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The term fearless is used abundantly in our society.  I  recall hearing the word often while watching sporting events in my youth.  Jack Buck would describe Joe Montana’s pocket presence as fearless or unflappable.  Subconsciously, I began to see the absence of fear as an innate trait possessed by the fortunate few.  To me, living with the absence of fear was akin to living with “grace” as described by Elaine Benes of Seinfeld.  You either live without fear, or it is omnipresent in your life.  

However, my life experiences contradict the convictions of my youth.  I believe we all experience fear, we just manage it differently.  My earlier blogs focused on the art of decision-making and the works of Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman.  Tversky and Kahneman found we often make decisions to minimize failure and maximize security.  This is known as risk aversion.  Life is fraught with risks, hazards and opportunities for failure.  However, these opportunities can be an avenue for professional and personal growth.  Those who are fearless have discovered the utility of trepidation.  

Fear is a primal trait and can be harnessed as a useful tool.  Use the energy and adrenaline that often accompany fear.  If you are worried about a situation or opportunity, research and prepare for the upcoming event.  Preparation produces competence, and competence encourages confidence.  Believe in yourself, live more and fear less.  A life of fulfillment and purpose can be found by embracing, not averting risk.  

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The Undoing Project and Pasta Sauce

In my last post, I mentioned subsequent blogs would focus on the art of decision making.  I have always been fascinated with the psychology of decision making, and this interest was rekindled after reading “The Undoing Project”.  The book is written by Michael Lewis (“Moneyball”) and explores the friendship and scholarship of Israeli psychologists Amos Tversky and Danny Kahneman.  Their work revealed people, even really smart people, make irrational decisions.  People make poor decisions because they tend to ignore or minimize factual information, preferring to use their instincts.  We as educators are not immune to this phenomenon, but we can make better decision for students and staff by making a few simple adjustments.         

Work Collaboratively and Think Independently

Earlier this year I wrote about the dangers of groupthink.  This occurs when a group of people make decisions without dissenting viewpoints.   This is unfortunate because it is critical to examine multiple angles of every decision.  A classic example of groupthink is highlighted in “The Undoing Project”.  A team of trauma doctors assessed a car crash victim and discovered an irregular heartbeat.  They attributed this to the patient’s pre-existing thyroid condition.  The supervising physician acknowledged this was a possibility, but challenged the staff to think of a more probable cause for the irregular heartbeat.  Quickly, someone discovered the patient had a collapsed lung.  Once treated the condition improved.   Left untreated, the condition could have been deadly.  The doctor only asked two or three questions, but his well-timed questions were essential to the patient’s well-being.  Healthy group dynamics and a spirit of cooperation is critical for any team, but it should be accompanied by a culture of inquiry.  Ultimately, we should work collaboratively, think independently and….

Ask Good Questions

If you want to make sound decisions you must first ask good questions.  Recently, I listened to a  TED Radio Hour podcast entitled, “Decisions Decisions Decisions”.  The broadcast reinforced the importance of not only asking questions but asking the right questions.  Good questions are essential and help us gather information to guide our decisions.  However,  we frequently ask questions but forget to listen.  A good case study of this phenomenon is Howard Moscowitz and Prego pasta sauce.  Moscowitz,  a psychophysicist and market researcher, was commissioned by Prego to make their product more profitable.  Moscowitz found that Americans liked three different types of sauces: (a) spicy; (b) plain and (c) chunky.  Moscowitz discovered nearly a third of Americans preferred chunky sauces.  This was significant because you could not purchase chunky pasta sauce at this time.  Certainly, food companies conducted market research prior to Moscowitz’s findings, but they failed to ask the right questions.  By asking good questions and listening to respondents Moscowitz and Prego discovered an untapped market.  

Educators can make and encourage improved decision-making by fostering a spirit of inquiry and listening to their audience.  Too often, a better decision (or pasta sauce) is only a question away.

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Pickles:  The Prize of Poor Decision Making

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We make many decisions each day, and we all strive to make good decisions, or if we are being honest, we hope to avoid making bad decisions.  I’ve made a lot of bad decisions in my life, but one of my earliest gaffes in judgement is particularly memorable.  I was seven or eight years old when I accompanied my Mom to the local grocery store.  I should mention I was obsessed with the vending machines located at the store entrance  This row of red , metallic  apparatuses would exchange quarters for adolescent treasure.  These jewels included Super Bouncy Balls, temporary tattoos, chewing gum, and everlasting jawbreakers.   I was defenseless against their allure, drawn to them like a moth to light.  

