WOW! AGAIN, WOW!!!

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Are you familiar with Quora – the website and app? It was recommended in a recent discussion that I check it out. Which I did. It’s a site where anyone can submit, read, answer, and rate (upvote, downvote) questions and answers on topics that interest you. I registered, completed my profile, and chose topics that interest me. For example, I checked the civil war among others because of my strong interest in anything dealing with this part of USA history.

So, now I can go to the Quora website / app and find questions associated with my topics of choice – as well as those aligned with my profile. For example, I see questions associated with Lehigh University, Johns Hopkins University, and the University of Connecticut because of my profile. And I get questions (I presume because of my faculty career) dealing with major college period choices and their impact on life and career beyond college.

These questions have really astounded me – to say the least. A few examples: How do I get over lost years (2 years) in college? Why is everything in life a competition? How do I find my real purpose in life? Should I prioritize earning money or getting a education in my early 20s? How do I deal with failure as I have failed in every field of life? Get the drift? To be sure, some of these are likely from individuals seeking to ask that question from hell, the one that didn’t come to mind until they decided “I need a really good question.” But I’m sure that some of them represent true personal concerns. Hence this post’s title – WOW!!!

Some of these honest questions, maybe most, are from people at troubled points in their life. Regardless of whether they should be “there” at this point in their life or not, they are AND they need to get help – including but certainly not exclusively from the Quora answers and comments!

Here’s my real concern: Where were the family, teachers, clergy, and community that should have facilitated the development of skills / responsibilities these people need to at least recognize these questions and concerns? And, if the answer is something similar to “We did our part to help them develop those skills” – my response is “No you didn’t; you need to revisit those efforts and revise how you can really make a difference!!!” Your lack of success and all of our lack of understanding that we need to be more vigilant are the reasons, to me at least, there are so many instances of devaluing one’s value and ability to contribute, leading too often (once is too often) to the suicides or law-breaking behaviors we read and hear about so often. Please note I’m not pointing fingers; I include myself when I say WE can and must do better. Contributing to Quora postings might be a good effort to add.

As an educator, I am a absolute believer that the number one goal of formal education must be the facilitating of all students’ development of at least four skills: Effective Learning, problem identifying / solving, communicating, and working in groups. Absolute, number one… Troubling situations / concerns in anyone’s life is, indeed, a problem to be solved! With these skills, our students and all of us can recognize the existence of the problem at least. And our students and all of us can get any assistance we need to deal with this problem.

As always, thanks for Considering this post. If you have thoughts, feedback is always sought If you believe it has value, I’d appreciate your sharing it with others.

The Learning Mindset

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I have a few “never miss” blog posts. You know, the ones that we subscribe to and look forward to Considering carefully and deeply. One such blog is Blue Cereal Education, written by Dallas Koehn, a colleague that I met via the #OklaEd Twitter chat (Sunday evenings at 9:00 Eastern Time). One of his posts  recently encountered was about Pre-AP classes and their importance. What follows in this blog post are comments that I uploaded to his post. I recommend that particular post and his blog in general to your Consideration. My thoughts / comments:

Once again, you’ve “hit the nail on the head” as the saying goes. I had never encountered ‘Pre-AP’ until this post. Unlike you, I’m not a fan of the College Board, its programs and materials. In fact, I’m most bothered by the scripted approach to the AP classes. I’m bothered that any people would believe they ‘know’ what students should truly understand and be able to use. I’m bothered that they seem to think lesson plan delivery is the way to get there. I’m bothered that they believe a multiple-guess exam is the way to assess the level of learning. BUT I do like the “Blue Cereal Education” thinking on their Pre-AP program –> another opportunity for teachers to hopefully facilitate Effective Learning and Joy of Learning habit development for young students (as I interpret your points at least).

