Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Exchange

I’m a great consumer.
I buy with no questions asked. I read a lot,  without discussion about it. I’m easy to please and I accept anything that’s given to me.
I’m a natural consumer but not so comfortable with interaction or exchange. My anxiety heightens when I’m asked to simply state my name in front of others, let alone having to share thoughts or ideas.
Problem is, consuming can only take me so far. There is much beyond the ceiling of consuming.
I’m learning to not just consume or just create but to exchange. Here is where the power is.

The exchange offers a deepness and richness that fulfills.
I want to do this well.
I’m far from it.

I’ve felt satisfaction and inspiration from a productive exchange with others.
These exchanges could cover any realm: emotion, information, beliefs, etc.
The human being is intrinsically rewarded for sharing and receiving.
If I only share, I’m left with self-doubt. If I only receive, emptiness lingers. This doesn’t go for giving or getting gifts, I’m purely talking about interacting and learning with others.  
The joy of learning is found in the EXCHANGE!
Fulfilled and empowered individuals contribute to the learning and development of the community. The broader the community, the fuller the empowerment.

Obtaining Wisdom

It’s so easy to only consume. Our culture preys on the consumer. “Netflix Binge!” It sounded like a wonderful idea while I repeatedly clicked “play next episode”. Then I woke up the next morning on 3 hours of sleep and realized my over-consumption had descended me into a pit of darkness. “Pit of darkness” may be a bit heavy, but I was far from satisfaction and/or inspiration.
Wisdom requires an experience and a response. Knowledgeable and wise are quite different.    

Where we fail is attempting to drink from the firehose of consumerism. Often consumerism drapes on a prideful and competitive front! I know, I can browse enviously as I scroll through every product on Amazon. I can also make a strong argument to my wife for why I must own every one of those items! In this moment I am realizing Amazon Prime is the devil! (For the record I’m keeping my Prime account - 2 DAY SHIPPING!)

Of course I have many more examples of personal bouts with consumerism. Although I’ll stop because it’s obvious I’ve been transparent enough.

In the Classroom
Today the student says, "Show me the video, lend me the book, hand me the paper, give me the grade."
I'm doing my best to lecture less and give feedback more. I hope to start a conversation and spark an exploration. May we experience together and contribute to the conversation!

"The Exchange" is the only route to rich education.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Have We Developed?

Eating and Teaching Are on the Same Track

I was listening to the book At Home: A Short History of Private Life and something struck me about the human race. Development does not come natural.
A section of the book discusses the history of the kitchen and how our diet and food preparation has changed throughout time. It said something like 95% of our diet today is based on the same 12 main foods that were grown and used in ancient times. How is this? Did the first farmers, hunters, and gatherers have a timeless knack for nutrition? Or did generation after generation just accept Grandma’s recipes, never daring to tamper with them and disgracing the ancestry. I know they didn’t have Kale smoothies in the 1800’s but it seems to me that there were too few George Washington Carvers in the world. Far too few people enact development and progress in their lifetime.
Sadly this trend is not isolated to the facet of food. There are two main reasons I was alarmed by the 12 main foods statistic:
  1. I believe it parallels the history of education.
  2. I realized I’m getting jipped when it comes to food! I love food and to find out I’m basically eating the same lame meals as my great-great ancestors is highly disappointing.
Much better can be offered. Which is exactly how some feel about our children’s education.(To see other connections I've made between food and education read "Does Production Match the Purpose: The Food and Education Industries")

So What’s the Difference Between Progressive and Stagnant?

Recently my mind has been dwelling on what separates the dynamic life from the static. I’m finding the answers in my daily decisions. Why do I choose a Netflix binge over connecting with my wife? Why do I let my son play with my phone instead of playing with me? Why do I choose to wake up and delete Spam emails instead of enriching my life with a morning devotional?
Reading and listening to the whole productivity platform gets old real quick. Still I am fascinated with the “Why” underneath these decisions we all make.  I got to take in a timely message on discernment recently at church. While it’s not a direct quote, an analogy like this was made: If you’re not intentionally paddling against the currents of the culture and discerning, you will not become the person God has equipped you to be (sorry Pastor Tom, you said it much better).
I’ve encountered this battle in my desire to write. I can’t even really call it a desire because I allow so much clutter to get in the way of it. But if you’ve listened to any top writers talk about what it takes to develop your craft, every single one says you have to sit your butt in the chair and write. And write over and over again. The same answer is found as I attempt to move forward in my walk of faith. The ultimate requisite is reading God’s word daily. Yes there are other factors in both these cases but it is the consistent decision to do the thing that matters. If you think being busy is the key, you’ve already been pulled under by the current.
So what are we using to fight the currents of culture? What tools are we using to progress and what essentials are necessary in this development?