Upon entering the store, my mom informed me that she was out of quarters, whisked me past the machines, and grabbed a cart.  However, she made the critical error of stopping to organize her grocery list.    I instantly sprinted  to a machine and searched desperately for stray quarters, only to come up empty.  I quickly assessed the situation and made a bold decision to reach into the bowels of the machine to retrieve a free prize.  I quickly began to panic as I realized my hand was stuck.  I could feel the heat of my Mom’s glare as she walked over to assess the situation.  A crowd gathered and store employees decided to page the night manager.  He was a young man in his early twenties, with a scruffy beard and a large key chain that made his pants sag to one side.  After working steadily for 20 minutes he freed me from my self-inflicted  prison.  

My Mom was embarrassed and assured me my father would be handling this when we got home.  I walked up and down several aisles, fighting back tears, and shuffling my feet slowly.  I promised my Mom (and myself) that I would listen and make better choices.  While reflecting on my earlier faux pas I noticed a shiny display of pickle jars.  They were stacked at the end of the aisle, balanced delicately, one on top of the other.  While marveling at this architectural wonder of pickle perfection, I felt an indescribable urge to touch the display.  Almost immediately, a row of pickle jars fell violently to the floor, leaving a trail of pickle juice and shattered glass.  To make matters worse, the same night manager arrived at the scene with a mop.  We left the store immediately and I wasn’t allowed back for a long time.  My penance for this visit was to work at this same store as a teenager; cleaning up the messes of curious adolescents and careless adults.  

It’s understandable that an eight year old would make a couple of bad decisions (even if this eight year old was incredibly awesome and intelligent), but in this age of information why do we continue to make bad decisions?  Do we inefficiently gather data?  Do we misinterpret information, or lack the skills to analyze data accurately?  I certainly don’t have all the answers, but my next few blogs will explore the art of decision making and how an enhanced understanding can impact education.  

The Shell Game of School Choice

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Two important pieces of legislation have recently been filed in the Missouri Legislature; both related to school choice programs.  HB 634 would expand the implementation of charter schools throughout the State.  Currently, charter schools are restricted to the cities of St. Louis and Kansas City.  Proponents of school choice believe competition between charter, private and public schools will enhance educational opportunities for Missouri students.   However, school choice programs in Michigan and Indiana prove otherwise .  The Center for Tax and Budget Accountability (a nonpartisan research organization) studied Indiana’s school choice program.  Overall, the study found that school choice did little to benefit students and parents in Indiana.  The study concludes:

“All three core components of the Indiana Choice Legislation are designed to funnel taxpayer money to private schools, with little evidence that demonstrates improved academic achievement for students who are most at risk. Indiana should invest its scarce public education dollars in schools where taxpayers can expect to receive the best educational bang for their buck – that is schools that have been proven, when compared to other types of schools, to educate the most children to the highest levels. Those schools are, unequivocally, K-12 public schools.”

A New York Times article published earlier this year examined the proliferation of charter schools in Detroit, Michigan.  Detroit’s expansion of charter programs diluted public funding for all schools statewide, which hindered student achievement.  “By 2015, a federal review of a grant application for Michigan charter schools found an “unreasonably high” number of charters among the worst-performing 5 percent of public schools statewide” (Zernike, 2016).

Senate Bill 32 is a tax credit voucher program.  This would indirectly funnel public money (through the tax code) to private, parochial, public and virtual schools.  Essentially, this is a “shell game” as public money would be shuffled to institutions with minimal oversight.  While public schools are forced to comply with federal and state accountability standards, charter and private schools would receive public money with minimal accountability.  Currently, public schools are facing budget cuts in transportation and are being asked to do more with less money.  The voucher tax credit program would further dilute operating funds.  

SB 32 and HB 634 could have a substantial impact on educational services in the State of Missouri.  School choice programs have been ineffective, inefficient and expensive in other states.  Public schools ensure equitable educational opportunities for all students and are held to high accountability standards.  In my opinion, the proposed legislation would negatively impact Missouri students.  Please contact your local legislators if you agree.