I love most of this post and your knack for expressing your thoughts so well. But this paragraph in particular grabbed me: “I certainly understand how difficult it is to lead a class through an advanced curriculum and facilitate higher level thinking skills when some members of that class lack the knowledge, know-how, or mindset to follow along. Since time immemorial, teachers have been fighting the sand trap of ‘teaching to the middle’ – losing the low, boring the high, dragging half the middle bravely towards adequacy.” For me, the most critical and difficult issue is the students’ mindsets.

I struggle as I expect you and many educators do with the issue of a student’s Effective Learning / Joy of Learning (how to learn, wanting to learn) mindset. Those that have it are the ideal students we like to work with – regardless of lack of knowledge or know-how, issues teachers are expected to facilitate. Those that don’t have it somehow need help to get it… But there is no “Mindset Online Store” we can direct them to in order for them to get it! Sadly, they don’t have it, most likely, because their family / neighborhood culture doesn’t promote it.

So the best ‘answer’ is to somehow to facilitate culture change, sadly something that cannot happen quickly. One thought I’ve expressed often is to promote local dialogue led by LOCAL PEOPLE possessing the mindset – believing that they have the best potential to influence those who don’t possess the mindset. It’s what I refer to as the Spider Plant model. Local believers (spider plants) reach out (send out runners) and change non-believers to believers (starting new spider plants) – and the cycle continues. But, again, this takes time… I don’t know any alternative.

Critical, however, is that teachers from pre-school on MUST also build upon even the smallest glimmer of motivation. The Spider Plant model can and will work within the classroom regardless of level as well.

I’m often asked about the LOCAL PEOPLE I mention. They do exist. It might be the parent, grandparent, or uncle of the child; it might be a member of the clergy, a local business person, a community center staff member, a ‘non-affiliated’ local citizen, an older mindset-bearing student, …. But we read / hear about them frequently. I’ve got to believe they are in ALL local neighborhoods.

Great Blue Cereal blog post and my thoughts on an incredibly difficult but oh so important issue. I and, I expect, Dallas would welcome your thoughts and feedback! Thanks as always for reading our posts.

Entrepreneurial Actuaries

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I read an interesting blog post from Thought Leaders recently. This somewhat long passage from the post really captured my attention: “What do entrepreneurial actuaries do? They learn to be aware of those moments when an opportunity presents itself (the essence of entrepreneurship) and learn how to quickly sort out the risks and rewards of pursuing the opportunity (the function of an actuary). It’s not all about entrepreneurship—you can and should leverage these skills within an established organization. The problem is, we are not typically trained to do this. Our education system works best when students pay attention and avoid distractions. Focus on the work in front of you and accept the solution you’re offered. How many times were you encouraged to think of a problem in a different light or to develop your own solution in school? Probably not often.” The phrase, entrepreneurial actuary, in particular was both new and intriguing to me. In doing a search, I found that this actuarial activity is far from new, for most everyone but me that is.  ‘Quickly sorting out the risks and rewards’ makes all the sense in the world when an opportunity is identified. [Aside: It seems that the Society of Actuaries has recently recognized that intrapreneurial actuaries, working within organizations, are important contributors to success as well. As a result, the Entrepreneurial Actuary Section has been renamed the Innovation and Actuary Section. The inclusion of innovation to me perfectly captures the entrepreneurial / intrapreneurial activity.]

Here’s the part of this extended quote that I’ve been Considering extensively: The problem is, we are not typically trained to do this. Our education system works best when students pay attention and avoid distractions. Focus on the work in front of you and accept the solution you’re offered. First and foremost, I object to the use of ‘trained’ in it. Training anyone presumes that (1) you have the full understanding and skills to be able to transfer to others; and (2) that you can in fact transfer those skills and understanding to another one well enough for that person to be useful. I would submit that neither is true. The second sentence says ‘our education’ emphasizes paying attention, avoiding distractions, working on efforts presented, and accepting solutions given. Certainly, this will never lead graduates to value efforts entrepreneurial actuaries bring.