Are you being challenged or pushed forward socially and intellectually? I’m actively working through these questions and would love to hear the strategies you utilize.

Peace in your paddling

Thursday, May 26, 2016

3 Signs of Collapse

It’s probably not coincidence that my mind goes to the idea of collapse with only one week left in school. The grasp on the students’ engagement and effort is quickly slipping.
Being aware of this and responding is the best way to prevent collapse. Avoiding reality will surely cause a crumble.
The reality is that we’re actually more vulnerable to collapse when we’re less aware of its possibility. All three of the signs of collapse revolve around awareness.

The Big Short

My wife and I took this movie in recently and I found it to be an historical event we can learn from. The Big Short is a perfect example of a monumental collapse. If you’re unfamiliar, it basically dramatizes four guys that boldly predicted the housing market collapse in 2008. The rest of the population developed the perception that the system was flawless, to the point where the banking business became blind to reality. The few outliers were regarded as crazy and ostracized for betting against the housing market. Now it’s obvious they were right, but why were these few so unbelievable at the time?

It’s not as boring as I make it sound. Click here for a better description and details of the film.

The nature of collapse is fascinating because it’s sudden with seemingly no warning. So is a collapse lurking in any facet of my life? Is the unpredictable knockout blow coming?

These outliers that were able to predict our economy’s crumble looked at the nature of the institution and noticed the market became something far different and disingenuous. What’s foundational about what you do? Are you remaining true to that foundation?

Yes it’s a scary thing to consider but maybe the most preventable act is simply consideration of the possibility. Collapse is devastating and it can impact our dearest relationship, a career (no matter the job field), and our personal well being.
As usual I’ll relate this concept to education but I think it’s applicable to any situation.

3 Signs of Collapse


Well that is vague. In The Big Short showed that in 2007 and 2008 the bankers didn’t even know what they were investing in. I’m worried the education system is growing ignorant, becoming indoctrinated by the statistics of formal assessments, forgetting the humans that our work revolves around. It’s been said that “public perception is reality.” I’ve heard this phrase used in response to testing scores and school district report cards. Basically supporting testing because these scores affect the community’s perception of the school. This is the exact mindset that allows for collapse. Why don’t we communicate clearly and vulnerably to our community the exact vision and implementation of education? Therefore they don’t just see the state’s judgement in flawed statistics.

2. Isolation

Much like ignorance, isolation is a personally chosen Utopian place.
Why don’t we communicate clearly and vulnerably? With technology’s advancements we’re in even greater danger of becoming isolated. The main reason behind the housing collapse was that the bankers became disconnected from their product. In education, we’re becoming disconnected from our product (the students). Sometimes we become so arrogant with our process that we can’t see reality. In isolation we have no accountability. To guard ourselves from isolation is to always be forthcoming with our vision and agenda.
It’s too easy for us to sit on our island of ideals; only taking in thoughts and feedback of an approved stance. I’m guilty of saying “Well I’m just going to close my door and teach,” avoiding any circumstance that I can’t control.
Oh, and it also requires the skill of listening. Listening to critique is tough, but monumentally important to avoiding collapse. The wisest are the ones that listen and consider.

3. Complacency

“Good enough.” It works and flows without hiccup. It’s become easy. Easy can be good, but that is not a reason to assume the process is being done correctly. Complacency is a clear signal that collapse is quickly arriving.
If nothing has been checked or changed in a while you’re being complacent and you’re avoiding confronting a potential defect. In my teaching practice my units and lesson plans from year to year have about a 50% turnover rate. It’s not that half of my instruction sucks (at least I hope not). It’s more that those 50% of the lessons had room for improvement or weren’t resonating with the current student. I’m constantly adjusting and changing things that don’t work. If you’re having success, find ways to creatively build on that momentum.
But, at the same time, I’m often too quick to drop the thing that doesn’t work. I find this to be a common struggle for the creative. They don’t feel their work is getting the response it should, therefore they drop it.
“If you think of this world as a place simply intended for our happiness, you find it quite intolerable: think of it as a place for training and correction and it's not so bad.” Since hearing this perspective from C.S. Lewis I’ve begun to see life’s circumstances as opportunities for improvement.

