Archive for the 'Learning' Category

Ideas that have shaped my life

Every important thing I know I have learned from other people or through conversations in which participants uncovered insights that were previously unknown to any of us.

But I often didn’t know at that time the significance of what I was learning. 

Some of those people I have encountered through books whose ideas affected me both personally and professionally. (Perhaps on another occasion I will recount the “right words at the right time” conversations that had a lasting effect on my life.)

Here are a few that made a lasting impression on me, some reaching back more than 40 years: 

Carl Rogers: Freedom to Learn and On Becoming a Person: Each of us has an impulse to grow and a sense of direction for that growth that has validity and can be trusted, particularly when explored with someone who offers “unconditional positive regard.”

William Glasser: Reality Therapy: Human problems ultimately have their roots in a lack of responsibility. An important goal in life and education is to learn how to behave responsibly. 

Parker Palmer: A Hidden Wholeness: Each of us has an inner self that requires attention and expression if we are to live a life that feels whole and satisfying.

Bruce Joyce and Emily Calhoun: Models of Professional Development: What Joyce and Calhoun offered me in this book and others was the explicit recognition of something I knew intuitively: Changing teaching practice is complicated. Training alone is insufficient to affect practice, or, as I eventually came to think of it, “Training without follow-up is malpractice.”

Thich Nhat Hanh: Peace Is Every Step: An unalterable attribute of life is impermanence, and one of the best ways of acknowledging it is to be fully present in each moment. (A close second in this category is Wherever You Go There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn who offers many practical suggestions for living a more mindful life.)

Peter Senge: The Learning Organization: The behavior of individuals is shaped by powerful and often invisible forces within the systems in which they live and work.

Alain de Botton: The Art of Travel: While, as the title implies, this book is about travel, it offers an approach to life which acknowledges that wherever we go we take our unique histories and emotional selves with us and suggests ways to be fully present in whatever we are doing.

What books (or articles) have had a lasting influence on your thinking and what you do each day?

Multi-generational resilience

Whatever struggle we have gone through remains, at heart, a human struggle. When we see our struggles in the stories of those who have gone before us, we feel less alone. We begin to see that there are sources of wisdom all around us. —Eric Greitens

Over the years I have supported dozens of hospice patients who near the end of their lives told and preserved their life stories for future generations.

These individuals often didn’t see their lives as having any special significance, but agreed to tell their stories at the urging of family members.

Although they never used the the term resilience, they shared stories of overcoming and the sometimes difficult lessons they had learned, stories that inspire and guide as they honor the storytellers and bear witness to their struggles.

“Knowing our history can make us more resilient, especially when we understand our connection to the people who went before us,” Eric Greitens writes in Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life.

“[S]torytelling is not just a way to remember what happened; it’s a way to understand what happened. When you tell a story, you give an event meaning. In storytelling we bring past, present, and future together in a way that helps us to make sense of events and make sense of our lives….,” Greiten adds. “We honor the dead by living their values. Through our efforts, we ensure that the good things they stood for continue to stand even when they are gone. Our actions become a living memorial to their memory.”

To that end, I encourage you at every opportunity to ask elders to tell stories about personal or family resilience.

Listen deeply with empathy, and, when appropriate, encourage reflection on the lessons that might be drawn from the stories.

What life lessons did you learn from your ancestors or elders?

The link between “deep thought” and solitude

Depth of thought matters in classrooms, in meetings for decision making, and in meaningful professional learning.

While depth requires time, a lack of time is not a sufficient excuse. There is always time to do what matters, and depth always trumps superficiality.

Depth requires:

Intentionality;

Habits of mind and behavior that value slowness over speed, focus over multi-tasking, nuanced understanding over superficiality, and problem-solving over complaining;

Protocols that keep participants focused on paying attention to both the accomplishment of tasks and the quality of relationships; and

• Solitude.

Most of all, solitude.

Cal Newport offers 2 “lessons” about solitude:

“Lesson #1: The right way to define “solitude” is as a subjective state in which you’re isolated from input from other minds.

“When we think of solitude, we typically imagine physical isolation (a remote cabin or mountain top), making it a concept that we can easily push aside as romantic and impractical. But as this book makes clear, the real key to solitude is to step away from reacting to the output of other minds: be it listening to a podcast, scanning social media, reading a book, watching TV or holding an actual conversation. It’s time for your mind to be alone with your mind — regardless of what’s going on around you.

“Lesson #2: Regular doses of solitude are crucial for the effective and resilient functioning of your brain.

“Spending time isolated from other minds is what allows you to process and regulate complex emotions. It’s the only time you can refine the principles on which you can build a life of character. It’s what allows you to crack hard problems, and is often necessary for creative insight. If you avoid time alone with your brain your mental life will be much more fragile and much less productive.”

What are the conditions in your personal and professional lives that enable depth of thought?

“Everyone can relate to a story”

“[O]ne of the best ways to relate to somebody is not to lecture them, but to tell them a story….” —Mitch Albom

“The reason that I never fear when they say journalism or print journalism is dead is that the world has always told stories, and it will always have to tell stories. The first thing I would say to leaders of any kind is everyone can relate to a story, and if you learn how to tell a story, whether that is your vision for a company, or just a way to be empathetic toward your customers or a way to just understand the world, if you put it in a storytelling form, as opposed to a didactic, factual PowerPoint presentation, everyone will be able to relate to it.” —Mitch Albom

A village was having a celebration on the banks of a river when someone noticed that a child was being swept past the picnic grounds in a torrent of water. A line of citizens was quickly formed, and the child was pulled to safety.

