Archive for the 'Teaching' Category

You can’t boss me…

“[T]he latest research shows that terminally ill patients who seek aid in dying aren’t primarily concerned about pain. Those who have actually used these laws have been far more concerned about controlling the way they exit the world than about controlling pain… “It’s almost never about pain,” said Lonny Shavelson, a Berkeley, Calif., physician who specializes in the care of the terminally ill and who began writing prescriptions for lethal doses of medication in June, when California’s law took effect. “It’s about dignity and control.”” – Washington Post

The Washington Post article reminded me of a conversation I had with an elderly woman about the dissatisfaction she felt with her diminished life in a long-term care facility. She knew she would be happy, she said, if she could only have an apartment of her own.

I pointed out her children’s concerns about her safety, and she said she would rather die sooner living in an apartment than live longer in her current residence.

Most of us crave autonomy and respect, and we can tolerate many difficulties when those qualities are present.

We want to feel in control of our lives, to make decisions large and small whose sum total makes up the substance of our days.

I have worked at jobs where all the important decisions were made for me. My circle of influence was very small, and I often found myself feeling frustrated and unhappy.

A child says, “You are not my boss.” A dissatisfied worker says, “Trust my ability to make more decisions about my work.” An elderly woman says, “I would rather die than not be able to do the simple tasks of life that give me purpose and responsibility.”

The desire for self-determination is deeply embedded in the human psyche. People have been willing to give up their lives on its behalf.

What are the implications for leaders and parents of this universal desire for self-determination?

It means that we do everything in our power to give others as much decision-making authority and responsibility as possible and provide the learning and other supports required to enable success.

Do you agree: Is the desire for self-determination universal, and what can we do to meaningfully support individuals of all ages in its realization?

“Your children are watching”

Dennis

“Your children are watching” is a parental truism worthy of frequent repetition.

Of course children are always observing and learning from adults, including those who are not their parents.

Perhaps that’s why there has been so much discussion in recent weeks about how parents can educate their children about the value of civil conversations regarding important civic matters in an environment made toxic by Donald Trump.

One problem, among many, of such destructive public figures is that their attitudes, language, and behavior can infect a society.

Children are particularly vulnerable because the vast majority of their learning is through observation, imitation, and experimentation.

All of that means that it is essential that parents, teachers, and other significant adults engage children in just-in-time conversations about what they are observing and learning and offer corrective perspectives and information.

The challenge is to turn the events they see on TV and hear discussed around them into meaningful teachable moments about democracy, the rule of law, and the practice of respectful civic conversations.

The only other option is a generation of young people coming to view recent political events as the new normal.

If that came to be it would be one of Donald Trump’s most destructive and lasting legacies.

When questions are a barrier to inquiry

Dennis

One reason we ask questions is because we want information.

Another reason is to promote deeper exploration of a subject.

Some kinds of questions promote such exploration while others do not.

“Honest, open questions,” to borrow a phrase from Parker Palmer, invite inquiry. For example: “What are some things you might do to solve the problem you are having with your friend?”

Questions that clearly have “right answers” or are really disguised statements often thwart inquiry (“closed, directive questions”). For example: “Don’t you think you should call your friend to find out why he said that?”

Many of us have not had the opportunity to learn how to phrase honest, open questions – that is, questions that cause further inquiry and deepen relationships.

We may ask questions to steer the direction of the conversation rather than to truly seek to understand the views of others or to extend their thinking.

We may ask questions that narrow the focus of thinking rather than expand it.

Closed, directive questions often cause people to feel they are being manipulated, which breeds distrust and cynicism.

In addition, people whose habit it is to ask closed, directive questions often perceive honest, open questions through the lens of manipulation, suspecting ulterior motives and becoming defensive.

Good questions stimulate thinking on the part of both the person who asks and the person who answers. They deepen understanding and open up previously unexplored areas for conversation.

Individuals involved in such conversations feel like they have learned something about themselves, each other, and the subject at hand. In addition, they feel respected and understood.

Examine your questions. Do they promote honest inquiry or directly or indirectly tell people what to think and do?

In your experience, what types of questions deepen inquiry and improve relationships?

What it means to be a skillful teacher

Dennis

While the popular media often portray good teachers as charismatic “sages on the stage,” skillful teaching is a sophisticated cognitive process in an intensely interpersonal environment whose most fundamental activities are less dramatic and often invisible to the casual observer.

Skillful teaching requires:

• designing meaningful lessons that engage and ultimately ensure success for all students;

• developing a highly-nuanced professional judgment informed by both “hard” and “soft” evidence to assess student learning and to determine the most appropriate teaching methods;

• applying emotional intelligence and human relations skills with students, parents, and colleagues in complex and ever-changing circumstances;

• engaging in professional learning and collaboration with colleagues to continuously improve teaching and learning; and

• managing personal energy and time to enable vitality both in school and at home.

What have I missed?

“Don’t smile until Christmas”

Dennis

I remember hearing that advice as a new teacher. The logic behind it was simple—it is easier to loosen up classroom management routines and discipline than to tighten them.

If you didn’t think about it too much it made sense.

But unsmiling teachers give the appearance that they don’t like teaching and don’t even like their students.

And students don’t learn as well from teachers who seem not to like their jobs nor them.

So “Don’t smile until Christmas” is not advice I would want given to a new teacher.

What “truisms” from early in your career turned out not to be so true? And, conversely, what advice were you given that made a positive difference in your work as a teacher or administrator?

The power of storytelling

Dennis

Stories are a wonderful way to teach and to influence people.

That’s particularly true when the stories are drawn from our daily lives and reveal the storyteller’s attentiveness to things that  the rest of us often overlook.

Here’s an excellent example from David Fife, a school administrator in the Thames Valley, Ontario, School Board.

I encourage you to read David’s post because of what he notices in the interaction between an “elder” and a young trainee in a grocery store and the important lesson he extracts (take pride in everything you do) that has implications for both our professional and personal lives.

No place for hatred…

Dennis

Good teachers have always created inclusive classrooms.

Their work is made more difficult, though, by bigoted and demagogic political leaders who speak to this nation’s fears and arouse hatred.

While I have been pleased to see so many politicians from across the political spectrum rebuke Donald Trump for his divisive and hateful views, it may be too little and too late.

Even now Trump continues to be the Republican front runner, and I am deeply concerned about the damage he is likely to do here and abroad before he is done.

In such times the work of good teachers and administrators in building inclusive classrooms and schools is more important than ever.


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