Avoiding Collapse

As an optimist I’m naturally susceptible to these three signs of collapse. Honestly, we all are. We must hold on to our vision and beliefs while processing reality. I find where my ideals and reality meet and act according to that intersection.

Peace in the process

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Becoming a Noticer: Seeing the droplets in a flooded world

The Advantages of Being a Noticer

Those that dwell on the actions and patterns around them can easily find purpose and meaning for their life in this world. When I take the time to consider the uniqueness of a particular instant, I find it so easy to fall into a posture of gratitude and service. It becomes so much easier to practice generosity when I notice the world doesn’t revolve around me.

How to Become a Noticer

See the Details
A Noticer doesn’t just keep up with the latest news, or know who won the game last night. The Noticer digs deeper analyzing and making connections. It’s easy for a teacher to see little Timmy didn’t do his homework. It takes a Noticer to consider the possibilities and connect the dots.
I have obstacles to overcome in this category. I have a habit of glossing over the fine details and nuances of the situation. In fact I don’t even come close to observing the intricacies. There’s been times when my wife has spent a full day transforming our house from an embarrassing state to remarkably presentable. I usually come home with a courteous response like, “Have you seen my good jeans? I’m pretty sure they were sitting out with my stack of clothes.”
So much for the posture of gratitude and service. 

Be A Listener
Another requirement keeping me from being a Noticer is being an active listener! Naturally I blame this on my male makeup. (Another lesson for the aspiring Noticer, Don’t Make Excuses!) I honestly don’t know how women can listen, process and respond so efficiently. I obviously have much to learn. Baby steps.
This is why i write, it gives me opportunity to be an active listener, a delayed active listener. My wife would probably just say, “A delayed listener.” I write to hear; I write to process.

Be Selective
There’s far too many details to see and voices to hear. So decide where you need to put your focus. Seek out the credible sources on this topic and listen. See how the details of this topic play out in the intricacies of your life. Lately for me it’s been about Noticing the nature of creativity.
So currently on my nightstand are:
I’m currently listening to podcasts by Jeff Goins and Tim Ferriss.
This is just my selection for my personal life, I go through the same process in my profession. Trying to become a better teacher in one specific area at a time.

Being a Noticer is not only for teachers, it’s for anyone attempting to sift and discern through the current world.
The more I notice about education and faith, the more I realize humility is at the center. Here again it’s hidden under service and gratitude. To become a Noticer, one must first turn his eyes away from Self. The hard part is keeping it that way.

While I’m not a practicing expert as a Noticer, I’m hoping to offer some truth through my faults.

Peace in the listening

Saturday, February 27, 2016

"Great Job" and Other Phrases Crippling Our Kids

I realize I have a horrendous habit of giving empty feedback to others. You might say I’m the big bright “Great Job!” sticker on the top of the test. I’ll give you a brief pick-me-up but am useless in terms of growth.
I often play riveting games of chance with my son. Games like Candyland and Trouble. He’ll roll a six and I’m always there with an “Awesome job buddy!” At least I used to be. No longer am I offering praise based on acts of luck, even when his needy eyes fall on me, seeking approval. I’ve taken the same stance as a teacher. I do my best to avoid an isolated “Great job” or “You’re awesome!”

People successful in relationship also succeed as encouragers. But it seems today we have a misconception of encouragement. We often compliment, thinking we’re offering encouragement. For example, the symbol of today’s society is the participation trophy.

We’re taught to “encourage one another and build each other up,” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). Some translations of this same verse use the word edify which means to instruct or benefit. How did our acts of encouragement and building get confused with complimenting? Now we’ve opened up the runway for Entitlement to make its landing. Unfortunately Entitlement’s luggage, filled with perseverance and grit, has been lost somewhere on the other side of the world.  

“Great Job!”
The worst thing you could can say to a growing mind.
“Great Job!”
Two words said repeatedly as everyone receives a trophy for participation.
Giving someone undeserved recognition is a damaging act.

