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Making the world a happier place, one slide at a time

 

The vast majority of slideware is used as speakers’ notes. Probably because:

  1. It’s comforting to have what I’m going to say right there on a big screen, just in case I forget
  2. I’m inspired by images, but I frame my thinking in words. It’s easier to type a list of bullet points than it is to locate the one perfect picture that tells a story
  3. I’m not trained in graphic design or visual arts, so putting together clean and compelling slideware compositions doesn’t come naturally
  4. It can be hard to access high quality art and photography.

The work of Garr Reynolds and his Presentation Zen has been instrumental in my own PowerPoint makeovers (“The Good, Bad and Ugly of PowerPoint”).

In addition, tools like Haiku Deck offer a polished and visually compelling alternative to traditional slideware applications.

 

What’s the take-home message? What does it all boil down to? Here is my one-sentence “best practice” for slide design:

 

PPT Essential Design Principle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Imagine if every slide in every presentation looked this way? The world would be a happier place.

 

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You know when it’s your first time, but not always when it’s your last

 

This morning I had the pleasure of handing out awards of distinction to about 100 college students. In addition to their regular coursework, each had the option to take it further and demonstrate achievement and competency to the highest standard. This had no bearing on their actual course grade and was totally voluntary. “Winning” this award is not a competition – except with oneself.

 

The fact that such a high proportion of students were motivated to excel in the first place was inspiring. It reminded me that when students are engaged, they will work far beyond our expectations (and the requirements on the course syllabus).

 

What was the secret ingredient that resulted in this level of uptake and motivation? I think the heart of it is that these students felt truly cared for by their teaching faculty. They perceived corrective feedback as having the best of intentions. They kept striving to succeed knowing that someone really believed that they could.

 

After the awards were distributed I was asked to say a few words to the group. These were students from across all academic semesters; some new to the program and some in their final weeks before graduation. I asked them who was attending the ceremony for the first time? And who was there for the last time? And I reflected that we don’t always know when it’s our last time.

 

While first experiences are clear and often memorable, we don’t always know (as this group did) when it’s the last time we have a chance to: learn, do our best, say what we really feel, take a risk, show compassion, dig deep. Or, we figure it out long after that “last time” is past.

 

All of those students did the semester like it was their last time. I bow down to that.

 

 

Neon sign retro party

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When words (and worlds) collide

 

This week I facilitated a webinar on Motivational Interviewing for members of the Ontario Association of Social Workers. I like how webinars offer an opportunity for professional development in a distributed learning format from the comfort of home or office; and clinical social workers tuned in for our evening session from various regions, cities and towns. We had a fun and at times informal conversation in the chat bar, with some interesting discussion focused on my unintentional use of idiomatic expressions and vernacular language.

 

Idioms are culture-bound and can be confusing to diverse groups who may puzzle at their intended meaning. For example, when I talk about needing to keep my head above water in working with complex clinical scenarios. And one of my personal favorites is a skill or tool that’s as easy as pie. No doubt there was a time when pie-making was super-easy, but not anymore (at least for me anyway).

 

Expressions aren’t just culture-bound, they can also be generational in their meaning. In this week’s webinar I talked about the Coles Notes version of Motivational Interviewing in reference to a one-page “Motivational Interviewing Tip Sheet”. There was some light-hearted (another idiom!) text-chat in the sidebar about the generational divide among people who understand what Coles Notes actually refers to.

 

Last night I had a conversation with the teenager in my life about putting pen to paper. Her reply? “I don’t know what that means”.

 

Maybe I need to spend some time with urbandictionary.com.

 

Related:

Six Tips for Facilitating Webinars

 

 

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Follow these 10 tips for good grades…and improved learning

 

1. Read the course syllabus carefully. Keep it handy throughout the term and check it weekly to be sure you’ve completed all of the required readings and assignments.

 

2. Anticipate that there will be stressful periods in the academic term. Put assignment due dates into your calendar, and set interim goals for completing larger projects. If you don’t have or use a personal calendar, now is the time to get started to help you plan ahead.

