Monthly Archives: September 2021

You Cannot Save the World (But We Can)

French helps here: Tu (singular, familiar form of you) will not, on your own, save the world – from whatever it needs saving. But vous (plural, formal) just might. All the yous together make an us, a we, an ourselves, that can do this – if we choose to.

We can mitigate some aspects of climate change; we can change attitudes; can beat viruses; can end hunger. We can make sure every child on the planet is fed, loved and educated. We can make our world a kinder place.

But will we? Will you? Will you add your tu to the collective vous?

Let me share a really simple way to begin: Stop – Start – Continue.

Pick a theme that helps make the world a better place (personal, local, national, global – your choice). Then choose one, small action that you will STOP doing; one that you will START doing; and one that you will CONTINUE to do.

The psychology is simple and beautiful: STOP is the usual, expected injunction – stop wasting food; stop smoking; stop ignoring nature’s cries for help. We’re used to this kind of thing from our schools days – even if we don’t like it, it’s familiar.

But START is positive: a meaningful action and personal impact. It gets you up and moving with purpose.

and CONTINUE is a wonderful affirmation that you were already doing something positive. It’s confirmation that you’re playing your part.

Here’s one of my SSCs:

STOP eating meat at breakfast and lunch. (I’ll take the full leap one day, I promise)

START using the Too Good To Go “end food waste” app. (surprise bags of just-going-out-of-date goodies from chain and independent cafes, supermarkets and coffee shops)

CONTINUE getting oddbox deliveries (the unwanted, overbought, unloved yet perfectly in-date-and-edible vegetables that would otherwise end up in landfill)

Small actions; my agenda; not everyone’s, but a micro-contribution to the more ethical use and consumption of food. Why this focus? For me, just the statistics really:

931 million tonnes of food waste was generated in 2019 (UN Report)

820 million people went hungry in 2019 (WHO Report)

It’s not my intent for you to conflate the two findings though it’s hard not to feel a horrible irony. Other numbers are available for juxtaposition – funding to treat diabetes vs that for malnutrition for example (go look). And you can even watch these kind of numbers grow and change live here at Worldometer.

They say those of us over 50 won’t be around to see the world boil. But our children and grandchildren will be, and surely that’s more than enough of a reason for tu and vous and you to act now.

What is your STOP-START-CONTINUE?

info@thinkingclassroom.co.uk

The Sad Truth About Happiness

My sister sends me two WhatsApp messages each day, without fail,

At 9am: Good morning Mike and Lucy.

At 9pm: Good night Mike and Lucy.

Less frequently and less predictably she might ask,

Wot have you been doing today? or announce that, The wether is nice here.

I reply with brief, predictable messages of my own and occasionally add,

How are you feeling today?

Her answer is always the same,

I am happy today.

And, of course, she is. My sister is well cared for in her sheltered accommodation. She gets on with her flat-mates, has her own space, and exists in a mostly harmonious environment of structured freedom. Her week is a mix of routine and scheduled surprise; shopping, walking, gardening, cooking. Her needs are few and her likes extend to The Wurzels and a wide selection of DIsney and Pixar DVDs. At 47 years old, I believe that she is, as she reports, happy.

But how can I be sure? Is her ‘happy’ the same as her friends’? Or mine, or our parents’? How do we know if we are ‘happy’ or if those around us share the feeling? What, indeed, is happiness?

To find out, take your pick from the sagging shelves of happiness literature. And there are a lot of shelves to browse: The Art of Happiness; The Power of Happy; 15 Minutes to Happiness; A Monk’s Guide to Happiness; The Happiness Advantage; The Happiness Hypothesis and even Bill Bailey’s Remarkable Guide to Happiness.

Their messages are crisp and clear: Renounce over consumption! Simplify your life! Get out more! Notice nature! Connect with people! Give! Learn! Meditate! and, as the prescient Susan Jeffers compelled us in 1987, Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway!

Achieving happiness either clears the ground for our personal, deserved success or helps us reframe what success can be.

Social psychologist Dan Gilbert adds a pragmatic voice to the mix. In Stumbling on Happiness he argues that happiness is subjective and elusive. We can only define it for ourselves and the definition bobs about like a balloon in a storm. There are no objective criteria for ‘happiness’.

