Good Tension? Maybe …

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I believe we all have our favorites when it comes to authors whose pieces we search for. You know, the ones that nudge us to re-Consider our current thinking on a topic or – occasionally – introduce us to a topic we’ve not really Considered before. If you look through the archives of this blog, you’ll quickly identify quite a few of my favorites. These days, with all of the flexibility of access due to social media, these writings are easily gathered. [Aside: I feel compelled to caution that ‘favorites’ should never become unquestioned sources. Rather they must always be simply one of many sources, all Considered carefully and deliberately as we develop our beliefs and positions.]

This blog post grew out of a post from Seth Godin. It’s titled “Tension vs. Fear.” Quoting from the piece: “Fear’s a dream killer. It puts people into suspended animation, holding their breath, paralyzed and unable to move forward. Fear is present in many education settings, because fear’s a cheap way to ensure compliance.  ‘ Do this,’ the teacher threatens, ‘or something bad is going to happen to you.'” And: “Tension is the hallmark of a great educational experience. The tension of not quite knowing where we are in the process, not being sure of the curriculum, not having a guarantee that it’s about to happen.”

Yes, this particular post led me to Consider my thinking and beliefs on both education and personal success. For me, by the way, education (Effective Learning, really) is a critical contributor to personal success. While this particular Consideration is far from reaching resolution, I nevertheless wanted to share my thinking to date. For me, fear is indeed all too often the source of blandness and status quo. “I / we can avoid failure if I / we simply keep doing what I / we have always done. Think of the negative impact on me / us if I / we fail. And you know how common failure is. I / we will be seen as worthless or useless, despised by colleagues and many friends.”

My response to those gripped and controlled by fear: Get over it! Success – in any way one defines it – depends upon our being curious and then creative in addressing that curiosity. Creativity in turn most certainly includes the risk, the probability, of failure during our efforts. But this should not be feared; these failures (love the acronym, FAIL: First Attempt In Learning) must be seen as routine, as opportunities to reflect and refine our efforts. Opportunities that are helpful and valuable to our efforts leading to success.

But here’s where I have some problems with Seth Godin. Does this mean the fear must be replaced by tension? Yes, I know he sees tension as a good thing… Yes, I presume that he thus doesn’t see it impacting our well being negatively. But I’m of the strong belief that success can occur without significant tension. Of course, we must expect tension to exist at various times during the creative addressing of important situations. But visualizing efforts to address important situations as including routine / constant tension, I believe, is a negative approach – probably leading to fear most of the time.

Again, quoting Godin: “Effective teachers have the courage to create tension. And adult learners on their way to levelling up actively seek out this tension, because it works. It pushes us over the chasm to the other side.” Create tension, seek out this tension… Again, I ask why? A betterapproach, I believe: Teachers must facilitate development of four skills: Effective Learning, problem solving, communicating, and working in groups. Developing these skills is accomplished via student efforts on addressing meaningful defining questions generated to align with appropriate standards. Will this be hard work for students and teachers? Yes, of course! Should it ‘create tension?’ Of course not!

The importance of this effort (What percentage of teachers think this is their main responsibility in the classroom? Probably quite low, agreed???) lies in developing these skills into habitual skills, in a non-pressure environment. The post-secondary college or employment then has been prepared for; the lifelong learning absolutely required for a successful career and personal life has then been prepared for. Yes, there will be short periods of tension dealing from time to time with situations that arise in the course of addressing meaningful situations. But there will be no creating tension, no seeking tension!

So, good tension??? I continue to believe any tension can be minimized and dealt with when it occurs. I don’t think that’s the tension Seth Godin was talking about – his good tension… Maybe minimal natural tension that’s addressed; maybe that’s “good” tension!

Questions for Educator Consideration

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If you’re like me, you read blog posts that focus on a variety of topics. It’s quite frequent (for me and probably for you as well) that a post sort of directed in one direction toward one area has meaning on another topic for me. One such blog is the one written by Seth Godin. My post today is related to one of Seth’s recent posts titled “Ten Questions for Work That Matters.” I would strongly urge you to Consider thus post and subscribe to the blog. The daily email with the latest post is a welcome sight in my inbox.