 

3. Make a point of contributing in every class, even if it’s just to ask (versus answer) a question. This helps the instructor get to know you personally and signals that you’re actively involved and trying hard.

 

4. Take notes, even if the instructor posts slide decks to the course website. Notes help you absorb new information, and they complement slide decks and readings. Note-taking is an important skill and takes practice; the more you do it, the more effective and useful your notes will be for you.

 

5. Check in with the instructor if you aren’t sure of anything. Better to find out ahead of time, than via a low grade due to a misunderstanding on your part about course content or assignments. Don’t be shy – faculty genuinely want their students to succeed and are eager to help.

 

6. If you are emailing your instructor, be sure to communicate like a professional. That means using correct spelling and a somewhat formal tone. (Also, keep in mind that if you send the faculty an email Friday afternoon you might not hear back until the following Monday.)

 

7. Before submitting ANY written work, double (triple) check your spelling, grammar, syntax, formatting. If writing is not your strength, access a tutor to help with editing.

 

8. Keep in mind that if you’re struggling in the course, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We all struggle when we’re learning new things. And learning new stuff is why you’re in school.

 

9. If you are REALLY struggling, ask for help. Is it because of the course content? Other things happening in your life? Time management? A health or mental health problem? There are lots of supports available to students through educational institutions and in the community – but they only work if you access them.

 

10. Last but not least, follow three simple steps for success in school (and in life).

 

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Reflections on motivation and why people change

 

How to motivate change is a big question for clinical educators and practitioners because someone else’s behaviour change is, in the end, wholly out of our hands. Over my 15 + years of practicing and teaching Motivational Interviewing, I still find myself getting stuck in the “righting reflex” when I see a person making (what I consider to be) unwise decisions.

It all comes down to individual motivation and commitment, and that’s a scary prospect when the stakes are high. We see someone following a risky trajectory and we want to grab the steering wheel. How bad do things have to get before an individual figures it out for him- or herself?

My own experience is that everyone has a particular “pain” threshold: biologically, psychologically and socially. In other words, a state of being that I might find totally unendurable physically, mentally or inter-personally may not be so bad for someone else. We each bring a singular standpoint and value-set to the decisions we make and how we live our lives. 

And here’s the thing:

People only change when the pain of change is less than the pain of staying the same.

 

In other words, motivation is tied to individual perception and experience of suffering. For example, from a teaching standpoint, it can be heartbreaking to see a promising student at risk of failing a course due to not attending class or completing assignments. But the important thing is…how does the student see it?

A “red flag” from a Motivational Interviewing perspective is when I am more invested in change than the person I’m working with (in this case, the student). I can better enhance motivation by stepping back, exploring possible reasons for change, and offering what I’m hearing about the pain of staying the same. Underlining a person’s perception of some of the costs of negative behaviours can open the door to a productive conversation about possible solutions.

 

As Andy Warhol put it:

When people are ready to, they change. They never do it before then, and sometimes they die before they get around to it. You can’t make them change if they don’t want to, just like when they do want to, you can’t stop them.

 

Related articles:

Reflective Listening: The most valuable tool in the tool box?

Reflective Listening Reflections

 

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Bridging the research-practice gap

At a recent conference I attended, one idea was especially  “sticky“:

To know and not to use

Is not yet to know

(Buddhist saying)

Knowledge transfer (KT)  is (rightly) a major concern among researchers, funders and practitioners. Somehow these words really brought home why.

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Please turn off all mobile devices…in your dreams

 

The “two turntables and a microphone” line sounds a whole lot better when you sing it, especially if you’re Beck. But the general idea relating to teaching and presenting is our need to balance multiple instructional strategies in order to keep learners engaged. Just like a great DJ keeps a dance floor full.

 

Given the ready distraction of mobile devices, along with an increasingly normative expectation for immediate text/email responding, today’s educators and presenters have a hard row to hoe in holding a group’s undivided attention. The cellphone issue gets lots of attention in conversations about classroom comportment and etiquette.

 

And yet…I can’t help asking…

Do people tune out, text, talk and email when they are super-interested in what’s happening in their learning environment?