Note in the last part of the quote, consistent with the author’s description of education presently, it is suggested that today’s students are rarely ‘encouraged to think of a problem in a different light or to develop your own solution in school.’ For sure that’s a fairly safe assumption.

I have made clear in my writings and my conversations (for example, my recent blog post) that Effective Learning including developing the skills necessary to do the same must become the broadly used model in schools. That model involves the important creative problem solving. It must expand beyond the excellent but small pockets of useful / valuable education happening today. I would submit use of this model would include at least rudimentary entrepreneurial actuarial considerations. Most likely these students will begin their careers fully appreciative of such assistance.

In the the very near future, I will begin a series of blogs dealing with my beliefs regarding Effective Learning. Yes, that phrase is one others might not use regularly, certainly not capitalize. But the blogs will link to published relevant study outcomes, ones that I believe lend credibility to my notion of Effective Learning. I hope you’ll Consider them when available.

Success – in Athletics and in Learning

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As I seek to do frequently, I have been revisiting my notes on articles / posts I’ve found, ones that for me somehow seem connected or aligned with my beliefs on Effective Learning. (I firmly believe good input for addressing any situation can come from any source – including ones that seem totally unconnected.) This blog post is the result of my further Considerations of one article’s content and my belief that there are strong alignments between good athletic coaching / winning programs and good learning facilitation / effective student learning.

From an article by Carl Adamec titled “WINNING FORMULA” in the Manchester Journal Inquirer of Thursday, November 12, 2015:

“So many times teams that put the focus on ‘Refuse to lose’ would be better off putting it on ‘Desire to win,’ ” UCONN coach Geno Auriemma said. “No one wants to lose. Who goes into a game saying it’s OK to lose? Nobody. But not everybody goes in with the will to win.

“Some have a greater will to win. To do that, you can’t be afraid to lose. Sometimes teams are their own worst enemies. Coaches are their own worst enemies. At Connecticut, we don’t talk about losing. We know that losing is part of the game. Any time they keep score, you might lose. If it happens, it happens. You focus on, ‘What do we have to do to be successful?’ It works for us.”

[Aside: For those of you who don’t follow NCAA Women’s Basketball, Geno Auriemma is the head coach of the University of Connecticut Women’s Basketball program. They have won eleven national championships since 1995. But, in the most recent NCAA tournament in April, 2017, UCONN did indeed lose to Mississippi State.]

Let’s take the above athletic-connected excerpt from the Journal Inquirer and change or add just a few words:

“So many times schools and teachers (coaches of learning) that put the focus on ‘work to make no mistakes’ would be better off putting it on ‘Desire to learn,’ ” UCONN coach Geno Auriemma said. “No one wants to make mistakes. Who goes into a situation saying it’s OK to make mistakes? Nobody. But not everybody goes in with the will to learn and get the best outcome.

“Some have a greater will to learn and get the best outcome. To do that, you can’t be afraid to make mistakes. Sometimes teams of learners are their own worst enemies. Teachers are their own worst enemies. At Connecticut, we don’t talk about making mistakes. We know that making mistakes is part of the learning / doing process. Any time they work on learning, you might make mistakes. If it happens, it happens. You focus on, ‘What do we have to do to learn from our mistakes and be successful?’ It works for us.”

Two thoughts: First, Coach Auriemma could talk about his team and his coaching style using the alternate version I concocted and his players might wonder about the lack of basketball terminology; but they would understand the message I think. Second, I believe this alternate version should be one of the goals of all schools and teachers working with their students: take risks, learn from your mistakes, don’t focus on not making mistakes, and you’ll have greater success.

Getting to THEIR Optimum Vision

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Are you a follower of the posts of Jesse Lyn Stoner? She is a business advisor and coach – as well as a bestselling author. I am a very dedicated follower. Her business leadership posts are quite often easily (and importantly) adapted to education; and her posts and quotations (such as the one in the featured image) are very aligned with my values and those of many others.

