The Girl with the Tasteful Tattoo

As a teacher it is always inspiring to be on the other side of a classroom and to get taught well. Recently I found myself a student again at a conference about how my organisation can apply social media. I have always believed that learning has a law of three. The three things required for learning to take place. It has to be the right time, the right place and the right person. If only one of those is absent learning doesn’t happen and it’s nobody’s fault. As soon as the missing piece or pieces drop into place it happens. An empowered team of digital natives directed by the girl with the tasteful tattoo aided by representatives from Australia’s new Twitter team and from LinkedIn Australia, we were guided back to the Future.

 
Now I have two traffic lights between me and my workplace. If any of them are red I’m likely to have an instance of male menopausal road rage. So Sydney is not a place I could live in again. Never the less it is truly a beautiful city. When I lived there a Sunday afternoon at an intimate little pub in the Rocks, with jazz notes drifting in on the wind and coffee brewing in the distance, was just the best day. It’s even better down there now, the Sydney foreshore by night in the middle of the Vivid festival took me back down the years to the Sydney citizen I once was. I walked all the way from the Opera House to Darling Harbour and on up to Central Station. The city has done a great job. It’s a beautiful walk especially at night. A walk with the new and the memory of places that have stayed the same.

 
It got a bit scary at Central Station, 11 o’clock at night. Walking head on into a drunken mob with breaths that were incendiary, I nearly freaked out until I noticed red and white scarves. I yelled out “Up the Mighty Swanees ……. Mate I’m from the bush, where the “f###” is the platform to Cronulla?” Well the lads bundled me up and deposited me down, on the right platform, slapped my back, shook my hand and were gone with comments about how good it was that we kicked Geelong’s arse.

 
No one told me there are three thousand stops between Central and Cronulla. What’s more the train seats just don’t smell the same.
In my youth I lived with two other uni students in a flat near the Cross. One of them, Rod was going out with a very straight girl. In the middle of the sexual revolution he is going out with a girl who will only let him kiss her once on the doorstep of her parents’ house on a Saturday night.
Dump her I used to say. Back then I could be insensitive sometimes.
They would go to a movie, rush to catch the second last train to Southerland, walk a million miles, sweaty hand in hand, catch a kiss on a cold front porch, run to catch the last train back, fall into an exhausted sleep of unfulfilled lust and go around and around the city circle all night. He would stagger back into the flat early next morning smelling like a train seat. Well Rod after all these years I finally realise the hell you went through. I did the second last train to Cronulla.

 
It’s extraordinary that for the first time in human history desktop PC sales have dropped the last 2 years running. Every presenter from the Social Media companies showed us stats’ ranging from 60 to 80 percent of all social media content is currently being consumed on mobile devices. I learned that one minute of video is equivalent to 1.8 million words. I was encouraged to make my content relevant (so much for this post), make it local, mobile optimised and use multimedia that’s multi directional and above all embrace conversation and don’t be afraid to let that conversation have a life of its own.

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Why we have Different Resumes

As a teacher it’s obvious that you are always fascinated and inspired by the nature of learning itself. I have determined a bit of a theory from all my years teaching. Learning has a law of three. To happen it has to be the right time, the right place and the right person. If one of these elements is not present learning doesn’t happen. It’s not anyone’s fault and it doesn’t mean learning won’t happen when the missing pieces drop into place one day. Walking down the street and have that light bulb moment on what your teacher was on about, all that time ago. It doesn’t have to be the right time, place and person at the same time. It can happen over time and in any sequence.

The community and the value it places on education determine the importance its people will place on it. During the time of my teacher training I travelled to Bali. It was 1972 and Kuta Beach had no tourists. A bar called “Poppies” was the only place you could get a drink and a joint called Dayan’s had the closest thing to western food and served something resembling a steak which was cut from a dairy cow . I went to the local school, made myself known to the teacher. It was only a single teacher school back then. He wanted to improve his English and translated my stories of Australia to the children. They were beautiful children, respectful and obedient yet at the same time inquisitive, cheeky and cheerful. They could take all you had and were still ready for more. I couldn’t convince them that a platypus was real however. A very funny failure.

I found out it was only one child per family that could afford to be sent to school. School finished at 2 pm and that child went home and repeated the lessons to everyone else in the family from grandmother down. They really valued education as a pathway out of poverty. When I asked the teacher how he handled discipline problems he looked at me as if I was nuts. He didn’t have discipline problems. Back in Australia the value of a teacher on the respected professions list had just slipped under that of a lawyer (God forbid) after being second only to doctors ever since the great depression. Back in my classroom I had to continue implementing behaviour negotiations with kids who either didn’t value education, took it for granted or didn’t want to be there. Dreaming of teaching in Bali with kids who did.

