  Play first in order to have scientific thinking (problem solving with loose parts), the importance of humanities (story-telling), engineering (building with loose parts), design (art, creating something from a mental image).  Just an idea to consider.

Considering Management

What if management is simply taking the unconscious aspects of an organization, or group making them conscious and then actively making the changes required to improve those aspects?  Sort of like life in general.

Trying to view management through this framework does a few very useful things.  The first being everyone can step back from leader worship.  Not everyone is a leader, not everyone can be a leader and not everyone will be a leader; quit trying to make it otherwise.  But, everyone can begin to learn to identify unconscious actions in themselves and each other then try to change those actions.

A manager would simply be someone who has become adept at identifying those unconscious actions and thoughts in individuals and an organization, bringing them into conscious levels and working on changing them if required.  Work cultures become what they are due to the people in them and how the relationships between those people form, grow and change.  A manager works to consciously create a work culture that is beneficial for the end goal of that organization/group/team.

Next, viewing management from this framework would lead to managers not becoming stagnant.  To become adept at identifying these unconscious habits, one needs to practice and the best place to practice would seem to be on oneself, constantly.  A framework of this sort has self-improvement built into itself without needing to specify.  A manager taking this sort of framework as their way of management would be a dynamic individual that is constantly growing meaning that they will probably constantly be finding new habits in the organization to identify and tinker with meaning the organization will also be continually growing.

Finally, taking on this framework means a manager can explain some of their practices to those they are managing.  When a manager requires some sort of meeting or training, under a framework of identifying unconscious habits, a manager has the potential to explain to an employee why they are being put through the training that seems to be ‘common sense’ or not useful. The manager has the potential to say to the employee that they had identified habit x within the team which seemed to be hindering the team so, this training was scheduled to bring this habit into the open for the team so that they can identify it and agree to a way to change it.

This sort of framework seems to be a lot like a sports training coach.  The coach gets the team together and starts working on training some aspects of the sport until they become unconscious habits.  He also watches the team and identifies current unconscious habits of team members or the team overall which are detrimental to the team during a game.  Then, the coach creates a new, beneficial habit to replace the old one and trains it into the team until it becomes unconscious again.

The most beneficial aspect of this framework, for me, is the ability to explain the reasons for something in a way that makes sense.  Having to go through different “trainings” for some of the things I have done has always ended up being frustrating.  There appears to be no rhyme or reason to the trainings and they do not tend to be beneficial due to their one-size-fits-all style and lack of context.  A management framework as I am describing will cut out the one-size-fits-all trainings and would actually be able to provide context for the trainings in the form of, “I, as the manager, have noted x habit within the organization/team.  This habit is not helpful to the team because of a, b, c reasons.  So, as a team/organization, we are going to examine this habit, consider it and agree to a way to change the habit into something helpful to the team/organization.”  Finally, an answer to “Why do we have to do this?” as I am sure many people get tired of hearing from employees.

Striking A Balance

This weekend I was in Seattle with a dear friend and we were discussing our life situations and that basically, neither one of us is entirely content with our respective situations.  There were various aspects that we discussed but one that we touched one that I am interested in is a balance of “input” vs. “output” as we phrased it.

I will skip the details of how we got to the discussion but, want to expand upon it some.  By input we were generally referencing the fact that, in our current situations, we read, a lot.  I personally have about 5 different books going right now and my friend probably has something similar.  We both take in a lot of information constantly in an effort to escape probably and to simply be learning in ways we do not get to do regularly during the week.  We end up with a problem though.

Namely, that problem is that we get lost in simply receiving information.  We get stuck in our own heads.  That ends up making us feel worse, possibly simply accepting the situation we are in without trying to affect change in it.

Then there are the “outputs” which, in essence, are creative activities which help us to end up with something at the end.  Mine is writing specifically, my friend is interested in writing more but does not do it as much.  Other things would be such as some other endeavors I want to pursue but have not yet along with goals for more physical pursuits of fitness etc. that we are both pursuing.