 

In other words, if people aren’t dancing, whose fault is that? I hate to blame the DJ, but the truth is that some pancake turners are more attuned to the energy in the room than others. They know when and how to change things up.

 

I have observed an inverse relationship between the use of mobile devices by participants and the number/frequency of instructional strategies/approaches used. I’m just saying.

 

 

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presenter’s five worst nightmares

Here they are – my top five, in no particular order because all can be equally harrowing:

1. Being unprepared: Not so much unprepared with respect to content, but being disconnected to the learners and their needs. It is possible to get caught off guard with a group whose expectations are not a match with the topic or what I’ve prepared. Like the time with a group whose manager made them all come to my workshop, and unknown to me they were collectively engaged in a major power-struggle with said manager. Not fun being caught in the middle of all that.

2. A complete A/V fail: I once arrived to present to 300 practitioners, and as the speaker was introducing me, one of the organizers casually mentioned that the projector wasn’t working but should be up and running in an hour or so.

Me: “No problem, we’ll just go with the handouts.”

Organizer: “Handouts? Oh…I knew I forgot something…”

Me: !

Speaker: “…and in conclusion, it is my pleasure to introduce our presenter….”

A live demonstration of the therapy mode I was presenting on bridged us to the arrival of the tech person. But if there had been no tech person?

3. A cancelled flight to a talk that has been booked a year in advance, for which lots of people have prepared with care and attention to detail. Last week’s flight out – on time, no less – on the biggest snowstorm of the year was an actual miracle.

4. Noise in the hotel the night before a talk: I’ve learned through experience to politely express the following wish list when checking in:

Away from the elevator (it’s like living on a quiet cul-de-sac versus a major thoroughfare)

No door to an adjoining room (interior doors aren’t nearly as soundproof as walls)

Upper floor (for some reason the partiers tend to be congregated on lower floors).

The worst was that night in Brazil having to pack up and change rooms at 1:00 AM because the folks next door had lots to say (though I don’t understand Portuguese), really loud voices, and no signs of flagging.

5. A boring presentation: It takes so much time, effort and commitment to get a group together, and it’s such an important opportunity to inspire and motivate change. Keeping things fresh, engaging, relevant and fun is a lot of work, but the alternative is bad news for everyone – presenter and group.

Awareness

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One word to ponder.

 

Something we are always learning and relearning.

 

 

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It’s about preparation versus rehearsal

 

My first exposure to the concept of a ‘meditative preparation’ for working with others – whether in a therapeutic, collegial or educational context – came from Dr. Lawrence Shulman in his notion of sessional “tuning in” to a group prior to each group therapy session.

For Shulman, tuning in is about taking a few minutes beforehand to anticipate and imagine what might be going on with each person and with the group as a whole:

  • Was it difficult to get to group because of weather or transit?
  • What other competing priorities might people be struggling with?
  • How safe are people feeling in the group itself?
  • What stage of group development are we at?
  • Are people there because they want to come, or because someone else made them attend?

I have found the skill of tuning in to be enormously helpful before leading any group, including conference presentations, trainings and workshops. Intentionally tuning in helps get me focused on the participants, how they’re feeling, and what they are hoping for; versus focused on me and what I am feeling or hoping for! Tuning in puts me squarely in in the “here and now”. It helps me to be 100% present.

Take five minutes before you enter the room to reflect on the above questions. The best five minutes you can possibly spend: think preparation versus rehearsal.

 

 

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Take a moment and consider…who was your absolute favourite teacher?

 

What was it about him or her that had such an impact? What was so memorable about this person’s qualities and behaviours?

 

Chances are that a name and a face came to your mind immediately. Even after more years than I care to say, I still remember Mr. Bolland, my high school English teacher. His sense of humour, his love of literature, his patience in the classroom and respect for students made me keen to come to class. He was inspiring. Chances are, these are some of the qualities that you also recall so vividly.

 

I’ve used this activity, contributed by Dr. Carolina Yahne as a resource for the Motivational Interviewing Network of Trainers (MINT), in my own clinical courses and workshops as a way to evoke the “spirit” of Motivational Interviewing. This includes the principles of partnership, unconditional acceptance, accurate empathy, autonomy support and compassion.

