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Archive for the ‘Prioritizing’ Category

There are so many inspirational people in the world.  TED and TEDx talks are replete with them.

This TEDx was published less than a month ago.  In it we hear Roei Sadan talk about his latest challenge and along the way he shares advice which is not only meaningful but is very moving.

You may have heard of Roei Sadan previously.  He received world wide media coverage as he completed his solo journey cycling around the world.  It took him five years to complete.  In that time he traversed 66,000 kilometers, 42 countries and six continents. An amazing feat.

Six months ago Roei embarked on his next challenge – climbing The Himalayas.  But he slipped and fell over 500 meters.  Roei was very badly wounded, injured in every body part, including his head.

Roei set himself a goal to present at this February 16, 2016 TEDx to share what he calls ‘The Dreamer Toolbox”.  They are four simple tools he used daily when climbing mountains and still uses today.

  1. The Mountain Always Looks Bigger From A Distance
  2. Be Grateful For Challenges
  3. Not Every Dream Needs To Be Fulfilled
  4. Put Your Ego Aside

Take the time to listen to this man sharing his advice.  What he has to share applies to each and everyone of us and provides such valuable lessons for the students in our schools.

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I just read a great article about the impact that technology is reaping on teachers in the Term 1 Edition of TechnologyEd – a great quarterly publication by EducationHQ.

Nodding my head in agreement at virtually everything that was written, I found myself reflecting on my own career – the then and now.

It may come as a surprise to younger teachers to know that the base line in the education sector hasn’t really changed all that much.  Being stressed and overwhelmed by the enormity of the job has always been a part of a career in education. Nothing, really, has ever changed.

Back then, in my early days of teaching, there was always

  • more to be done than could be humanely completed in a day
  • heaps to learn which invariably had to be done ‘on the job’
  • a never ending stream of correction and lesson preparation
  • constant communication demands to have responses ready for
    • students
    • parents
    • work colleagues
    • Heads of Department
    • School Admin

Nothing has changed.  We are still working at an impossible pace.   The same demands as then loom large on a daily basis.

Today though, technology has layered itself across everything we do.  For those not born with a mouse or a device in their hands, we’ve had to become familiar with technology whilst simultaneously using it and figuring out how to incorporate it into our teaching repertoire.   As I see it, there are two major aspects of technology that we need to get a handle on: technology as an adjunct to teaching and learning and technology as an adjunct to communication.

And from whichever way we look at it, technology ratchets up the stress level by more than just a few notches.  Many claim that stress levels today are higher than they were.  Back then the catch word was ‘teacher burnout’.  Today the new jargon is “technostress”.

So what is technostress?

stress or psychosomatic illness caused by working with computer technology on a daily basis (Wikipedia)

a feeling of anxiety or mental pressure from overexposure or involvement with (computer) technology (Dictionary.com)

It’s real and its constant.

There probably are few of us who can’t identify with ‘technostress’.  Knowing how to deal with it can be baffling because it is multi-layered.  Unfortunately there isn’t just one ‘fix’ to make it go away.  Some obvious suggestions spring to mind though:

  1. Designated ‘time out’: Set aside a regular time slot in the day or the week to not use technology.
  2. Self discipline: Make decisions and stick to them!
  3. Establish routines: Create on and off times for using technology.
  4. Set priorities: Weigh up the importance of daily routines and prioritize them.
  5. Restrict response: Set limits on the amount of time spent using technology.
  6. Create quiet time: Find time in a day to just ‘be’.
  7. Separate work and home: Work at work and relax at home.
  8. Do one thing at a time: Be offline when you read, listen to music, cook, eat or play with your child.
  9. Switch your smartphone off: Let replies go to message bank. Turn off the alarm for incoming call.
  10. Technology Sabbath: Yes! One day off a week!  Check out the gains to be had in this Sabbath Manifesto:
Sabbath Manifesto

Sabbath Manifesto

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How would you respond if you were asked the simple question:

What is the most important thing you have learned?

Stop for a second if you like and consider the answer …..

For me, as I’ve said so often on this blog, it has been the process of learning, of constantly expanding my horizons and developing deeper understandings about subjects I never thought were within my grasp.  It is this which has brought me untold joy.

My learning journey over the last four years is something I never expected to happen.   Perhaps, in part, it is this unexpected discovery that has brought me such considerable joy.   But I know, deep down, that it is more than this.  Often, I am overwhelmed by the realization that I am, as I get older, still able to learn, still able to develop new skills and still open to new ways of being.   The feelings of joy and exhilaration that this learning has brought and continues to bring to me is, in short, fantastic!

Being able to share my learning journey along with my joy of learning with others either by blogging or by sharing face-to-face, is a side benefit that brings me a deep sense of satisfaction.

