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Post-secondary Education

This past week saw the Fall Equinox, as students are getting settled into the new academic year. It is an exciting time of new beginnings, possibilities, and hope. Some are excited and leap right in with confidence, while others may be uncertain and a little wary. Either way, and all along the continuum, the trust that learners place in us as guides, models, and mentors, is profound.

Education is a powerful force for good in this world. We open minds and hearts, we cultivate new ideas, knowledge, and skills, and we inspire change.

Tragically, education has also enacted huge and lasting harms, specifically among survivors of Canada’s Indian residential schools, as well as across successive generations. In the fall of 1973, Phyllis (Jack) Webstad from the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation was a six-year old who was excited to start school:

We never had very much money, but somehow my granny managed to buy me a new outfit to go to the Mission school. I remember going to Robinson’s store and picking out a shiny orange shirt. It had string laced up in front, and was so bright and exciting – just like I felt to be going to school!

When I got to the Mission, they stripped me, and took away my clothes, including the orange shirt! I never wore it again. I didn’t understand why they wouldn’t give it back to me, it was mine! The color orange has always reminded me of that and how my feelings didn’t matter, how no one cared and how I felt like I was worth nothing. All of us little children were crying and no one cared.

Phyllis Webstad is the Executive Director of the Orange Shirt Society, and each year on September 30 we honour the experiences of the former students and survivors of Canada’s residential school system. As educators and academic leaders, we have a special obligation to Truth and Reconciliation for Education.

What can you do?

Orange Shirt Day is timed to align with the start of the new academic year when First Nations, Inuit and Métis children were taken from their families. This day reminds us of our collective responsibility for Truth and Reconciliation, and that we carry these obligations throughout our work as educators and academic leaders. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission report notes that while the TRC focused on the truth about residential schools, true reconciliation extends to the history of colonization, injustice and racism, and fair settlement of land and treaty rights.

We all have a role to play – The perfect place to begin is right where a teacher stands.”

How can we create online learning environments that are as dynamic, collaborative and successful as the best face-to-face classrooms? Is it even possible? My own experience in online graduate teaching over the past two decades suggests an emphatic “yes”. Or, should I say, an emphatic “yes, but…”.

Just as there are multiple and diverse classroom-based teaching approaches (some more successful than others in engaging learners and mobilizing knowledge transfer), there are as many ways and means of online instructional approaches. All students, regardless of the learning platform, engage best when they experience high instructional immediacy. That is, a sense of warmth, caring, connectedness, support and positive regard in the learning environment.

1. Post a positive and supportive welcome message to greet students the first time they log into the course, and each week thereafter

2. Share online bios (pictures are a bonus – students and instructor) to facilitate self-introductions

3. If you haven’t already, include short (< 5 minutes) “conversational” videos introducing weekly course topics and offering tips and key learning to personalize each week’s focus

4. Encourage students to find “peer learning buddies” in the class to foster collaboration and collegiality

5. Have early and ongoing online, discussion board conversations about process, meaning “how it feels”; versus course content, meaning “what we’re learning” – especially near the beginning of the course. Reflecting on process fosters a sense of shared place and community. Here are a couple of sample questions I’ve used:

  • What are you looking forward to in this course, and what is one thing you are concerned about?
  • How can we challenge each-other in ways that foster debate and dialogue but still be respectful and affirming?
  • What is it like for you being in this course and connecting together online?
  • How can I (professor) help maximize your learning and value from this course? And how can you help one another?

6. Offer targeted motivational communications at points in the course where motivation may be flagging (e.g., around Week 6, and towards the final couple of weeks of the course) 

7. Use intentional word choices in online communications with students (such as via class emails, discussion board posts, and course announcements). These can be subtle, and a conversational tone helps convey the sense of community and connection that we are trying to build.

Here are a couple of examples:

GoodBetter
“The focus of this course is…”“Our course will focus on…”
“You will be required to…”“We’ll be working together to accomplish…”
“Students’ feedback has indicated…”“The conversation in our group this week has highlighted…”

8. End the course with an explicit call to action – How does the learning in this course fit into the bigger picture of students’ learning trajectories and career goals? (here’s a video example from a few years ago – this was a social work addiction treatment course I taught at the University of Toronto).

