Sunday, January 12

The most amazing things

The lyrics of "Some Nights" (on the album titled Some Nights) by Fun. are intriguing and I was particularly intrigued by the line "Man, you wouldn't believe the most amazing things that can come from. . ./Some terrible nights. . .ah. . .ah. . .". Given the lines that precede these, it's fairly easy to divine the "amazing thing" is the nephew. But I just couldn't get that idea of amazing things coming from something terrible that stuck with me. Because it's often true.

Let's just agree that "amazing" and "terrible" are relative. In the moment, terrible can feel terrible. It may take a while before we are able to realize or recognize "amazing."

I remember one of the first times I lost a job. It was horrific. It was shocking and seemed impossible. As time went by and I became more accustomed to the idea, it seemed less horrible. My time of depression, however, was a delayed reaction. But when I was able to turn the emotional corner, I regained my confidence and perspective. Then I got a job that seemed tailor-made for me and that enabled me to grow in ways I'd never imagined.

Losing a job is not the most terrible thing that can happen, I know. There are those who have experienced truly horrible and inexplicable loss. There are some folks I've known who have gone through a situation that is, for that person, terrible. Perhaps it didn't seem so terrible to me, but I wasn't in it or experiencing and didn't have the context. So yes, in the moment, terrible can feel terrible.

I also think that the amazing can sneak up on us. That we may not recognize the amazing until we are experiencing it or until we are able to glance back over our shoulders to see how far we have come, to see how we have endured, to see what we have learned, to see how we have grown. That which is amazing may not be what we expect or what we want.

The Dalai Lama once said, "Tragedy should be utilized as a source of strength. No matter what sort of difficulties, how painful experience is, if we lose our hope, that's our real disaster.”

I wonder if I will feel the same way if I experience something truly tragic. I hope so. I hope that I will come through the season of denial, anger, and depression with some perspective and ability to look for the amazing. I hope that I will be able to remember that sometimes the most amazing things come from something terrible.

Monday, January 6

Embrace the future and expect the unexpected

They're Wrong: The Sun is Rising, Not Setting on America. Pretty captivating title, huh? Optimistic. Hopeful. Encouraging.

Vivek Wadhwa has some strong credentials: VP of Research and Innovation at Singularity University; Fellow, Arthur & Toni Rembe Rock Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford University; Director of Research at the Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization at the Pratt School of Engineering. There's more, but that gives you a sufficient idea of his background and why he has the chops to promote optimism about America's future.

What's coolest, though, is Singularity University. The mission is "to educate, inspire and empower leaders to apply exponential technologies to address humanity’s grand challenges."

A while ago I nominally participated in a MOOC course, The Future of Work. I did so because I'm really curious what others think might be the future of the work place. Part of my work has been to help educators better understand how to implement Common Core, and to do it well.

Part of my work is to help educators (and parents and anyone else who might listen) how to think differently about education because change is needed. If not Common Core, then something else. But the world is going to be, is already, different, and higher education and K-12 educators need to be looking ahead.

It's 2014 and we have to acknowledge how much technology has changed the way we live and work. Some for the good, some of the bad. It happens, but it doesn't have to just happen.

Wadwha writes:
Because the United States continues to lead the world in its ability to adapt to, incorporate and develop new systems and new technologies, we are uniquely poised to reap a disproportionate share of the benefits of these shifts. Even better, these advances will remedy the very weaknesses that have straightjacketed the U.S. economy and confined economic growth to the upper classes while causing income and life expectancy to stagnate for the lower 70 percent of the country’s population over the past three decades.
And he notes that "We have exponentially increased our ability to access knowledge. Search engines we take for granted deliver access to knowledge that would have been unimaginable two decades ago. Social networks have increased our ability to reach out to millions of people to request information and advice."

What are the implications and the ramifications? In what ways can educators and employers better use technology? What skills are required even more now than they were five years ago?

It seems to me that we have two choices. We can be part of the change, or we can let the change happen to us. I think educators could be perfectly poised to be a part of the change. I think today's employers, both small and large, could be sources of astonishing innovation, especially if they encourage the older, veteran employees who have seen the changes in the business work with the younger, newer employees who may have more experience with technology.