Another example would be the fact that both of us spent probably an hour in a book store trying to solve some of those puzzles that one can get as brain teasers the towers of Hanoi ring puzzle type.  Although these puzzles do end up leading to a “solution” I would argue that they are very poor outputs since they are not “creative” in the sense of being something original created by the person performing the puzzle.

One thing that both of us have fallen into though is being out of balance in these inputs and outputs.  We have a lot of input, insofar as we are constantly trying to find things to learn and be stimulated in somewhat fulfilling ways.  But, we do not have much in the form of friend networks or creative pursuits to have the outputs side.  As such, we end up not having a balance of learning and creating which leaves us feeling less empowered to make changes that we need to do for having more fulfilling lives.

Expanding on this idea: think about all of the entertainment we have now in the form of internet and TV specifically; what if part of our general discomfort comes from being out of balance in a similar way.  We end up watching a lot of TV, a lot of videos, reading a lot of articles but not everyone creates things after that.  What would happen if more individuals ended up creating more to balance out all of the things they are receiving from external sources?  Would it lead to more empowerment to engage with various parts of life?

Students Helping Students

There seems to be a proliferation of getting college students to help teach students how to “get into” or “succeed in” college.  Stop and really think about that: a college student must teach someone how to get through college, how to “get into” college.  Is that really, truly the sort of education we want as a society?  Once in which those “inside” have to show the secret tips and tricks to get into it?

That sort of a situation certainly makes me wonder whether universities really are places of learning any more.  If they were a place of actual learning for those with true abilities should they not be more transparent and more open to those who actually have the capacity to handle university academics? Or, if colleges are already spread so thin as to not be able to support those students who do need it, should they have so many students?  What would happen if universities simply quit taking in so many students or students quit applying to universities and went into other career streams?

Next, how is someone supposed to gain that “experience” when they are too busy trying to tutor other students so that they succeed too?  If a student is doing full time classes and doing tutoring in order to either, make a bit of extra money or hoping that they can somehow use that experience in the future, that time takes away the option of internships and other work options that may actually be useful in accruing the 50+ years of experience required for entry-level positions.

All of these prior questions end up leading to the questions: why is it that so many tutors are needed and why is it such a profitable business?  It makes me stop and begin to re-think university.

Trying to Be Masculine

Currently, our society does not help raise men, it raises boys and lets the rest happen to chance.

This is because, I think, as old paradigms of masculinity were taken apart to make room for female empowerment, nothing was put back together to take their place.  Essentially, a vacuum of masculinity was left.  Yet, there has not been nearly as much effort put into filling that gap in society as has been simply letting boys remain boys.  There was no level of expectation to meet anymore and we, as a society, need to bring that back for males.

One way to do that, which appeals to me, is to bring back the concept of honor.  What if we could actually be ashamed of ourselves for our actions instead of simply being able to brush it off as “natural” or “I couldn’t control myself”? How would that change things if one could be shamed for failing at getting to a certain level of character?

“Стыд и позор” was a phrase used by my Russian teacher at times if we did poorly in class (not in making mistakes but in not trying to be better); it means “shame and disgrace.” At the time, honestly, those words meant nothing to me.  Not because they were in Russian but, because I never had learned what pride and grace were.  It meant that I could not understand the opposites of shame and disgrace either.

Why in the world would we want to bring something so archaic like honor back though?  Well, for one, rebuilding a masculine ideal to be achieved would greatly help self-esteem of boys and men; having an ideal which can be aimed at, some sort of goal, especially an ideal which knows how/when to ask for help.  Think of how many male suicides that may help to prevent.

Next, having a sense of honor for males that requires proper participation in society, has high expectations for how to act and has certain expectations that are beneficial to society (performing acts of service, for example) could potentially help to improve our community life.