9. Students often expect “24/7” availability and communication, and sometimes even more so when the course is online. That’s not realistic! Help manage expectations by being explicit with students about how often you check into the course, and the expected response time for student questions.

10. Be patient with yourself. You didn’t become an awesome classroom teacher overnight, and it will take time to be as awesome online. Let students know we are all learning together.

As students – and faculty – have had to pivot in orienting to rich digital communication and sharing, online teaching aligns with a new, shared, reality for all of us. The skills of fostering community in digital environments map closely to professional (and personal) applications far beyond the classroom. We’ve collectively experienced how digital inclusion, networking and collaboration are as essential as oxygen.

This post was adapted from: https://educateria.com/2014/06/24/10-tips-for-online-teaching/

Here we are the Friday before classes start for a fresh new academic year. To carry forward with my theatre analogy from last week (and hopefully not stretch it too far!), I guess we could say that the “audience” is taking their seats and waiting for the curtain to rise. Here are the “pre-show activities” among our students that we have witnessed countless times before: the searching for assigned “seats” (i.e. figuring out the online Learning Management System, ordering textbooks and other course materials, etc. etc.); looking through the programme (that would be course syllabi); along with all of the conversations, expectations and curiosity about what the shared experience is going to be like as the action unfolds.

And on the part of the cast and crew (that’s us!), there might be some pre-show jitters, lots of getting those last details right, and wondering what kind of audience it is going to be. The magic happens when the audience engages as live and dynamic partners in a shared and transformative experience for all. As an aside, despite two decades of teaching, I always had some of those “pre-show jitters” before a new semester, and then came the wonderful experience of meeting my students and finding my stride. It never gets old!

Thinking about our students’ anticipation of the coming semester also brings to mind our highly diverse and internationalized learning community across post-secondary education, and our core values of inclusion, respect, equity and social justice.  Anti-Black and Anti-Indigenous Racism, and other corrosive forms of violence, colonization and oppression, are enacted in a myriad of ways – large and small (and noting that the cumulative trauma of a multitude of implicit and overt forms of racism means that none are objectively “small”). As academic leaders, we all have a stake in how we engage with our students and with one-another, with the curriculum we teach, as well as the voices we amplify and include, and the actions that we take.

This past week marked an important, national, activist response by academics: the September 9-10 Scholar Strike galvanized by Dr. Anthea Butler. As the web page states: “The Canadian action is aligned with the one in the U.S., in its call for racial justice, an end to anti-Black police violence and it adds a specific focus on anti-Indigenous, colonial violence.”

The criticality of this work is painfully amplified in numerous research papers and other reports, including the Ontario Human Rights Commission Report: A Disparate Impact: Second interim report on the inquiry into racial profiling and racial discrimination of Black persons by the Toronto Police Service.

These documents are painful to read (and see), and are also essential reading (and seeing). To know is never to un-know, and in knowing comes the imperative for action.

On the eve of this new academic year and a new semester, let’s reaffirm our resolve of advocacy and activism, reflected in all that we do as academic leaders and change-makers.

It’s been another active week at the college, with yet more students starting their apprenticeship labs, as well as faculty on campus (and at home) shooting videos (instructional and promotional) and getting all kinds of curriculum prepped for our September 14 Fall Semester start date! Now more than ever, with such limited on-campus activity, it feels kind of like all of the feverish “backstage” action that happens in a theater production, getting ready for opening night.

And in this case, we’ve got a 13-week run, with an incredible diversity of tools, applications and platforms to engage our students in a rich and immersive learning experience. Every semester, in every single class, we build learning communities and create the magic of discovery, and inquiry, and connectedness. Mastering the art of doing this all (or at least mostly) online expands our students’ own skills of engagement and professional practice in a world gone more radically digital than it has ever been.