The world changes. The work place isn't what it was and will need to continue to evolve. Embrace the future and expect the unexpected.

Friday, January 3

In 2014, a little less mean?

Taylor Swift got a lot of attention with her song "Mean." The lyrics start with
You, with your words like knives and swords and weapons that you use against me
You have knocked me off my feet again got me feeling like I'm nothing
You, with your voice like nails on a chalkboard, calling me out when I'm wounded
You, pickin' on the weaker man
All the lyrics have some power, but my favorite two lines are these:
And all you're ever gonna be is mean
Why you gotta be so mean?
Yes, why do we have to be so mean?

Social media is littered with jabs of meanness. People getting riled up and saying horrible things about others, often strangers, without having sufficient information and apparently not caring about having anything remotely representing facts.

It seems as though we have become a society that feeds on meanness, that we have become social media bullies. Any hint of weakness, any suspicion of a fault or foible, any whiff of possible scandal is chumming the social media waters. The other forms of media pick up on the trend and seemingly legitimize it which means the stream of mean becomes of torrent of hatefulness and bullying. Few seem to give others the benefit of the doubt.

And we wonder why kids bully each other. Really?

I'm hoping that in 2014 we come to our senses a bit and just be a little nicer, a little more respectful, and little less willing to join the meanness fray.

Thursday, January 2

Habits of mind: Becoming the change you want to be

I like this phrase "habits of mind." It reminds me of those who are engaged in the life of the mind: those who believe in the value of critical thinking and engagement, of thoughtful discourse, of clear and coherent writing.

I've seen the phrase "habits of mind" before but hadn't really thought much of its genesis. I've learned that "[h]abits of mind are the characteristics of what intelligent people do when they are confronted with problems, the resolutions of which are not immediately apparent." They are the work of Art Costa, Ed.D., professor emeritus of education at California State University, Sacramento, and co-director of the Institute for Intelligent Behavior. There are 16 habits of mind:
  • Persisting
  • Thinking and communicating with clarity and precision
  • Managing impulsivity
  • Gathering data through all senses
  • Listening with understanding and empathy
  • Creating, imagining, innovating
  • Thinking flexibly
  • Responding with wonderment and awe
  • Thinking about thinking (metacognition)
  • Taking responsible risks
  • Striving for accuracy
  • Finding humor
  • Questioning and posing problems
  • Thinking interdependently
  • Applying past knowledge to new situations
  • Remaining open to continuous learning
These are not steps mind you, but habits. Practices from which one draws when confronted with a problem. I found myself thinking about these habits in context of and contrast to Vicki Davis' post, Habits of Mind for the New Year. Her 10 steps to help you accomplish your resolutions are steps towards building a habit so that it is as reflexive, so it is a part of you.

Dr. Costa's habits of mind are precisely that. They are reflexive and part of an individual. They can be developed and honed, I've no doubt of that, but some people already recognize these are the kinds of things they do when confronted with a problem. And if one of your problems is keeping after your resolutions or developing strong personal management habits--and January 2 or any date hereafter is not too late to start--Vicki's post is likely to be of some help to you.

Years ago I had a friend who listed just three specific things she wanted to improve or do by the end of the year. They were often big things, but a few of them might have seemed minor. She wrote down why she wanted to accomplish those things and how she planned to accomplish them. Every week she would journal her progress, adaptations she might have had to make to how she might accomplish her goals, and her success and her failure because both helped marked her journey, and her growth. This work was a habit and soon the things she wanted to accomplish became habits as well. Perhaps not habits of mind, but habits of person.

There are thousands of self-help books, thousands of blog posts about New Year's resolutions and how to keep your resolutions, and more. I suppose, in the end, all that really matters is that you take a bit of time to examine who you are and where you are, think about if you're the kind of person you want to be and determine what you might do, whose help you might enlist, and how you might go about implementing small changes to become the kind of person you want to be.

In other words, become the change you wish to see in your world.