In this third post dedicated to the insights of Sir Ken Robinson I come to his last reason why human life evolved to flourish. Those so far:
•    Firstly “Humans are naturally different and diverse.”
•    Secondly “What drives human life to flourish is curiosity.”
The third principle is: “Human life is inherently creative.”

It’s why we have different resumes. We create our lives and we can recreate them as we go through them, it’s the common currency of being a human being.” – Sir Ken Robinson – “We all create our own lives by this restless process of imaging alternatives and possibilities and the main role of education is to awaken and develop these powers of creativity.
All successful educational environments individualise teaching and learning, recognise it is students who are learning and the system has to engage them, their curiosity, their individuality and their creativity. That’s how you get them to learn.”

Successful schools support their teachers, select inspired people, give them first class support and professional development. As a mentor to trainee teachers I would ask these simple questions. Are you using teaching as a stepping stone to another career? If so forget it and go somewhere else. Do you like kids? If so, “so far so good” I would say. Children intuitively sense if a teacher likes the company of kids. “Did you have a teacher you hated? If so, don’t do what they did. Did you have a teacher you loved? If so, do what they did. After their six week practical you could mostly tell if they were going to cut it, and those who would view teaching as a vocation or a career.
There is no system in the world or no school in the country that’s better than its teachers. Teachers are the lifeblood of a schools success, but teaching is a creative profession, teaching, properly conceived is not a delivery system.” Sir Ken Robinson – “Great teachers mentor, stimulate, provoke and engage. In the end education is about learning. If there is no learning going on there is no education going on.

Education cannot be decided in committee rooms. It is not an industrial process that can be understood by data mining methods to create some perfect algorithm for success now and in the future. It doesn’t work that way. Teachers and students do it in classrooms in ways difficult if not impossible to measure.

Education cannot be a command and control centralised model.
If you remove their discretion it stops working. Education is an organic system, in many places they are not dead they are dormant. Right beneath the surface are the seeds of possibility, waiting for the right conditions to come about and with organic systems if the conditions are right life is inevitable. You take an area, a school, a district, change the conditions and give people a different sense of possibility, a different set of expectations, a broader range of opportunities, cherish and value the relationships between teachers and learners, offer people discretion to be creative and to innovate in what they do and schools which were once bereft spring to life.”  – Sir Ken Robinson

No two people are the same. Curiosity can be sparked but not faked. Creativity can’t really be taught but can be nourished, supported and applauded. This is the stuff of a teacher who sees the job as a vocation and not a career. Parents hope that their children will be taught by at least one of those teachers in their schooling just like they probably were. No matter how old they are, they will not have forgotten that teacher who touched a part of their being which had hitherto remained untouched. Those of you that say if you can’t do it in real life, you go and teach it, screw you. You know nothing.

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It’s Crap about Curiosity and the Cat!

In the last post I stated that Sir Ken Robinson believes that three things are unique to humans and learning and the first is “Humans are naturally different and diverse.” The second is curiosity.
“The second principle that drives human life to flourish is curiosity” – Sir Ken Robinson “If you can light the spark of curiosity in a child they will learn without any further assistance very often.”

A traveling group of medieval reenactor’s came to our little country High School to do a show. A committed young History teacher hired them because he wanted to make history live for his students. Not just the dates and times stuff.  The whole school went to watch on our football field. They had costumes, armour and weapons. They were great teachers in the way they sparked our curiosity. Sir Ken says it all, curiosity is sparked, and it can’t be faked. It’s true you never know when, why or how that spark will be lit. He makes one thing clear about learning, if your curiosity is sparked, the learning is easy. Often it’s the birth of a magnificent obsession. It can be weird like getting a curiosity for barbed wire and going on to get the biggest collection of barbed wire in Australia and traveling around country shows exhibiting and giving lectures about your barbed wire collection. Even more curious is that crowds probably flock to see it. Curiosity not only can be weird, it can be wonderful. A magnificent obsession born out of a human need to satisfy curiosity can and has changed the world.
The reenactors first sparked our curiosity by asking this question: How was it possible that 300 Spartans held off 60,000 Persians at the pass of Thermopylae for 3 days? I mean “Mythbuster” material. We had some wild stabs in the dark but both teachers and students alike didn’t have a clue. They called out all the boys from the front row of our football team, dressed them in armour and asked them to try and run around the football ground four times. It was in the middle of an Australian summer. A lot of those tough lads didn’t make the four laps. One of the reenactors explained that Darius had pushed his Persian army too fast for too long during a searing summer in full armour. Few of them were capable of fighting a battle by the time they got to the pass, exhausted and mostly out of water. It gave the Spartans the breathing space to be able to hold out for as long as they did. Admittedly the narrow pass did help.