We have already experienced cataclysmic change, and it’s a sure thing that we will continue to do so in the coming academic year. But what will never change is our deep and dedicated commitment to our students: transforming lives and communities through learning. You’ve probably heard the quote by the Greek philosopher Heraclitus: “You never stand in the same river twice, because it’s never the same river, and you’re never the same person.”

We are all in a swirling river of change, so let me offer some “safety tips”.

At faculty meetings last week, I used the analogy of taking a white-water rafting trip in anticipation of the coming semester. A heart-stopping adventure that mingles together trepidation and excitement. We’re probably all feeling a little of both those things right now, and our students as well, and when I searched online for “whitewater rafting safety tips”, there were some pretty compelling parallels:

So for the coming semester:

“I hope you see things that startle you.

I hope you feel things you never felt before.

I hope you meet people with a different point of view.

I hope you live a life you’re proud of.

If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.”

Eric Roth, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

waterlily2 2018

What does it take to be a wizard inside and outside the classroom?

1. Get excited

Everything in the world is inherently interesting. And everything in the world can be made incredibly boring. If I’m passionate about what I’m teaching, chances are some of that will rub off. This isn’t necessarily a challenge for new professors – or those teaching a course for the first time. When everything is fresh for both faculty and students, teaching is an adventure. Maybe it’s not so much getting excited about what you are teaching, as staying excited – after five years, ten years, or longer. Exploring new and innovative ways to get learners involved and promote their autonomy over their own learning, and fearlessly interrogating our approaches to course content and the processes of teaching, can help to keep us in that ‘beginner’s mindset’.

 

2. Overcommunicate

This one is a ‘quick-win’ – not difficult to implement, and has a major impact on students’ experience in a course. Students’ lives, like ours, are complicated, busy, and sometimes chaotic. People don’t always attend to our in-class communications or instructions, and/or email, and/or written (print) communication, and/or online course announcements, and/or classroom handouts. The more channels we can mobilize to share information with our students about upcoming assignments, due dates, key information or course resources, the greater the chance that our message will filter through the “white noise” of multiple, competing pressures and priorities.

 

3. Respond to student queries ASAP

This follows from Point 2, above. For good or ill, people increasingly expect (and value) prompt replies to their questions or concerns, especially via email. And students seem to equate an instructor’s response time with instructor engagement and caring (‘instructional immediacy’). A speedy reply is not always possible, and email communication can be delicate at times, but I try to live by the “24 hour or less” rule and interestingly, students make particular note of how helpful this responsiveness is to them in their comments on course evaluations.

 

4. Provide the back-story

I’ve found that when students feel like an assignment, an academic decision, a policy, or a course expectation is unfair or unwelcome, it’s usually because they’re not satisfied that there is a good rationale behind it. The trick is, how to communicate this without coming across as defensive, or worse, officious? I’ve found that the elicit-provide-elicit framework in Motivational Interviewing has been helpful in providing information to students. In short, the framework starts with (a) eliciting the student’s understanding of why they think I am proceeding in a certain way; (b) providing a brief (very brief – not a lecture) explanation from my perspective; (c) elicit the student’s response (“What do you make of that? How does this fit for you?”). Reflective listening is an ancillary skill that helps learners feel heard and understood, and makes sure that I am able to engage with accurate empathy.

 

5. Don’t work harder than your students

Learning is active. It takes effort, involvement and application. If I’m at the front of the room lecturing and the group is passively listening, who’s working harder? It’s a challenge to create dynamic learning activities that engage students in co-constructing meaning, wrestling with new ideas, and practicing new skills. Admittedly, high quality curriculum design generally takes considerable work at the front end – so perhaps it’s more accurate to say “Don’t work harder than your students in the classroom”.

 

And yes, highly effective teachers have more than these five habits – but after close to two decades, I have found them a strong foundation and a good starting point. Enjoy the journey!

 

This post is adapted from a previous post , January, 2015

 

 

How do you want to travel?