When I encountered this image on Twitter, I was, as usual, very much in agreement with its message. In fact, I added a comment: “Even worse are the people who don’t discuss issues with ANYONE… They simply select someone’s points of view as theirs!!!”

The title of my blog, “Considerations,” relates to my strongly held beliefs. It is our responsibility to ourselves, our country, and to humankind that we gather a broad body of information believed relevant to a topic of current importance. Subsequently, we must understand, assess for relevance, and organize into a Vision associated with the topic. ‘Vision’ is my term for the interrelationships/ linkages on the topic that enable us to deal appropriately and usefully with situations associated with the topic. ‘Appropriately and usefully’ is an extremely key phrase… One important use of our vision is discussions on the topic with others. While habitual dedication to ‘Considering’ will help us become better with the process, it would be frightening (to me at least) to allow ourselves to believe that personal vision is totally, automatically useful. (It’s no more automatically useful than the visions or points of view of anyone else.) Consistent with the quotation in the featured image above, discussions with a diverse group of people will indeed provide their assessment of and feedback to your vision and introduction to their vision – both improving the visions AND thus the outcomes for situations appropriate for application of those visions.

So how do people develop the skills of Consideration leading to these visions? For sure, each of us can and likely will self-develop the skills if we in fact seek to make a difference; we will self-assess our efforts during and after the application to identify and subsequently refine those skills. And, yes, our parents and family are hopefully successful in their efforts; and if so, they are likely to provide feedback and encouragement to us to refine our skills – starting at a young age.

It is my firm belief that formal education’s most important task is to facilitate the development of those skills. The four skills most critical, I believe, are Effective Learning, problem solving, communicating, and working in groups. Effective Learning deals with the gathering, understanding, and organizing information for use in developing a vision. [Aside: This Effective Learning will also prepare students for in-school assessment including the useless (IMHO) Standardized tests.]

Problem solving starts with recognition of a problem, continues with determination of the true objective, includes the building of aligned visions, obviously involves application of those visions to develop outcomes useful to addressing the objective, and ends with reflection on and documentation of outcomes and efforts made. Application of problem solving enhances both Effective Learning and formal School assessment by the way.

Communicating is important to our improved vision building as noted earlier; it is also obviously the route to our sharing of our efforts with others. I often remarked to my students that “It would be sad if our Nobel-prize efforts never were seen by others.” Of course, the likelihood of ‘Nobel-prize efforts’ are slim. But hopefully our efforts are valuable / useful to others for their adaptation and refinement. Those efforts will be so only if our preparation of material for clear communicating occurs – the complete skill of communicating.

Finally, there is the skill of working in groups. Very often, our efforts are a part of a formalized group effort; but even ‘individuals’ work in informal groups. An artist, for example, works with their manager, agent, materials suppliers, reviewers, gallery people, … Developing the skill of working in groups is important (including for working in study and project groups in school) and must be included in education priorities.

So there is my thesis on the preparation for successful formal education, for lifelong learning so important to a successful personal life and career, and for the critical exercise of our citizen responsibilities. If we educators facilitate the development of these skills and help them to become habitually used through student-centered addressing of our carefully developed driving questions, we will help our students understand the importance of getting to their optimum visions and doing so through discussions with people having diverse views.

“Business” or “Busyness” of Life

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I’m starting to read Amy Blankson’s book, “The Future of Happiness.” (From what I’ve learned from the press associated with the book and author, I’m quite certain I’ll be posting blog(s) related to this book in the near future.) In the Foreword to the book, her author / brother, Shawn Achor, writes: “Amy has her fingers on the pulse of what YOU can do in the midst of the busyness of life to harness technology to serve our true needs: social connection, meaning, and well-being.” This was the first time that I had seen the ‘busyness of life’ – and, for me, led immediately to the conparison found  in the title of this post.

That quote of Shawn Achor also triggered my seeming recollection of related writing of a favorite author of mine, the late Stephen Covey. Sure enough, looking through the Covey pages of Brainy Quotes (a great source by the way if you haven’t checked it out), my recollection was validated via the quote found in the featured photo above, referring again to life.