Moments later someone observed that several more children were being swept past in the river. Again a line was formed, and the children were rescued.

But soon more children filled the fast-moving river, so many in the fact that the villagers no longer had the strength to pull them out.

In their exhaustion a citizen of the village pointed out that aerobic and strength training should be offered in the village hall so that should this happen again they would be stronger and better prepared. Someone else said that a CPR class should also be scheduled.

A final voice was heard with the suggestion that the village should quickly make its way upstream to find out who or what was throwing the children into the river.

This story, which I heard told many years ago, illustrates at least two points:

  • “System problems,” that is problems that have their source in interacting variables larger than the current circumstance, cannot be solved by training alone.
  • The power of a story to make an important point about a complex idea. People tend to “lean into” stories and away from fact-laden lectures.

What is your experience in using stories to make important points?

5 things I know now I wish I had known then

Last fall’s PBS documentary series on the Vietnam War by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick evoked in me, as it did in many others, deeply emotional memories from that era.

Fifty years ago, in January 1968, newspaper headlines and the evening news, the CNN of that era, provided updates on the Tet Offensive in Vietnam.

During the next 6 months, American troop levels in Vietnam were increased, Civil Rights and anti-war demonstrations filled American streets, President Lyndon Johnson announced he would not seek reelection, and Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy were murdered.

It was far more than many of us could absorb yet alone understand.

That spring I received a new draft status, 1A, which meant I was immediately eligible for the draft. Hoping for the best, I signed my first teaching contract in the Detroit suburbs. And in June I graduated from college.

Everything within and around me and in the country and world seemed foggy and frightening.

I could not see more than a few weeks into the future, and I could not have imagined then what it would be like to look back on those 6 months from the perspective of 50 years.

Reflecting on that intense period reminds me that sometimes things work out better than we think they will in our darkest hours. But 50 years of history have also taught me that sometimes for some people they don’t.

While I didn’t go to Vietnam, hundreds of thousands did, often not of their own choosing, and millions of lives were lost and others destroyed in the United States and Southeast Asia.

From the perspective of 50 years, I glean these lessons:

1. Our lives are shaped by powerful forces much larger than ourselves, which means that the life circumstances of any individual cannot simply be reduced to “personal choice.” Bad things do happen to good people through no fault of their own.

2. We can’t control everything, but we can affect many things that really matter, most of which are life-style related. Those factors include, but are not limited to, paying attention to important relationships and having a healthy diet and sufficient physical activity.

3. One of the most important things we can control is our attitude, with gratitude for things both large and small being first among the attitudes that can make a significant difference in the quality of our lives.

4. In the long run experiences we share with family and friends are far more important than things.

5. While life can be lived one day at a time (or hour or minute), there is value in both planning for the future (while holding those plans loosely) and on finding meaning, purpose, and a sense of continuity by reflecting on the past.

What has your life taught you that you wish you had known then?

Have “mindful conversations”

It might not matter what I say, since some American conversations resemble a succession of monologues. A 2014 study led by a psychologist at Yeshiva University found that when researchers crossed two unrelated instant-message conversations, as many as 42 percent of participants didn’t notice. –Pamela Druckerman

Like most of us, I sometimes find myself in “conversations” with people who are far more interested in what they have to say than what’s on my mind.

Likewise, I have participated in too many “conversations” that remain on the surface as they move quickly from topic to topic.

I have also participated in conversations that were deep, meaningful, and, in some cases, life changing for me and others.

Participants leave these conversations with a greater appreciation of and respect for one another, altered views regarding important subjects, and solutions found for what seemed like intractable problems.

In the conversations I prefer participants have an openness to being influenced as well as a desire to influence. Participants listen carefully and seek to better understand themselves as well as each other.

Such conversations are unpredictable because they are likely to take on lives of their own, which makes them the kind of conversations in which resilient people thrive.

Druckerman points to the primary underlying skill required in these conversations:

“A lot of us — myself included — could benefit from a basic rule of improvisational comedy: Instead of planning your next remark, just listen very hard to what the other person is saying. Call it ‘mindful conversation,’ if you like.”

What kind of conversations do you prefer, and how do you create them?

Habits of resilient people

The first step is learning how to do it. Finding and obtaining the insight and the tools and the techniques you need. Understanding how it works. But step two is easily overlooked. Step two is turning it into a habit. Committing to the practice. Showing up and doing it again and again until you’re good at it, and until it’s part of who you are and what you do. —Seth Godin

Learning about something is only the first step.

Understanding an idea or practice deeply requires more of us.

Learning to do something correctly is harder still.

Learning to do it consistently until it becomes a habit is even harder. Such learning is founded on discipline and practice.

Here are a few habits we are likely to see in resilient people:

• Seeking clarity in the midst of confusion regarding purposes, values, goals, and next actions.

• Acting with integrity, particularly in speaking their truth and keeping their promises.

• Accepting responsibility for their actions.

• Taking calculated risks that move them out of their comfort zones.

• Learning from their mistakes.

• Using their strengths.

• Having empathy for the experiences and perspective of others.

What would you add to this list?


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