 

Lately I’ve been thinking about individual accountability for engaging in learning, and the delicacy in creating a climate where each person in the room feels as invested in the value and success of the course as the instructor does. This means focusing on the process (how learners decide to engage – or not) as well as the content (syllabus or curriculum).

Courses and workshops represent particular journeys for all participants – teacher included. In general, learning facilitators establish and negotiate the content, pacing, climate and structure throughout the course. And yet, learners themselves decide what and how they will learn. Learning can happen in the absence of teaching, and teaching can happen in the absence of learning. The magic happens when the two come together.

Most workshops and courses typically start off with a conversation about:

  • Learning outcomes
  • Course overview or outline
  • Participants’ learning goals
  • Learning assessments.

However, it’s equally important for learners to identify how they will contribute. In other words, reflecting on how they will learn and participate, what might hold them back, and what would make it safe to take risks and participate in ways that can feel downright uncomfortable. I think these questions are crucial precursors to the usual content-focused beginning to workshops and courses, because a conversation about process sets the stage for reciprocity and co-engagement in the learning journey.

It comes down to a conversation about how we (both the instructor and the group) collectively intend to make the journey together. From a facilitation perspective, this means starting out by asking questions like:

  1. Are you (learner) coming to this class as a spectator or as a participant?
  2. What are some possible ways into the content that would resonate for you, and how could you amplify these entry points?
  3. What would it take to make you want to step outside your comfort zone?
  4. If you decided to take some risks in the interest of your own ‘deep learning’, how can the group support you?
  5. How will you translate and adapt ideas, knowledge and skills in order to apply them in practice?

It’s not essential that we ask all five questions, and there are a wealth of other questions we could pose. The key is our intentionality in creating time for all participants to reflect on their roles and on the nature of the voyage they will take with you and with one-another.

And the next time I attend a workshop (or a class, meeting, performance, celebration or other opportunity to actively engage), I will be asking myself: “How do I want to travel?”

 

Start your first class with a question … and a promise

As in any group of diverse individuals, learners come with varying identities, histories, levels of motivation, prior knowledge and experiences, as well as different wants, needs and openness to change. This means that teaching is inherently as much about process as it is content. By that I mean holding a dual focus on how people learn, participate and engage (process), as well as the substantive knowledge, skills and information required to meet your course’s learning outcomes (content).

In fact, I suggest that the process may be even more important than the content, given the rapidly changing landscape of professional practice across virtually all disciplines. The proliferation of knowledge in any given field is so vast and accelerating that the skills of curating, critiquing and assessing knowledge, and bridging knowledge to application, are the most important capabilities students can master. In other words, students most need to learn how to learn. 

It is tempting to approach teaching from a content mastery perspective versus from a “deep learning” perspective. Resist the temptation! By all means, prepare lesson plans, lecture notes and course reading lists. But create a space in the lesson plan for students’ own self-discovery, peer-to-peer collaboration, applied/experiential learning and exploration. Include as many questions as answers in your lecture notes. And approach your students as equal partners in the learning process: you have expertise and professional or scientific knowledge in your field of study, and they are experts in their own lives, including their hopes and dreams for the future.

Whether I am teaching in a face-to-face or an online classroom, I like to start the first class of every semester with a question and a promise.

Here’s the question: “What are you curious about? You’ve enrolled in this class on [insert course title]. What would you most like to learn more about?”

This sets up the expectation that each student has a voice in their own learning, and that they are at the centre of the work we will do together. It also reminds students that the course is more than just another grade or credit towards their diploma. They will actually get to learn about things that interest, excite and inspire them!

And here’s my promise: “My cornerstone commitment to you is my intention for this class to be among the top tier of courses that you have ever taken. I am committed to supporting your success in an outstanding learning experience – so I am eager to hear your feedback as we go, to help me deliver on this promise to you.”

While this may seem a tad grandiose, the promise simply reflects what every student yearns for in their deepest human heart: an opportunity for transformation, discovery and inspiration. I signal from the very start that I want only the best for the class, that I genuinely care, and that we are in this journey together. By modeling my own highest standards, I set an implicit example and expectation that they will bring their “A” game as well.