Then they gave us a demonstration. One of them had an English Longbow and the other had a blunderbuss, one of the first known firearms. Each had a target and a three minute time limit. The archer put twelve arrows in the target in the three minutes. The Blunderbuss dude loaded and fired twice, missed both times and covered the entire football ground in dust and smoke. We all laughed.
The question posed was: If the longbow was so obviously superior why was it replaced by the blunderbuss? Once again we had NFI (no f***ing idea) They told us it took 12 years training to come even close to the proficiency of the experienced English long bowman of his day, with a few campaigns and dead Frenchmen under his belt. English bowmen were feared by all the armies of Europe.
It took 12 minutes to train some “dickhead” to fire a gun. Even when it blew up in his own face, no fault of his own, there was always plenty more where he came from.  It was all in the numbers and the bowmen died out and the guns got better.

The teachers and the 350 students in that small school in the middle of an Australian nowhere never forgot the day of the medieval display. We all talked about it for a long time afterward. I’ll wager any teacher or student who was there on that day remembers it as well. We had our curiosity sparked, lived history for a day and learned without learning.

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How to escape education’s death valley

There is no Fairness if you Do not let us Cheat.

Sir Ken Robinson points out that there are three things unique to humans which must be considered in every system of education no matter what country or culture.
Firstly “Humans are naturally different and diverse” – Sir Ken Robinson. He goes on to warn that many education systems concentrate on conformity rather than diversity and he is wary of too much standardised testing. The traditional exam, testing your memory in a closed book test with a time limit seems to be archaic now when you have Google in your pocket. I understand that if you are qualifying to be competent in administering CPR, I don’t want you looking up the manual while I’m expiring on the floor. If I am in a Qantas jet approaching Mascot airport I don’t want my air traffic controller saying “Wait a minute while I check to be sure that other aircraft is where it’s supposed to be!” That kind of testing still has its place but otherwise it seems to be coming more and more irrelevant.

Many years ago before Google, my son came into my study asking for the encyclopaedia CD. I asked what he wanted it for. I’ve got an assignment on Christopher Columbus. Off he went to his room. Voice echoing up the hallway “Hey Dad how do you spell Christopher?” followed in predicable sequence with “Hey Dad how do you spell Columbus?.” The network printer in my office clattered away, he arrived swept up the pages off the tray “Can I borrow your stapler?” Click Clack and he threw the pages in his school bag heading for the door. “Wait a minute, aren’t you at least going to read it?”  “Nah, they want to find out about Christopher Columbus I don’t. If I ever do I’ll come back and get the CD.” That primitive teenage logic was difficult to deny. I did get him to consider the question “Every man and his dog as far back as the ancient Egyptians has claimed to have discovered the Americas, how come Columbus got the tick of history?” After some discussion and CD searching we concluded it was because he was the only one to establish a lasting settlement. Even though we have learned since they had to eat of few of the other settlers in order to survive.

If you ever wanted a convincing argument for abandoning the age old final exam, closed book and three hour time limit you only have to look what happened at the university entrance exam or “gaokao” in Beijing last week. The unwritten law apparently is everybody cheats. Last year they discovered 99 identical papers in the one subject. Authorities decided it was time to crack down.
When students at the No.3 high school in Zhongxiang arrived to sit their exams this month, they were dismayed to find that they would be supervised by 54 randomly selected external invigilators.” – Malcolm Moore

An “Invigilator” now that’s a term with pause for concern. I swear I had one of those trying to kill me in a computer game once. Well these invigilators used metal detectors to discover phones and cheating devices deep down in the underwear. Wi-Fi earpiece linkups to dial a friends in buildings across the road. Some cheating devices were disguised as normal pencils or pens and other seemingly harmless and normal examination accessories. Nothing it appears was what it seemed. Female invigilators did strip downs and pat searches of all the girls.

When the crying students distressed from being stopped from cheating, told their parents on leaving the exam room there was a riot. Teachers and invigilators were trapped, besieged and showered with curses and rocks. The teachers were appealing over the internet to be saved. ”We are trapped in the exam hall,” wrote Kang Yanhong, an invigilator, on a Chinese messaging service. ”Students are smashing things and trying to break in.”
Outside, more than 2000 people had gathered, smashing cars and chanting: ”We want fairness. There is no fairness if you do not let us cheat.”
Because everybody cheats being stopped cheating was putting these 800 students at a distinct disadvantage, the enraged parents claimed.

It is true, it isn’t fair if you can’t cooperate, collaborate, question and inquire. It’s how you do it when you are anyplace else except in an exam.
I have yet to be in a workplace where someone said, “You have to go over there sit alone, do your job alone, just you and your memory, don’t ask anybody anything and don’t even think of looking anything up. Your time starts now.”