References

Center for Tax and Budget Accountability.  (2015, April).  Analysis of Indiana School Choice Scholarship Program.  Retrieved from the Center for Tax and Budget AccountabilityWebsite:  http://www.ctbaonline.org/reports/analysis-indiana-school-choice-scholarship-program

 

Zernike, K. (2016, June 28).  A sea of charter schools in Detroit leaves student adrift.  The New York Times.  Retrieved fromhttps://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/29/us/for-detroits-children-more-school-choice-but-not-better-schools.html

Thinking in 3-D #IMMOOC

This short video blew my mind.  Someone in Russia “printed” a house.  While the accomplishment itself is significant, what really impresses me is the imagination it took to conceptualize this project.  I have to ask myself, what are we doing as educators to prepare our students for a future  driven by creativity and innovation?  A quote from Part I of the Innovator’s Mindset caught my eye.

“Innovation is not about the stuff, it is a way of thinking.”  

Self-driving cars and printable houses were radical thoughts before they were reality.  Recently, we have done a better job of allowing students to explore, discover, make and create.  However, we seem to provide these opportunities in isolation as opposed to incorporating in everyday instruction.  Traditional classroom content paired with opportunities to think, dream and build can create dynamic experiences for our students. Inventive experiences, and mindsets, are essential in a world where groundbreaking technology is produced with regularity.

 

“Stickiness”

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Earlier this year, I was hanging out with a friend and asked about a mutual acquaintance.  His response was as perplexing as it was concise.  He said, “They’re sticky.  They have a stickiness problem.”  I took the bait and asked for clarification.  My friend explained that negativity begets negativity until one simply expects bad things to happen.  When you put out a welcome mat for life’s maladies they will enter without knocking, drink from the milk carton and ask if they can crash for the night.  My friend further explained that the elixir for stickiness wasn’t  as simple as thinking optimistically.  Stickiness can only be combated through a mindset of positivity, determination and grit.  Bad things happen to everyone, but successful people view these setbacks as temporary challenges to overcome.

Three months later I read a blog by George Couros entitled Stuck in Your Head and Heart.  Couros’ use of the term “stickiness” carries a positive connotation.  He states we must connect to the heart if we hope to make a connection to the mind.  To create meaningful learning opportunities, we must first build relationships with students.  This emotional connection will enhance their desire to learn and will allow key concepts to “stick’ with our students.    

I find this juxtaposition of stickiness to be intriguing.  My friend uses the term negatively, while Couros describes stickiness as a positive attribute.  I believe they are both correct. You must avoid stickiness if you hope to create stickiness.   If you build positive experiences for yourself, you will intuitively replicate these experiences for your students. I recently heard Dave Burgess present, and during his presentation he shared a quote from Maya Angelou who said,

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

 Pay attention to how and what you feel if you hope to lead, inspire and motivate others. How you make others feel may stick with them forever……  

Making the Mundane Meaningful

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Let’s face it, “adulting” isn’t always fun. Whether personal or professional, our lives are full of uninspiring responsibilities.  Currently, I’m in the eye of the adulthood storm, but a flood of monotonous tasks including laundry, dishes, and grocery shopping will soon wash over me.  Professionally, I also struggle with a number of menial tasks which are important, but certainly not inspiring.  These chores remind me of eating vegetables as a kid.  My mom used to tell me, “the sooner you eat your green beans, the sooner you can watch T.V.”  As an adult, I can almost hear her saying “The sooner you process those planned absence forms, the sooner you can go do something fun!”  

Recently, I found a way to bring meaning to the mundane.  Matthew Kelly’s book, Resisting Happiness, outlines multiple strategies to live a life of fulfillment.  Kelly, a well-known, author, speaker and devout Catholic invites us to find meaning in the dull and uneventful.  His solution is simple; dedicate each hour of work to someone you love or appreciate.   I was skeptical at first, but it has had a profound impact on my personal and professional life.  Instead of plodding through tasks, I work earnestly to honor each individual.  Doing a “good” job doesn’t seem adequate when a task represents my wife, daughter, or a sick coworker.  

I also find myself living a life of gratitude.  It’s hard to complain about uninspiring paperwork when honoring the pain and adversity of others.  I’m fortunate to have both the opportunity and ability to complete uneventful duties.  Most individuals living in crisis would consider dull a blessing.