In short, I think the most important advice for a new professor is orienting ourselves to supporting students’ learning, versus delivering content. That shift changes everything, including ourselves.

 

smooth-sailing

Management is a way of doing; leadership is a way of being

When it comes to leadership I’m no expert. Learning to lead reminds me of learning to parent: despite the proliferation of manuals, when push comes to shove the answer is in myself, not the manual. Lessons on leadership are everywhere and ongoing.

Here are some of the leadership lessons I have been thinking about. These represent my best intentions, even if not always fully realized. This is about the journey.

Practice radical authenticity. Encourage others to do the same. The more we bring our true selves to our personal and professional relationships, the more joyful and connected we become. We are all connected.

When others disagree, get curious. Discover more. Go beyond valuing alternate perspectives  – fearlessly evoke them. Seek not to be understood, but to understand.

You are always leading, even when you’re following. Leadership is not about being in charge, it’s about supporting others’ success, modeling integrity, being accountable and caring passionately. Align how you follow with how you lead.

Disrupt the status quo. Homeostasis is the enemy of innovation. We are all always striving for that perfect balance, but when we find it that’s usually the signal that something is about to change! As Aldous Huxley said, “Every ceiling when reached becomes a floor.”

Affirm autonomy – always. No matter how non-negotiable the directive, policy, task, procedure…never forget that people always have the option of walking away. And when given an ultimatum, many do. “People are most able to change when they feel free not to.”

Live your values and learn what others value. Find avenues to link work with these deep, personal values at every opportunity. That is meaningful work.

In short, leadership is wholly volitional, decidedly not positional, and most effective when unconditional.

 

 

 

Vector illustration of 3d rings. Background design for banner, poster, flyer. Hand drawn watercolor paint splash.

 

The most important time we can spend is in developing the capacity of others

 

At a recent leadership institute where I co-facilitated, there was considerable discussion about the challenges of balancing operational or administrative responsibilities together with the inspirational, transformative and exciting work that is deeply satisfying and of the greatest organizational value. Participants shared that they often feel so bogged down in the day-to-day, it’s hard to find time to pursue strategic and innovative projects – let alone vision them!

I think this feels true for most administrators – in higher education or elsewhere. In a way, the conversation that the group had juxtaposes the polar opposites of a continuum: from managing through to leading. And in response to this dilemma, it was natural to get caught up in the “righting reflex“: collectively problem-solving around things like time management, setting priorities, finding efficiencies and performance management. However, upon reflection, these solutions were really management focused ideas. None of them got to the heart of the problem.

So…what would a leadership-focused approach look like? The shift in the room happened in response to a question that I’ve asked myself:

If every member of your team was working to their fullest capacity, expending their collective discretionary energy, and was truly excited by their work and contributions, how would that impact your own time and capacity?

This question opened up a whole new conversation, now centred squarely on leadership. The beauty of the question is that it highlights how supporting and developing our teams is the most essential role we have as administrators (that is, as leaders). The only way we can realize relentless innovation and thrive in conditions of rapid change is to open up a space for individuals to step into their own leadership potential.

Of course, this is easier said than done. Day-to-day operations will always need care and feeding, and engaging teams in distributed leadership is as much (or more) art as it is science. Plus, there may be very real resource inadequacies and/or employee performance concerns. However, on the whole, feeling overwhelmed by details is a symptom to pay attention to. It’s a cue to ask the above question and fearlessly look in the mirror.

And to ask a follow-up question: Where am I focusing, and what more can I be doing to unleash the potential of my team?

We all want meaningful work, to be inspired, to make a difference and have an impact. To be happy. Leadership isn’t just about increasing organizational productivity or freeing up more time for ourselves – when we invest in the capacity of others, that might just be the most deeply satisfying work we can do.

 

 

everything has beauty

 

Learn how to see

 

I was reading an article suggesting that in the future, 47% of today’s jobs will be automated. The robots are coming?