 

The fact that people experience the “favourite teacher” exercise so universally and so similarly underlines the impact that educators (and others!) can have on a someone’s life. People remember most of how we make them feel (as opposed to what we say), and I like to remind myself that each and every student represents an opportunity to make a positive difference.

 

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Advances in education theory for a digital world

 

This article is abbreviated from:

Herie, M. (2013). Andragogy 2.0? Teaching and Learning in the Global Classroom: Heutagogy and Paragogy. Global Citizen Digest, 2(2): 8-14.

Whether implicit or explicit, everyone has a theory of teaching and learning. This gets expressed and enacted by how we engage with others, whether as instructor or student. Traditional theoretical frameworks can be broadly grouped into four domains: instructivism, critical theory, constructivist approaches and andragogy (or adult learning). However Web 2.0, characterized by many-to-many, decentred and non-linear networking and communication, has given rise to corresponding advances in conceptualizing teaching and learning in the global classroom. Emerging frameworks – heutagogy (learning as self-determined and non-linear) and paragogy (peer-to-peer and decentred learning) – have important implications for practice in the 21st Century.

Education theory has seen a trajectory from teacher-centred (instructivism) to learner-centred approaches (constructivism and andragogy), incorporating broader contextual issues and dynamics of power, privilege and community (critical pedagogy). However, these theories were all developed prior to the rise and ubiquity of Web 2.0 and social media. Integrating emerging models can extend constructivist, critical and andragogical frameworks towards a kind of “andragogy 2.0”.

Heutagogy and paragogy represent potentially useful extensions of constructivist, critical and adult learning theories; that is, androgogy 2.0. Both heutagogy and paragogy offer models of learning that are (1) self-determined, (2) peer-led, (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 through their emphasis on meta learning, or learning how to learn.

Andragogy, as self-directed learning focused on competency development, is reconceptualized in heutagogy as self-determined learning focused on developing capabilities. As our rapidly-changing occupational terrains continuously advance and expand workforce competency needs, today’s workforce requires lifelong learners who are both competent and capable. No post-secondary program of study can ever really prepare students with all of the knowledge and skills needed (competencies); rather, it is one’s capability in determining what knowledge and skills need continuous development, and how to access/master them (capabilities). The skills associated with locating and interrogating information to inform decision-making, what we might call “knowledge curators”, are paramount in a knowledge economy.

This in turn implies access to knowledge and skills in a non-linear fashion by today’s “hyperlearners” (derived from the hypertextuality of the web, where information is hyperlinked with no beginning-, middle- or end-point). The process of knowledge construction is itself non-linear, and non-linear curricula would mirror real-world knowledge retrieval and construction. Similarly, shifting from instructors and learners collaboratively co-creating curricula, towards a learner-directed approach, may better prepare learners with the skills needed for lifelong learning via personal learning networks (mapping onto autonomous digital communities).

Finally, heutagogy and paragogy address process over content – the “how” as opposed to the “what” – or meta-learning (learning how to learn). Through networked community and crowd-sourcing, “the whole may be greater than the sum of its parts”. This is illustrated by the elegant solutions to complex problems yielded via crowd-sourced distributed networks. For example, in 2011 crowd-sourcing was used to successfully solve a protein structure (retroviral protease of the Mason-Pfizer monkey virus, the cause of an AIDS-like disease in monkeys) that had puzzled scientists for over a decade (Akst, 2011). The crowd-sourced solution was published in the peer-reviewed, academic journal Nature Structural and Molecular Biology (Khatib et al. 2011).

An emphasis on developing capabilities in a learner-directed, non-linear and process-oriented way makes it particularly well suited to today’s digital generation, where connectivity, creativity and reflexivity are foundational to global citizenship and collaboration.