Gilbert notes that our happiness is often confined to the past (nostalgia, good times) and the future (anticipation, fantasy) but that both are flawed mental activities: we misremember the past, making its recall better or worse that it actually was and we selectively edit our imagined futures. How often is your experience of an event less than you imagined it would be? Was that holiday all you dreamed of? Maybe you edited yourself out and focussed only on the sea and the palm trees; your moods, biases, personality, aches and pains oddly missing from the beach vision…

Finally, Gilbert recommends we pause before seeking our happiness – whatever we deem it to be. Do you really want that car, that house, that life, that experience? Go ask the people who already have what you think you want. What do they say about it? Maybe your happiness lies in a different direction.

So, the sad truth about happiness is that it’s diverse, elusive, unpredictable and subjective. No reason not to seek it, but maybe real happiness is found in the journey not the destination.

Artificial Behaviour

House Rules

  1. Communicate Well
  2. Be Kind
  3. Trust
  4. Enjoy the Learning

I wrote these house rules what feels like decades ago, back in April 2020. They served me well during the rapid shift to online training. But, 17 months later, they work just as well face to face. There’s beauty in their simplicity and a power in their application: learners ask, “how are we defining ‘Communicate Well’?” “How do we establish ‘Trust’?” and thus, through a shared understanding, own their rules.

Back then, hauled kicking and screaming into grids on screens, it was easy to forget the basics. That’s understandable. A lot was happening. Our focus was on survival. But I’m curious why I thought to have ‘Zoom rules’ at all. My guess? I was trained well. It was automatic, second nature, to put something – anything – in place to frame the learning.

Augment or Replace?

Years of edtech growth happened in months. Yet even at pace, the competing forces of innovation and caution crafted something of value: Edtech does not replace teachers, it enhances them. Edtech does not ‘take our jobs’ it enriches them. Edtech does not disempower us; it puts wonderful new tools into our hands.

And here’s one that’ll get you thinking, especially if you’re in the business of nurturing new teachers. Meet Savannah, Dev, Ava, Jasmine, and Ethan, US middle school kids who are ready to help you learn the craft of teaching –

Provided by edtech company Murision, they are part of a “mixed-reality teaching simulation environment supporting teacher practice in classroom management, pedagogy and content”. Basically an AI-driven, virtual space where you can try things out, “learn new skills and craft your practice without placing “real” people at risk during the learning process.”

The Basics Remain

Virtual or real, the basics of managing behaviour in class remain the same:

“Here are the rules. Here’s why we have the rules. Here’s what happens if you do or don’t follow them. And here’s how we’re ALL going to make this work”:

  1. By communicating well
  2. By being kind
  3. By trusting
  4. By enjoying the learning

Training

No avatars in sight here, but I consulted on this Challenging Behaviour course and also contributed the video elements (minus beard). Do take a look and try out the interactive demo – if you’re starting your teaching journey or just want a refresher.

Recommended Books

I learned my craft from Bill Rogers’ material and Paul Dix’s approach is very effective. Get these two key texts at Amazon:

Scripts for Being Radical

Radical Candor

Do you care about the people you work with? Do you challenge them if they need to change? Do you care for them and challenge them at the same time?

You’ve likely heard of Kim Scott’s ‘Radical Candor’ (book at Amazon) advocating the principles of ‘Caring Personally AND Challenging Directly’. Omission of one or both, argues Scott, makes for team dysfunction and reduced productivity.

Prioritising care can lead to ‘ruinous empathy‘: necessary (and difficult) professional feedback is withheld through fear of upset or ‘rocking the boat’. Overemphasising challenge is aggressive and causes fear, disengagement and conflict. If a leader lacks both you’ll know; manipulation and insincerity prevail.

But to care AND challenge is to have ‘Radical Candor‘ – you give essential, performance-related feedback for the sake of the other person’s growth and success. You care about them doing well. ‘I’m telling you what needs to change in your practice so that you can achieve more, can be more, can do more‘.