Increasingly, adaptive systems, pervasive computing and big data are supplanting many services or functions currently delivered by actual humans. In this reality, education shifts from knowledge transfer to… incubating creativity, fostering entrepreneurship and enabling critical reflection, judgement and decision-making.

“In a roboticized economy, colleges will have to pivot to building students’ capacity for coming up with original ideas”

This isn’t new. Transformative learning experiences have always meant seeing the world in new ways. Time spent in the “classroom” (wherever or whatever that looks like) is so precious and limited. I want to create learning spaces that illuminate possibilities and unleash students’ potential.

Learning to see beauty means creating it. Creating the possible is beautiful.

 

 

street art basketball

 

 

Nothing is possible without engagement

In any interpersonal interaction, nothing is possible unless there is engagement. This is true whether it’s a one-to-one counselling session, a classroom full of students, or a company team meeting. Engagement is the foundation of relationship, collaboration and change.

Enter Motivational Interviewing: A collaborative conversation for exploring and resolving ambivalence about change.

It seems like no matter how many years I have spent as a Motivational Interviewing trainer and practitioner, I still find nuances and insights in this model of practice decribed as ‘simple, but not easy‘. Lately I have been thinking about engagement as the essential underlying process in Motivational Interviewing, and mulling over how we can translate the clinical skills of establishing engagement with clients to our everyday skills in educational and work place settings to foster student and employee engagement.

 

Engagement is less about skill than it is about the spirit in which we practice – as clinicians, educators and leaders

What would our conversations, classrooms and meetings look, sound and feel like if we were able to deeply and consistently enact the four components of MI Spirit?
  1. We come to the relationship from a stance of respectful partnership, where all individuals bring valued and equal expertise
  2. We unconditionally accept others’ autonomy, worth and capacity – even when their intentions or actions don’t align with what we think best
  3. We are deeply committed to the highest interests of the other, rather than advancing our own agenda: compassion
  4. We are as eager to hear others’ stories, perspectives, beliefs, wisdom and values as we are to share our own: evocation as opposed to installation or education.

First and foremost, the spirit of Motivational Interviewing is more important than the skills.

Simple but not easy

When we like what we see, hear and feel, it’s relatively straightforward to respect what others bring to the table (partnership), to affirm their absolute autonomy (acceptance), to act with their best interests at heart (compassion), and to create a space in which their voice is heard and affirmed (evocation). The going gets tough when we don’t like what we’re seeing, hearing or feeling. That’s where our real work begins, and where we are most tested as clinicans, educators and leaders.

Authority is the enemy of engagement

Engagement isn’t the whole story, but it’s the essential beginning. Nothing substantive happens without it.
And when we have it, all things become possible.
compassion motivational interviewing quote

ocean paper boat water cropped

The evolution of teaching and learning

Whether implicit or explicit, we all have a theory of teaching and learning. This gets expressed and enacted in how we engage with our students, the tools we use (or don’t use), and even where we stand in the classroom (F2F or virtually). Traditional theoretical frameworks can be broadly grouped into four domains: instructivism, critical theory, constructivist approaches and andragogy (or adult learning). But the rise of many-to-many, decentred and non-linear networking and communication channels have given rise to corresponding advances in frameworks for teaching and learning in the global classroom.

The 1.0 Classroom

education 1_0

Instructivism as a standard approach to teaching emerged from positivist and post-positivist paradigms. Characterized by the traditional “chalk and talk” style, instructivist pedagogy is premised on a transmission model of learning. Learning outcomes and curricula are pre-determined and delivered in a primarily didactic fashion. The same information is provided to all learners regardless of their pre-existing knowledge and skills.

 

 

Teaching 2.0

education 2_0Constructivism marked a shift from teacher-centred to student-centred learning, deemphasizing informing (memorizing facts) in favour of transforming: locating, critiquing and synthesizing knowledge in a culture of collaboration and sharing. Curriculum development is based on student query, which acknowledges that students learn more by asking questions than by answering them. In this model, students critically engage with course material by posing questions that further group reflection and debate. Adult learning (andragogy) and critical approaches extend and complement contructivist learning models.