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I’m Happy Feeling Miserable


“We’ll all be rooned,” said Hanrahan, “Before the year is out.” – John Obrien

We all have those friends who’s glass is always half full. Like Hanrahan they habitually bring out the negative side of everything. People never invite a habitual pessimist to a party if they can help it. Could it be that pessimists are happy being miserable?  Everyone else thinks that because a pessimist is not happy there must be something wrong with them. Feeling that unhappy can’t be normal, they need help.

A growing number of psychologists and social researchers now believe that the ”feel-good, think positive” mindset of the modern self-help industry has backfired, creating a culture where uncomfortable emotions are seen as abnormal. And they warn that the concurrent rise of the self-esteem movement – encouraging parents to shower their children with praise – may be creating a generation of emotionally fragile narcissists.”  – Jill Stark

The power of positive thinking, being peddled by highly paid motivational speakers, this “You can be all you imagine” message and the obsession with the positivity culture we now inhabit, could it be the cause for the rising rates of binge drinking, drug use and obesity in the young? As this manufactured happiness eludes them do they then seek manufactured highs to compensate?

 Carol Dweck, professor of psychology at Stanford University. ”More and more, parents are unwilling to let their children struggle,” she says. ”They want them to feel good at all times so they’re telling them how smart they are, they’re really showering them with what we call person praise – ‘you’re talented, you’re smart, you’re special.’ My research shows it backfires. It makes kids worried and tells them that the name of the game is to be smart.”

 US psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb reported that many young adults – “largely from happy, loving, advantaged homes – were feeling confused, anxious and empty due to overprotective parenting that focused too much on happiness and shielded them from adversity. Thrust into the real world, even minor setbacks became catastrophic.”

The truth is every child is not ”special”, they are children. If you don’t have any they are those small people running around squealing and laughing in playgrounds. They are told if they want it enough they can have anything. But they clearly can’t can they? I had a young friend a really talented football player. He badly damaged his knee in his first professional game and that was the end of his dream of being a professional player. He went on to a nice ordinary life and job, his likable kids had snotty noses and both he and his wife got fat together. Last time I saw him he was very happy but apparently he shouldn’t be.

I don’t know about you but I know kids who were not nice people at 4 years old. I predicted they would grow up to be No Hoper’s (Australian expression) and they often did. Back then I was able to put true comments on their school reports. I did so with the hope that they would recognise their limitations, live with them and make the best of them. No professional teacher who loves children makes adverse comments to be cruel and truly hopes to be proved wrong one day. In today’s era of tick box teaching, teachers can’t put what they really think on the childs school report.  Only the “person praise” comments available from the drop box provided can be used. The old “must try harder” days are gone.

Instead of saying you failed outright its now: you focused well, you tried hard or you used good strategies. But they didn’t did they, they failed, they showed they were not yet capable of doing that task but we dare not say so. The elephant remains in the room, the child is not capable at that level. Not yet anyway. It’s nobody’s fault, it’s no crime. The child might go on to become very happy without ever buying into the “be all you can be” myth.

 Shit happens, setbacks can be daily and unpleasant emotions are not necessarily bad. It’s like your child’s first encounter with serious pain, caught in hospital with strangers in control. You would take their pain if you could but you can’t. Saying “I know how you feel” or “breathe through it” is useless to them and is likely to be received with resentment. No matter what you say you know yourself that pain is a lonely place and you just have to suck it up and get through it and next time is not going to make it any easier. In fact it will be worse because you now know what’s coming.

 Your first great loss, your first grieving could well have been a pet, but then comes a parent. It puts you in a special club where only those who have been there can belong. When one of them says “You won’t get over it but you will get used to it.” You begin a new rich life with your lost loved one that’s internalised and lives on within you.

”The loss gives you access to a wonderful array of very real human experiences, especially the connection between people,” New Zealand psychologist Chris Skellett quotes on the unexpected loss of his son. ”Sadness is tinged with an incredibly profound depth of appreciation of life. You’re acutely aware of what’s important. A lot of the things that preoccupied me before seem rather trite and superficial now. Now, I’m much more connected to the little things. I’m much more profoundly moved by music. A walk in the evening just seems like a gift.”

In an Asian village many years ago I went to buy some fruit. The guy was sitting in the sun, around him his pigs and chickens were wandering and his coconut palms were swaying in the breeze. I asked him what he did for a living and he looked at me as if I was insane and said “I’m doing it.”

If you are not a raving optimist and extrovert there is not something wrong with you that only a personal life coach can cure. You are normal.

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