In this instance, Seth’s intention was for all employees to consider these questions with regard to their job. Indeed he ends the post with the following hints: “Any question that’s difficult to answer deserves more thought [I’d use ‘Considerations’]. Any answers that are meandering, nuanced or complex are probably a symptom of something important.”

My suggestion to all educators reading this post: Consider the ten questions with respect to your chosen profession – facilitating the development of Effective Learning skills so important to their formal education and, I believe, even more important to their lifelong learning so critical to a meaningful career and personal life. Not quite an unintended interpretation of the blog’s original message – but certainly a specific focus. Let’s look at a sample of the ten questions:

Who are you connecting? Are you facilitating the students’ learning such that they are connecting with other students in the class? Are you establishing trusting relationships with your students? Do you have a Personal Learning Network or PLN with whom you interact regularly to get ideas, answers, and feedback – and provide the same to them? Do you have meaningful connections with your administrators and with your parents? Do you encourage your students to reach out to experts and the general public as they refine their project efforts. To me, each of these efforts are critical to each student’s Effective Learning.

Would you miss your work if you stopped making it? To me, this probably depends upon your approach to your work. If you see yourself as one who ‘teaches your students’ – that is leads them to the knowledge you (hopefully aligned with appropriate standards) want them to be able to use on your and those standardized tests, you might see your efforts as stressful and with lots of student management issues; indeed you might be actively considering leaving teaching because things are so bad. Or you might see yourself as a ‘facilitator of learning’ – concentrating on student control (again, aligned with the appropriate standards) while providing assistance when requested as well as meaningful feedback so important to improvement, you likely find your efforts as rewarding with opportunities to learn along with your students; probably, you are excited by the opportunities to introduce new and more risky options into your facilitation and know you made the best career choice!

I encourage you to Consider all the questions! In fact, discuss them with your PLN!!! And if you are (sadly) considering leaving teaching, reach out to your colleagues that see teaching as the best decision they could have made. Please know if others are accomplishing exciting outcomes in your school, you can CHOOSE to do the same; and they will help you! If your ‘leadership’ mandates stressful teach-to-the-test, maybe you can still do facilitating (forgiveness is easier to get than permission; and test results will likely still be good)… Work with your PLN to soften the mandates!

Lets all agree to fight for meaningful Effective Learning!

Understanding Requires Consideration

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In a recent post from Seth Godin to his blog of 01/05/14, he writes about wanting an opinion without understanding the information relevant to that opinion. This blog is dedicated to the importance (really requirement) of the skill / habit of CONSIDERATION to the gradual development of understanding!

Why do I call it a skill? Probably obvious because there’s no switch that can be thrown to add this or any other capability as a useful one. It takes conscious attention to the process (dare I write consideration of the process – of consideration itself in this case) as one tries different efforts, routinely self-assesses progress and the need for refinement, and adjusts as the skill is developed into a usable and useful one. Lest you think there will be an end to this effort, hope I’m not discouraging you when I suggest this will be lifelong!

Why do I call it a habit? Clearly obvious to me at least in that a habit is sort of like a pair of comfortable boots in a snow storm: the peace of mind from relying on “auto-pilot” of habit enables the confidence in achieving the best outcome. In reaching that best outcome, we are comforted in our judgement and our ability to deal with the inevitable miss-steps.

But this consideration does much more than enable an opinion to be formed. It enables us to discuss the topic and test our opinion with others. It seems clear to me that the best opinion I might develop myself will be better through consideration. BUT to believe it the best possible without “testing” through conversation to me is not possible. Nor is any opinion “set in stone” when clearly it’s an opinion about a dynamic situation!

Most importantly, conversation among parties with opposing opinions BUT ones developed through consideration enable what the late Stephen Covey called the BETTER ALTERNATIVE. Otherwise that “conversation” is reduced to a prelude to “going to the mattresses” and conflict without resolution.

Consideration is YOUR best opportunity to develop a vision regarding any topic that enables you to engage with others in improving lives in general. That, for me at least, is far more important and satisfying than merely defending a possibly poorly developed position.

As always, your feedback and dialogue is honestly sought.