 

These models represent a departure from mainstream structures of higher learning. Just as social media and Web 2.0 turned a “one-to-many”, broadcast model of Web 1.0 on its head, the notion of peer-to-peer, self-determined, decentred learning within the context of a learning community characterized by principles of social justice, equity and inclusion may sound utopian: “It is […] no easy task to adopt a decentralised model, since it will require massive procedural, economic and professional change in higher education” (Weller, 2009, in Corneli and Danoff, 2011). Yet in many ways, heutagogy and paragogy simply extend constructivist and critical frameworks, reimagined for a digital generation and a global community.

A provocative 2003 article by Carol Twigg references higher education as largely a “handicraft industry”, with most courses developed by individual faculty for unique cohorts of students:

Currently in higher education, both on campus and online, we individualize faculty practice (that is, we allow individual faculty members great latitude in course development and delivery) and standardize the student learning experience (that is, we treat all students in a course as if their learning needs, interests, and abilities were the same). Instead, we need to do just the opposite (Twigg, 2003, p.38).

Globalization has led to global classrooms, where difference among learners is the rule rather than the exception, spanning culture, language, gender, sexual orientation, faith, ability, social location, migration history and standpoint. It is unsurprising that educational institutions struggle with students’ accommodation needs and demands: it is hard to reconcile standardized curricula with learner heterogeneity along multiple intersecting dimensions.

An analogous example can be seen in advances in chronic disease management. Like education, medicine has traditionally delivered care via an expert model, where treatment is provided based on clinical diagnoses and evidence-informed interventions. In acute settings this works well, however the highest costs and challenges to health care today relate to chronic disease prevention and management. Unlike acute medical problems, chronic diseases like diabetes and hypertension are, by definition, ongoing and rely on patients’ own decisions and motivation regarding health behaviour change. New models of medicine are now focusing on patient self-management and enhancing motivation for change, whereby the system of care (both formal and informal) surrounds – and is largely directed by – each patient for him or herself (Frenk et al., 2010).

Similarly, while instructor-led curricula may be effective for brief episodic and “acute” educational needs, programs of study to prepare students for “chronic lifelong learning” demand student self-management and motivational enhancement. Just as chronic disease prevention supports patients in becoming their own health care leaders, our increasingly complex and digitally connected world places a demand on higher education to shift focus towards more effectively helping learners to become their own teachers within formal and informal networks of guidance and support. This does not negate our role as subject matter expert, but it does place the onus – quite rightly – on supporting students’ capacity for nuanced critical reflection, judgment and decision-making.

Radically self-determined and networked learning approaches (like heutagogy and paragogy) affirm individuals as experts in their lives and learning trajectories. As Stuart Brand famously said, “information wants to be free”. So does learning.

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View the June 3, 2013 presentation for the College and Degree Operating Group (CDOG) conference on the topic of “Andragogy 2.0? Introducing emerging frameworks for teaching and learning: Paragogy and Heutagogy” on Slideshare.

Related articles:

Androgy 2.0: Emerging Theories of Teaching and Learning

Wiki-MOOCS

 

Chicago Millennium Park

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Earn it, care about it, and tell me a story

 

Although I have never attended a Dale Carnegie seminar on public speaking, I have found that his books are a treasure trove of wisdom and experience. While he did not discover the importance of connecting with an audience through authentic and personally-informed communication, Carnegie was able to convey these ideas in a powerful and compelling way.

In particular, three of Carnegie’s stand-out tips for a successful presentation are worth emphasizing:

1. Earn the right to talk about your subject. To me this idea captures the credibility that comes from experience, knowledge and practice. A high-stakes example is delivering a workshop on presentation and teaching skills, something I always approach with trepidation. Presenting about presenting, and teaching about teaching, means that as a facilitator, my own modeling of the subject needs to be outstanding in order to earn the group’s respect and engagement. I don’t think I’d be able to be successful in this without the years of experience I have spent “in the trenches” (e.g., this article on presenting in less-than-optimal surroundings).

2. Make sure that you are passionate – that you truly care – about your topic. My personal experience in the transformational impact that learner involvement and group energy can have makes it easy for me to convey my excitement about dynamic group facilitation and teaching. I know that transforming practice can make a meaningful difference in peoples’ personal and professional lives and careers, and that inspires me to want to inspire others.