Finally, one of the most interesting things that I have noticed is that some of the most empowered and strong women I have met find some of the most traditional male traits attractive: assertiveness being the one I note mostly (due to my lack thereof).  But also, a certain level of fitness, confidence, goal orientation etc.  They do not seem to find any problem with having their own goals and having a slightly more typical “masculine” partner, why do we not try to raise men of that sort?  Those that also support equality but also can be confident in themselves too?

 

 

Teaching To Excellence

I had been thinking about such a topic before but, conveniently, there is an article tapping into a similar idea (at points) here.

Ignore the gender gap bit, that is a different conversation.  Instead, focus on this paragraph:

SMPY and numerous other studies have provided large-sample evidence that appropriate acceleration benefits the vast majority of gifted children. In a comparison of grade-skipping students with a control group of equally smart students who stayed with their age groups, the grade-skippers were more than twice as likely to earn a Ph.D. in science, math, or engineering, and had more patents and publications at mid-career. Even modest interventions, such as access to Advanced Placement courses or self-paced instruction, give students demonstrable advantages that continue through college and into the workplace. Conversely, exceptionally gifted students who remain with their age peers typically underachieve and experience negative effects on motivation, self-esteem, and anxiety.

“…exceptionally gifted students who remain with their age peers typically underachieve and experience negative effects on motivation, self-esteem, and anxiety.” Yet, we continue to make these gifted students sit in these classes that they can sleep through and still pass with flying colors.  Meaning that they lose motivation and disengage while waiting for those who are not as gifted to come along.

What sort of situation does this put the teachers in too?  How does one teach to a class of 20-30 students of a similar age group but with say, a 5 year difference in abilities?  They can either spend time on the higher end and keep going or, in order to make sure standardized test scores are met, spend all of their time on the lower end while receiving pressure from those doing better.  I had to do this for a single sort of project with only 7 students and I was stressed out by it, doing something like that day in and day out for years sounds impossible.

So, what if we did bring “grade-skipping” back or, started separating classes into different levels by ability and NOT by age solely?  Sure, sounds like we are becoming elitist but, is it really elitist to simply try to make sure everyone can achieve their best at their best level?  Instead of relying on huge amounts of statistics that say “generally, a student at age 10 can do x,” and operating off of that assumption only, what if we started to use the “local data” of the individual student and adjusting accordingly so that they can be taught to the level of excellence that they are capable of handling.

Also, think about how much better every student would be able to do surrounded by peers at their own level and who they can connect with and with a teacher who can devote the time required to help them.  Next, how about the potential of building an “advancement” type of carrot system too into education, instead of moving forward inevitably happening simply due to the passing of time, a reward system of achievement could be built in.  Something like Boy Scouts, only by reaching a certain level do doors open  up which can let the boy do some of the cooler stuff, that may help inspire some students (especially in a much more supportive classroom environment) to reach further than they usually would and achieve more than they seem capable of.

The other side of this would be to not hold those “higher achievers” up so much.  Separating by ability not by physical age would then mean that these higher achievers end up being “average” by the standards they are surrounded in, probably a humbling experience for them and helpful because that means that instead of constantly being held in the limelight and receiving all of the awards those in other groups will not feel so disconnected so, separate from those.  This would also end up working against the culture of “everyone receives a trophy.”

I typically hear complaints about that sort of idea how everyone gets an award for participating instead of actually receiving awards for excellence and capability.  Separating out by abilities can help to limit that and promote healthy competition between competitors who are actually equal.  Those who would always receive recognition would be put into a cohort of similar people and not constantly receive recognition when compared to others of a similar level, while those who would suffer low self-esteem due to no recognition might actually achieve a level of recognition since they are also with a group similar to themselves and be able to outshine them in some aspect.  But, since they are being compared to a similar group those peers can feel like they might make it some day too because they identify with the recognized individual.

In short, what if we taught to the highest abilities of all students instead of only the lowest common denominator?  Teaching towards excellence for everyone with high expectations at their level instead of teaching towards everyone getting above a minimum hurdle.  Set the bar high enough to be met but outside of comfort zone, I bet all students would start doing better.