So when I heard Bill Clinton’s response to this simple question which has just been released on a ‘Big Think’ video, I knew I had struck gold!

How much more simply can it be said?

I think the most important thing that I have learned is that there’s more to learn …. that we should all be hungry for a lifetime ….  your brain is a gift … we’re most likely to form new neural networks later in life by learning something new.”

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Yesterday afternoon, while enjoying some relaxing moments with my family, the conversation turned to photography.

While one son passionately talked about his joy of capturing the beauty of nature on his camera lens, the other son stated his new conviction to stop using his super-duper SLR camera to capture the moment and instead just live it!  Stopping to take photos, photos which he said he invariably never looked at again, just wrecked the experience and joy of being, he added.  So, he said, for now he’s done with photography!

The conversation was unexpected but, as it happened, it dovetailed perfectly into thoughts I’ve been mulling over this last week.   The notion of ‘being present in the moment’ or ‘living an experience now’ surfaced in both a newspaper article I read earlier in the week and a TED video which I caught up on just a few days ago.

A very well written article by Bernard Toutounji: Too may smartphone photos, too few memories.  (The Age, October 22, 2013) questions the motive behind our incessant obsession with using smartphones to film experiences had.

The problem with our photographic obsession ….. is that we have become less interested in “living” the moment and more interested in “capturing” it.

Toutounji quotes some mind-boggling stats at the start of his article:

In 2014 it is estimated that 1.5 billion smartphone cameras will take nearly 1 trillion photos – that’s hundreds of thousands of photos every minute (3000 in the time it took to read this sentence).

Three hundred million photos are uploaded to Facebook every day, capturing every poignant, funny, strange, exotic and dull moment, from our latest meal, to the TV show we are watching, to the Ikea furniture we just assembled. Every two minutes mankind collectively takes as many photos as the whole of humanity took in the 1800s.”

Unwittingly, my son’s words, echoed the theme of Toutounji’s article.   Creating memories in our hearts and minds of events experienced and lived are far more powerful than those recorded on our smartphones and cameras.

And what’s with our obsession to constantly share what we are doing, seeing and experiencing with the world?   Status updates are a weird phenomenon.  And why do we constantly feel a need to ‘check in’?  Sharing on social media has certainly reached epic proportions.   Just think about the hours wasted scrolling through the Facebook profiles of friends to ‘catch up’.  Heavens to Betsy – what happened to sitting around chatting face-to-face?!

With all these thoughts fresh in my mind, I was blown away to listen to the erudite Abha Dawesar passionately sharing her thoughts of Life in the “digital now”  Speaking from the heart, Dawesar makes us consider where our digital world is taking us.   Noting that the Internet has shrunk space as well as time, she refers to the “digital now” where there is

….. no distinction left between the past, the present and the future and the here or there.  We are left with this moment, everywhere, this moment that I’ll call the digital now ….

Dawesar echoes Toutounji’s words when she says that

….. the current moment is increasingly unmemorable”

Take just a few minutes to have a listen:

So where do all these thoughts leave me?

The social fabric of our lives has shifted.   Our world is no longer as it used to be.  The temptation to capture moments of our lives and share them via social media is so easy.  While such sharing is not something that gives me a buzz, I have to admit that I regularly flick through my newsfeed to catch up on the latest.   I’ve learned to skip over chunks of the feed though, pause at that which piques my interest and focus on that which is of deeper interest.   I’ve been surprised at the power of social media to get to know people I really don’t know very well.   It’s odd though, isn’t it?   “Knowing” people or “getting to know” people used to be something achieved by face-to-face contact.   That’s certainly changed.  There are many people I have gotten to know quite intimately on Facebook by passively interacting with them on social media.   And by passive, all I’m doing is reading their status updates.   I’m not commenting, I’m not interacting.  I’m just simply sitting at my desk reading their posts and their interactions with others to get a ‘picture’ of who they are, how they think and behave.   It’s odd – no?   Very odd.  Somehow it feels out of kilter.

But coming back to the theme of this post ….. yes ….. I’m passionately aware of the need to enjoy the moment for what it is.  As my husband, my best friend and mentor says: Carpe Diem!  This video clip with Robyn Williams in the “Dead Poet’s Society” movie has become legendary in our family.

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Like others the world over, I too am mourning the loss of a giant amongst men.

Just a few short weeks ago, I blogged about Steve Jobs after seeing his Stanford University Commencement address in March 2008.   His words of advice to the graduating class were clear and simple.   The three points he spoke about were a reflection of his life:

  1. Connecting the dots: ” …..you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.”
  2. Love and loss: “Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith”
  3. Death: “Death is very likely the single best invention of life”

The address is very moving and very profound.  This morning I have seen reference to this video on almost every website I’ve looked at.