3. Use clear and relatable illustrative stories to underline your key points. We are all hard-wired to respond to stories, and what better than our own experiences to communicate real-life applications and meaning behind important concepts or strategies?

I recently witnessed the impact of an inspirational teacher in my teenager’s volitional commitment to complete one hour of physics homework per day over the holidays. Did I mention that this is unprecedented and has been sustained with zero prompting on my part? The determination to master a complex and challenging subject is largely due to an outstanding teacher’s effectiveness in sparking interest and motivation in his students. From the teenager’s reports, this high school teacher brings years of experience in the field, loves everything to do with physics, and is not wanting for intriguing and off-the-wall examples.

What a powerful testimonial to the continuing relevance of Carnegie’s presentation tips: Subject mastery you’ve truly earned, passion for the topic, and good stories can all add up to a stellar experience for both audience and presenter.

Halloween Topiary

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s not to like about putting on a costume and knocking on strangers’ doors for free candy?

 

 

 

I grew up in a low-candy household, so when I was a kid, October 31st was my chance to stock up for the year. As fellow witches, ghosts and monsters dropped away one by one, I persevered alone carrying a heavy white pillowcase, trudging on until I achieved a self-imposed quota of sugary provisions. Months later, in the heat of an August day, lying on my bedroom floor desultorily reading an Archie comic, I would find a mass of dusty and melted candy forgotten underneath the bed.

 

The lessons learned?

Candy tastes really good. Scarcity makes things more appealing and desirable. Too much candy, after a while, doesn’t taste so good. A surfeit of that which is most desired siphons the magic away…Until months pass, autumn leaves turn, and the cycle continues anew.

 

I resolve to apply the following lessons learned from childhood to my teaching:

Don’t give out more than students want: “To teach well we need not say all we know, only what is useful for the pupil to hear”.

Make learning appealing and desirable (and fun).

Awaken others’ minds to the places where their knowledge is scarce (because that will make them want it even more).

In the end, the one who wants it most will trudge on after all others have had enough or given up.

and

There may be such a thing as too much Halloween candy, but there’s no such thing as too much knowledge.

 

 

 

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The stages of group development can help us see where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re heading

 

Why are some classes a pleasure to teach, while others test every skill and fragment of an instructor’s patience and fortitude? How can things seem to start off so well, and then proceed rapidly downhill? I have found it helpful to remind myself of the stages of group development as a rough heuristic for making sense of the classroom climate over the course of a semester.

 

Having a “big picture” sense of the terrain I am navigating with students gives me a general road map and guide. Where did we start, where are we now, and where do we want to go? These are the questions I am asking in reflecting on my teaching practice. The principles of group dynamics state that groups tend to progress through five specific stages in the process of developing cohesion and productive functioning:

 

  1. Forming: Getting to know each other, as people determine the degree to which there is safety in risk-taking. Groups that get stuck at this stage tend to remain at a superficial level, and there is minimal group cohesion and community. Keep challenging their assumptions and encourage students to step beyond their comfort zone in engaging with one another and with the course material.
  2. Storming: Characterized by interpersonal conflict, as group members test implicit and explicit norms and boundaries. This stage can really stretch our skills as we help the class navigate through rough waters. Hold steady. You (and they) will get through it. And pat yourself on the back for successfully supporting the class’s progress past Phase 1 – that’s not easy to do.
  3. Norming: Developing positive group norms, values and behaviours is the reward for getting through the conflict and challenges of the storming phase. As a community of learners, what values do we stand for? How do we enact them in the classroom? Guiding students to examine and internalize positive group norms shifts some of the heavy work from the instructor to the class.
  4. Performing: This is when it’s easy to remember why you are passionate about teaching. High functioning classrooms happen when students are committed to their own and others’ learning, and are willing to dig deep and make mistakes. Here is the laboratory where transformative learning happens. Congratulations, you earned it.
  5. Adjourning: Saying goodbye can be tough, and guiding the class through this transition means honouring and celebrating their collective experience and acknowledging that this is ending.

And then you get to start all over again!

 

 

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