Of course, it can be hard to balance the two: picking your moment to give the tough message; reading the context, the other person, the risk; preserving their esteem, their control, their security. But here’s why taking the risk makes sense:

Receiving Radical Candor

Imagine that, even though you believe you’re doing the best job possible, you actually aren’t. You don’t know this; you haven’t realised; you think things are just fine as they are. After all, non-one’s told you anything different. But you are making things harder for yourself and running at 80% efficiency.

So, what if your manager knew of a couple of things you could do differently that would make your job easier and eventually get you promoted. You’d get more done; you’d enjoy the work more, you’d thrive. Would you want them to keep this to themselves?; keep quiet in case you get upset; or would you want them to come out with it? And if they did, how would you like to hear their message?

Giving Radical Candor

Here are a few phrases to get you started – whether your radical candor aims to help a team member, a child, a colleague, friend or even a family member:

I’ve noticed a few things that might help you get this done more effectively, may I share them?

There’s a difference between what we were expecting to see and what we’re actually seeing. Let’s talk about what might account for the difference.

I’m going to share a couple of ideas here that I need you take on board right now. Tell me what the positive impact might be for you…

And if you want to make this a whole lot easier in your organsiation, normalise it. Have the big discussion up front before anyone needs to use radical candor. Reach a shared understanding of what radical candor is, why it’s important and how you’ll all use it for the organisation’s benefit.

Then you’ll work in a culture where everyone cares personally and isn’t afraid to challenge directly.

Here’s Kim summarising the core concept.

Learning Will Be Disrupted

Alice (name changed to protect identity) officially attends Greenfields Primary, an outstanding school (name changed to protect its outstandingness) serving a diverse suburban catchment. 12 months into our global pandemic, Greenfields was still struggling to adapt. Remote learning comprised worksheets emailed home; blended pedagogy was tolerated – for now – ‘until we can go back to how it was before’; CPD was on hold ‘while we cope with the disruption’.

Alice’s dad, Mark (you guessed it) is not happy. His company switched online 72 hours into the first lockdown and since then they’ve wrestled with new technology, struggled with diverse work patterns and been frustrated by shifts in customer behaviour. But they stuck with it. They innovated, adapted and exploited the disruption – because they had to, because they needed to, because they wanted to. And now, they’ve emerged more productive, more agile and more creative than before.

Alice’s dad is not happy because if he and his team can grow through adversity, why hasn’t his daughter’s school?

So he talked to his sister Beth, a teacher, about her school, Bluesky Primary.

Bluesky Primary is RI and hard at work fixing that. A week into lockdown they’d realised a different approach was needed. So, they wrestled with new technology, struggled with diverse work patterns and got extremely frustrated by shifts in parent and pupil behaviour.

But Bluesky stuck with it. They innovated, adapted and exploited the disruption – because they had to, because they needed to, because they wanted to. And now, they’ve emerged more productive, more agile and more creative than before.

They LOVE face to face teaching. They LOVE remote learning. And, heaven help us if another lockdown comes, they’re ready. They’ll just flick a switch and seamlessly go online. They’ve developed a blended learning handbook (not policy, big difference); they’ve empowered pupils to be online power coaches; and they’ve recognised how this disruption has shoved them all into their children’s futures – and where else should you be, as an educator?

So, Alice, disrupting the system, subverting the normal, pushing the boundaries, began to attend her aunt’s school, Bluesky, remotely. Why not? says her father. Please do, says Beth. Alice engaged with high quality interactive teaching, made new friends, embraced her future. She didn’t bother completing the worksheets from her official school.

What if your school was open to all children? What if the quality of your interactive live teaching and your learning management systems defined you, rather than the number of worksheets emailed home?

What if the learning economy was so disrupted that your catchment area was global?

The elements above are true, just synthesised from different contexts to make a point. Since March 2020 I’ve watched pandemic disruption amplify and accelerate diversity. Sometimes this is good (teaching becomes better and more effective); sometimes it’s not (children who were behind find themselves further adrift). But the most startling amplification for me has been how teachers and schools that were already forward facing (Bluesky) have really seized disruption, tamed it and used it; and how those that were not (Greenfields) have stagnated, and done nothing new, innovative or interesting for their children.

Chew these over in the staff room:
– What kind of school are you in today?
– Are you preparing your children for their futures or for someone else’s past?
– How do you view ‘disruption’?