 

Education 3.0

Over the last decade, two models have emerged to challege our existing paradigms: heutagogy (Blaschke, 2012, Hase and Kenyon, 2000) and paragogy (Corneli and Danoff, 2011). These extend constructivist, critical and adult learning theories offering models of learning that are (1) self-determined, (2) peer-led,
education 3_0 (3) decentred and (4) non-linear. These characteristics map onto social media applications and the democratization of knowledge and information. Heutagogical and paragogical approaches also extend traditional andragogical and adult learning frameworks by emphasizing meta learning, or learning how to learn.

 

Andragogy, Heutagogy and Social Media

Andragogy (Self-directed) Heutagogy (Self-determined) Parallels with Social Media
Competency development Capability development Knowledge curators
Linear design of curricula Non-linearity in curricula Hyper-learners
Instructor/learner directed Learner directed Autonomous digital communities
Content focus (what is learned) Process focus (meta learning, learning how to learn) Online collaboration, sharing, crowd-sourcing

 

This shift is radical in challenging the implicit notion that we (educators) know best what students need to learn. As Morris (2013) puts it, the issue of how to modify or reinvent teaching in higher education “can create anxiety, uncertainty, and even resentment toward a shift in the culture of learning that we’ve had little control over, that’s come at us from outside our own domain; for others, this new landscape appears inviting, exciting, and full of possibility”.

Radically self-determined and networked learning approaches (like heutagogy and paragogy) affirm individuals as the experts in their lives and learning trajectories. Nothing less than what has always been.

 

 

Note: Images depicting Education 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0 were adapted from a blog post by Jackie Gerstein: Experiences in Self-Determined Learning: Moving from Education 1.0 Through Education 2.0 Towards Education 3.0

This post was adapted from a previous article.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

fish swimming sky

If you want to get out alive, never swim against the current

A few weeks ago a colleague shared a harrowing story of a presentation gone wrong. It was one of those scenarios where you don’t anticipate much controversy about what you have to offer, and the group appears jovial. But beware – large groups can sometimes behave like jungle cats. One moment, the regal beast is basking in the sun and purring, and then suddenly the powerful claws will slash and wound. Perhaps this sounds overly dramatic, but I’ve yet to meet a presenter who – somewhere – does not carry a scar from such an encounter. When it’s just you in the “cage” with a couple hundred slumbering lions, it’s best to keep alert and look them in the eyes!

Now, I am not implying that presenters should fear their audiences. Presentations offer an unparalleled opportunity to inspire, communicate and connect. And I’m not suggesting that it’s us (presenters) against them (audiences). That said, we know that individuals have distinct personalities and moods. And like individuals, a group’s mood can shift rapidly; sometimes without warning. It can feel mighty lonely at the front of the room when the group turns ugly.

I’ve written elsewhere about how to “TAME” difficult or challenging participants. But what to do when the whole group seems against you?

The first order of business is listen to understand. What did you say that triggered discord? What might be behind the objections, concerns, indignation or outright scorn among audience members? Modeling a stance of eager curiosity and a humble willingness to listen is disarming. It is profoundly respectful.

Example: “It sounds like this is something we really need to pay attention to. Would you or others be willing to share more? I’m so glad that you spoke up – thank you for raising this.”

The second essential step is to step outside of the content – that is, what you and others are saying – and reflect on the process. Group process refers to the how versus the what. This is expecially important to do if Step 1 results in pure venting and is not especially productive for the group as a whole. The power of reflecting on process as opposed to content is that you make it not just your problem, but the group’s problem. Plus, it is almost certain that while there are dissenting voices in the room, there are also voices that want to help you get things back on track – if you give them the opportunity.

Example: “I want to take a step back and reflect on what’s happening in the room. I noticed that when I said […], there were some strong reactions. I’m wondering what would be most helpful from me at this point? What do others think?”