The receiver of this message is left to draw their own conclusions.
    “Man I’m awesome!”
    “Wow, people like me.”
    “Life’s all about luck, and boy do I have it today.”
    “I’ve arrived!”
Ephesians 4:29 says, ”Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”
The phrase “Great job” does not benefit the receiver of these words unless it is followed by an affirmation, specific to the task. Like: Great job trying repeatedly until you figured it out. Great job using your resources to help you problem solve.
Said in isolation, any compliment is not helpful for building others up according to their needs. When I think of building I think of constructing something on a strong foundation. “Great job” lacks any foundation.

Much research on education points to feedback as being one of the most influential factors of student learning. This aligns with Proverbs 18:21, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.”

May our words benefit those around us as we provide affirmation specific to their trials and accomplishments!

If you're looking for more examples of my faulty responses to students, check out "Responding to Distractions: Shhh, Not Now!"

Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Problem with "Old School"

In her reflections on faith and art Madeleine L’Engle wrote, “It has often struck me with awe that some of the most deeply religious people I know have been, on the surface, atheists.” In the same way the traditional vision for education is its biggest enemy.

The “Deeply Religious”

It’s easy for traditions to turn into a checklist of rules to follow. The biblical example of this being the Pharisees who were caught up in their teaching of irrelevant laws. These laws were initially aligned under God but when Jesus came and made it a direct relational game for all who believe, the Pharisees were too hardened to move off their teachings.
Jesus repeatedly declares them “hypocrites” and “blind guides”.
Some excerpts from Jesus’ rant against the teachers of the law and Pharisees (Matthew 23):
“You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.”

The Education Traditionalist

background photo credit: Charlie Stinchcomb flickr
I think I notice this same disconnect with individuals that have climbed to the top of academia without ever truly learning or teaching. In this case education is the process of achieving a rank. Does a degree necessarily equal automatic qualification? Success in life should never be associated with one’s worldly appointed status.

I do believe schooling can powerfully develop and grow an individual as long as it is paired with relationships along the way. Unfortunately it is easy to pound through classes and degrees in isolation. The academic structure is setup to promote a single aspect of intelligence, limiting the product of our education.

The Pharisees along with the “standardized” educator are good people with good intentions as they strictly follow an outdated and irrelevant set of practices. A belief depositing them in a land of judgement and control.

Guiding the students without controlling them is a real struggle the teacher faces every minute in the classroom. The same probably goes for leaders and parents.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Calling All Millennials!

Fit to Teach

The millennial generation comes off as the Coolest people! Millennials are all the right things: Both artistic and unconventional, purpose-filled, unselfish, invested in their local community.
Did I mention how cool they are? They make me want to give everything away and live in a solar-powered tiny house.
(FYI: According to wikipedia I missed the millennial generation by just one year, so I consider myself borderline cool.)
I’m such a fan of this group of people because they have the raw make-up of the ideal teacher. A stereotypical millennial is exactly what education needs. She is invested in the local product and desires a connection with her work. She is deterred by the mundane, while engaged with inquiry and creating. This is the mentality that students need from their educators.

The Millennials have stretched the professional world to look beyond traditional qualifications and credentials. There are more ways to learn something than sitting in the classroom and passing the occasional test. I admire this generation’s courage to try new things and learn through inquiry. They admit to not knowing all of the answers. How refreshing! The worst thing we could have is a teacher who knows all the answers. Somewhere along the line we mistakenly took the label of “professional” to mean “a field know-it-all”. We’d be better off to prefer vulnerability and honesty.
(My previous post Regaining Purpose goes into more detail about maintaining a right vision for teaching and learning)

The Master Teacher

Looking at the book Twelve Ordinary Men it’s obvious Jesus was a master teacher to the disciples because he developed each in their unique characteristics. Each was groomed according to the individual. You see each personality come out, although it’s been refined on a personal level.
But those fixed and hardened teachers combat a hopeful future. Their students soon believe that there is only one right answer.

It’s possible I’ve idolized the millennial a tad, but I simply admire the perspective they represent. It shouldn’t be about climbing the ladder, instead commit to your exploration and be grateful for each discovery.

Disclaimer: I understand I have drawn a wide stereotype of the millennial and have not discussed the negative attributes.
I feel they’re entitled to their share of positive publicity.