The two quotes I truly believe are so very compatible to each of our lives – including a critically important portion, education / learning. I totally reject and rebel against Considering education a business; it’s not!!! But because ‘busyness’ is so close to ‘business’ in the dictionary, the title of this post is acceptable to me – with business being associated with the “change, choice, and principles of Covey!

True for any activity as noted but limiting this blog post to learning, there are far too many politicians, policy people, citizens, and – yes, sadly – educators that either somehow believe strongly in (or just can’t see ‘the forest for the trees’ in getting overwhelmed with) the ‘busyness’ of education instead of the facilitation of Effective Learning. Front and center as Exhibit #1 has to be Standardized Testing!!! And I would add memorizing facts, exams, most homework, grading, … The ‘busyness’ of education that can only be defended with the comment “That’s how we’ve always done it” is robbing our students of the preparation for a satisfying / rewarding career and personal life.

So here’s my proposal: Let’s all agree to work together to make a list of the efforts currently being facilitated in education and the efforts that are being proposed for facilitating learning in education as well as efforts that we ourselves might propose for facilitating learning in education. Next, let’s include our students, parents, and interested community members in a determination of the school culture. Then, let’s assess out full list of efforts with regard to both school culture and the “change, choice, and principles” (most importantly principles) of Covey to develop a general local school approach to Effective Learning. I’m absolutely convinced, minimizing the busyness will provide more than sufficient time to implement this general approach.

But then it’s not straight to the classroom… First, we educators need to engage with our PLCs and PLNs to become more prepared to bring this general approach to each classroom. Next, each teacher needs to Consider the tweaks necessary for each student; one general approach will never be optimal for every student in the classroom. Finally, the facilitation of learning begins – with ongoing assessment and refinement of approach since planning / preparation can never be perfect!

That’s my thoughts with eliminating the busyness of education in order to facilitate Effective Learning. I’d love to learn your thoughts!!!

A Highly Anticipated Twitter Chat

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I participate regularly in Twitter chats, including #OklaEd, #VAChat, and #TWOTCW among others. The last one, #TWOTCW,  is moderated by Steve Wyborney in conjunction with his latest book “The Writing on the Classroom Wall.” The featured image above, in fact, is Question 1 from the #TWOTCW chat of April 18, 2017 (tonight as I work on this post).

As with many of Steve’s questions, this one featured really grabbed me: ‘Create a list of eight words that describe students.’ Asking for a list has occurred in his previous chats and generates two types of responses – a list of eight individual words or a phrase involving eight words. My reply usually is of the latter type but I cannot tell you why… Providing the questions early is a good one in my thinking, enabling chat participants to Consider their replies. Indeed, my post would have been something like “Exactly what their early environment enabled their becoming” – as noted, a phrase… But the subsequent questions by Steve reveal he’s seeking eight individual words such as the one I’ll likely post in a short while: “unique, culturally dependent, engaged or not, skilled learner / not.” Yes, I know – mostly shorter phrases.

But these are critical characteristics for students and their learning, I believe; and ones that I at least don’t know might have single-word replacements. And, yes, I even had to change ‘or’ to ‘/’ to get eight and not nine words… I’ll not discuss this list further here; but a recent blog post might provide more insight into my reasoning. Also, I had already made a note to develop another blog post on this topic. Stay tuned if you’re interested.

The real point I hope that I’ve illustrated with this particular post is that participating in Twitter chats does enable / encourage the level of Consideration of a topic that leads to Effective Learning. My experience with chats suggests that there are almost always one or more such questions that spark further Consideration / Effective Learning. Yes, having the questions ahead of time maybe contributes to richer participation; but having one’s tweets enables Consideration after the chat. Storify files are even better!

I hope you find this latest post of mine of value. Thanks for your reading it; feedback is always valued.