Just a couple of weeks ago I was chatting with one of our senior students.  Caught in a phase of being lost and uncertain about life, school work and probably a host of other thoughts he didn’t share with me, I mentioned to him this Commencement address.   About a week later this student sought me out to thank me for sending it to him.   “I’ve watched it over and over,” he said. “Profound!  Thank you so much for sharing this with me….  The words of Steve Jobs have really had an impact on me.”

If you are not one of the more than six million who’ve seen this video, take 15 minutes to sit back and listen.  You’ll feel inspired.

Postscript: October 25, 2011:

Just on two weeks after Steve’s passing, this very moving tribute – A celebration of Steve’s life – was filmed live at the Apple Campus at Cupertino, California.   It has just gone live on YouTube and I include it here as part of my tribute to this amazing person.

 

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Just a few days ago, I saw on Twitter a link to an interesting post:  Ten skills every student should learn.  Based on a survey asking readers to nominate the most important skill that they felt students should learn before finishing school, ten important skills were identified and then listed in no specific order.

But the idea behind this survey set me thinking.

While I agree with some of the skills highlighted in this post, I guess, over time, I’ve developed my own conviction about what students should learn prior to completing their school years, skills which would ensure that they are well rounded citizens of the world.   It goes without saying that my current thinking has been deeply influenced by the recent learning journey on which I’ve been travelling for the last year and a half.

So ….. here are the ten skills that I think every student should learn before they leave our schools.

  1. Reading:  It goes without saying that print literacy is a fundamental, leading skill that students need to learn prior to the end of their school days.  Without the ability to read, students are locked out of opportunities to experience worlds which they may never get to experience in any other way: to be able to traverse different cultures, people and situations via the written word is not only eye-opening, but is educational.  Yet reading studies which highlight the lack of literacy of a large chunk of our country’s population are frightening.   Why and how can we improve this outcome?
  2. Writing: Being able to communicate thoughts in writing is essential.  The ability to write legibly – and yes, I am indeed referring to pen and paper skills otherwise known as handwriting – as well as the ability to type, not the two finger variety, but the touch typing variety, are basic skills to be mastered by todays’ students.  Writing, however, actually entails far more than just the mechanical production of words on paper.   Writing entails being able to communicate ideas in print; mastering sentence structure and inherent grammatical rules.  Reading and writing is in fact the flip side of the same coin.  They feed off each other.   The more one reads, the better one writes.   The more one writes the more one craves to read the words of others.
  3. Thinking: How often in our day to day teaching do we confront our students with the challenge of thinking logically?  Come to think of it – do we?   How many essays or exam questions have you read which make no sense because the framework on which they are based lacks logical presentation based on logical thought.   Learning how to brainstorm and to then set thoughts in a logical order is often left to the ‘English’ teacher.  But doesn’t this skill cut across all areas of the curriculum?
  4. Computer Literacy: There’s an assumption out there that our digital natives know everything there is to know about computers and technology, but do they?  Yes – I too have looked on in awe watching my students and children pick up a remote and discover the menu items that totally eluded me when I had my turn playing.  But, do all students intuitively know the ins and outs of the computer, various essential tools and programs as well as file management?  I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve shown children how and where to save their valued work before closing down the computer.  Learning how to drive a car is not the answer to knowing the basics of getting it moving when something goes wrong.  Knowing how to use a computer does not ensure knowing how to solve basics when things go wrong.   Learning the importance of ‘backing up’ for example shouldn’t be a hard lesson learned when all files are deleted!  Let’s identify basic computer literacy and be sure that not just the tech savvy kids know the answers.
  5. Information Literacy: Being able to fluently use technology is different to knowing how to manipulate the technology to locate information sought.  In other words, using Google as a search engine is common practice.  But understanding and learning how to use Google as a search tool needs to be taught in our schools.  Being able to evaluate hits returned, to weigh up both their relevancy and reliability, require critical thinking skills that also must be taught.   As I mentioned in a previous post on NovaNews, Google can’t replace learning.  Assuming that our Digital Natives know it all, is incorrect.  Just recently the website Boing Boing blogged on this very topic: “Digital Natives” need help understanding search.
  6. Participation:  Educational models of the past were of the ‘I teach ….. You learn’ format.  Being a passive learner vs an active learner speaks for itself.   Learning the theory of driving does not ensure skills are learned and internalized.   This example extends over virtually all that we learn in school and in life.   Actively participating in the learning process ensures that learning occurs.  School curriculum needs to ensure that our students are active partners in the learning game.
  7. Inspiration: Educators need to light the spark within students, to inspire them to want to learn, to create within them an insatiable craving to learn.   If we can’t, who will?  Instilling a thirst for knowledge, a topic I alluded to in a recent post: Passion vs Process, is one of the most powerful gifts that teachers can give their students.
  8. Lifelong learning: Schools must guide students in how to learn.  Students need the scaffolding with which to ensure that well after their school days conclude they will be independent lifelong learners.   Knowing how to define the task at hand, to locate information, to select resources, to organize thoughts and notes, to present their ideas and at the end to evaluate the completed task are skills that teacher librarians have taught and encouraged for years.   A host of resources abound.  The State Library of Victoria’s ‘Ergo’  is just one of the many excellent resources which can be implemented into the school curriculum.
  9. Digital Citizenship: Students today need to be aware of their digital presence, to know how it is created and how they can proactively manage their digital footprint.   They need to be cybersmart digital citizens, equally aware of the dangers and the values of being a digital citizen.   Learning how to present oneself in the cyberworld is equivalent to learning how to present oneself in the real world.  Looking ‘good’ in both worlds is important and defines the citizen we become.
  10. Social Harmony: Learning how to communicate with each other and to respect the values of individuals and communities is perhaps one of the most fundamental lessons to be learned.  Learning how to live in social harmony with others so we can, together, build a better world by working as part of a team to produce and advance our knowledge and our endeavours are the fundamental building blocks we should be giving our students.