The third point is to keep an open mind. It may be that you’re pretty invested in the idea or perspective that you are sharing and the audience members’ opposing opinions have provoked defensiveness on your part. This never goes down well. Defensiveness on a presenter’s part can be like throwing gas on a fire. Stay open to the possibility that you might indeed be missing something important, and that the group is offering you a true gift by pointing it out. That doesn’t mean you are obliged to do exactly what others want you to do, or even to change your thinking. It’s simple reciprocity – if I want others to listen to me with an open mind, I need to be willing to do the same.

Example: (inside voice) “Hmmm…I was not expecting this reaction. I wonder if there are others who might have the same reaction. This is worth considering carefully.”

In short, always swim with the current.  Trust me, you will eventually make it to shore with only a few scrapes and bruises!

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Today I happened across a list of 100 best leadership quotes.  A large proportion of these quotes emphasize the relational, inspirational, caring elements that characterize leadership as distinct from management. I started reading the “100 best” from an administrator perspective, and then I began to re-read the quotes substituting “teacher” for “leader”. As you might guess, my thought experiment underscored how the very best teachers are those who demonstrate outstanding leadership qualities.

For example:

#26: You don’t lead by pointing and telling people some place to go. You lead by going to that place and making a case. (Ken Kesey)

 

…or put another way…

 

You don’t teach by pointing and telling people some place to go. You teach by going to that place and making a case.

 

I’m not sure that Kesey’s leadership style (or teaching style, for that matter) would fit well in today’s workplace/classrooms. But that quote reimagined is a container for constructivist perspectives of authentic learning environments.  I don’t love the hint of persuasion that “making a case” in Kesey’s quote implies, but I choose to read it as being willing to start where the learner is at and establish the relevance and salience of learning. And the best teachers are right alongside their students as they journey to unanticipated destinations.

 

Actually, that list consitutes quite a gold mine of pointers for outstanding teaching.

 

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Do you remember your very first day?

 

This weekend is move-in time for first year university students living in residence. When my daughter was small, I couldn’t even fathom the day when she flew from her “nest”. It all seemed so impossibly far away, and now here we are on the brink of independence – both hers and mine. Mentioning this impending event to friends and colleagues evokes a gush of memories about embarking on post-secondary education. We are instantly transported back to a transition marked by excitement, trepidation and absolute freedom. Selecting courses, finding classrooms, drinking a lot of coffee, and making lifelong friends. There was some learning there too, as I recall.

All these years later, I can’t recall the advice that my parents no doubt gave me prior to my first year at university. I felt pretty sure I had things figured out, and what I didn’t know I was keen to discover for myself. But the impetus to impart one’s hard-won wisdom is irresistable, so here are my key messages to you, my daughter, as you commence an incredible journey:

  • Be grateful. The fact that your main job in post-secondary education is to learn carries enormous privilege and obligation. People literally risk their lives to get an education. For many in our world it is out of reach. Learn as much as you can and make a positive difference.
  • Keep an open mind. You might think you’ve settled on a path, but look to the left and right as you travel – there could be other options and opportunities that you never imagined for yourself.
  • Keep an open mind about friendships too. The person sitting next to you may be far outside others you’ve encountered and known (and they might be thinking the same about you), but you might find in them an essential part to who you will become.
  • Read the course readings, even if they’re hard and boring. Not only will you learn stuff, you’ll also learn discipline. Sometimes life involves reading hard, boring stuff – the challenge is in transforming it into accessible, engaging, transformational stuff. Alchemy with your mind.
  • Be your real, true self. High school doesn’t generally encourage this, so now is the chance that every high school student has been waiting for.
  • Join clubs. OK, I admit I didn’t do this myself as an undergraduate, but I really wish I had.
  • Ask for help. We all need help, with just about everything. Ask your friends, your professors, the student services people…basically anyone. And it probably doesn’t need saying, but you can always ask your mom. Any time of the day or night.
  • Oh, and also have fun. Actually I don’t need to include that as part of my advice because you will do that anyway. You won’t be able to not do it. You are going to redefine the word fun.

 

In short: fly free, grow your mind and heart, enjoy the ride, and don’t forget to call home.

 

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