Beg to differ with me?   Please use my thoughts as a basis for further discussion!

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I’ve been thinking of late about change and how hard it is to develop new skills, new ways of doing that which we’ve done so comfortably in a set way for many years.   There’s no doubt about it.   It’s hard ….. very hard to get on board with all this new technology, to learn and develop new skills, to adopt new ways of doing what we educators have been doing since time immemorial.

I’ve both read and written heaps about how the shift of education into the 21st Century has and is happening, how school administrations need to create a welcoming environment to enable this change to occur in our schools and how teachers need to embrace this new path if they want to remain relevant in the eyes of their students.

But ….. the one thing I’ve not read too much about is the best path forward for older members of our teaching profession – those skilled, talented and experienced teachers who today find themselves on the slippery slope of trying to maintain their relevancy alongside the digital natives who are steamrolling their way into traditional leadership roles previously held by the more experienced and senior members of our profession.  The competent and confident digital skills presented by their younger colleagues are overwhelming and daunting.  The pace of change in schools and in the entire field of education, powered by ever developing technology and the web, can feel like an obstacle that’s almost insurmountable by our experienced, senior teachers.

Is this evolution forcing our experienced, capable and expert teachers out of the profession?  Is retirement, even if it’s a bit earlier than intended, the best option for this group of educators?   To coin a phrase, are we risking throwing the baby out with the bath water, ignoring the many talents they have, the skills they offer and the wealth of knowledge and experience that they can share with their younger colleagues?  Perhaps school administrators need to sift through the skill base offered by all staff to see how knowledge and know-how can be shared.   It is without a doubt that this process would unveil a profound recognition of the enormous skills and strengths that each of us have to share with each other.

Recognizing the reality that change for this group of educators is hard should be the first step taken to develop a path forward.

The learning environment in which we are schooled moulds our approach to learning.  The teaching and learning methods experienced by older members of our teaching profession was very different to those of today.  Then it was common:

  • to learn by rote
  • to perfect skills by endless repetition
  • to be required to memorize facts
  • to complete exercises that required regurgitation of facts
  • to sit regular tests and exams which bore the distinction of pass or fail

And it was not uncommon for failure to achieve well to be met with ridicule by peers and/or punishment by teachers and parents.  It is without doubt that these childhood experiences impact heavily on older members of our teaching profession.   Being sensitive to these facts must be the basis for developing programs that will encourage change and exploration.

Why bother?   Because this group of educators is as valuable to our profession as are the young digital natives who are increasingly filling the ranks of teachers in our schools.

Conversations had with a range of older members of our profession have led me to realize a commonality of feeling amongst this group.  They feel:

  • threatened by younger colleagues who, by action, demonstrate advanced skills causing older teachers to develop the ‘they know it, we don’t and never will’ syndrome
  • intimidated by new technology resulting in feelings that the technology controls them
  • a sense of failure if they can’t ‘learn’ fast enough or keep up with imagined or real deadlines
  • embarrassed making what in hindsight they consider to be simple and basic mistakes using new technology
  • humiliated asking questions which may display ignorance

Courses and programs which encourage growth and exploration of the many new and wonderful learning tools must incorporate characteristics which allow this group of teachers:

  • to feel safe and comfortable to express concerns and ask questions
  • to not feel intimidated to express lack of knowledge or understanding
  • to traverse small stepping stones which foster success and positive achievement
  • to be given feedback and praise so as to encourage continued exploration and learning
  • opportunities to connect with other like-minded people thus creating their own personal learning network
  • to gain confidence to take risks, explore the new and develop themselves as independent lifelong learners

To design technology programs which accomodate the specific needs set of this group of educators is essential for the benefit of us all in the field of education.

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