Saturday, 28 January 2012

Resolutions Revisited

Ok - January is all but gone. Are you still plugging away at those New Year's resolutions? Or, have those good intentions faltered and old habits crept back into place? Research indicates that by now, over 75% of New Year's resolutions have been abandoned. The reasons vary, but in many cases the goals were unrealistic or the strategies employed in support of the resolution were overly optimistic, perhaps even bordering on fantasy. Achieving a goal is rarely easy and for most doing is far harder than wishing. As the Scottish proverb suggests, "If wishes were horses, then beggars would ride"

But what of the 20 - 30% of us who are still plugging away? What strategies are being deployed to help us towards our goals? Some may suggest that sticking with and attaining one's goals is down to good genes or even just single bloody mindedness. While positive attitude, will power and determination definitely play a role in reaching one's goals, there are also other tools that can also help sustain the effort to change .

Good planning is essential. Humans are crea­tures of habits. Many New Year’s res­o­lu­tions often require people to abandon habits devel­oped over the course of years. Keeping goals S.M.A.R.T. -Spe­cific, Mea­sur­able, Action-oriented, Results-focused, Time-bound can help. Many educators are familiar with the idea of SMART goal planning. Nice when something brought up annually for school improvement or achievement contract planning can be applied to our personal lives!

There is also the power of thoughtful reflection. Rather than feeling badly about not making any gains, people can consider what might be blocking their progress and then take action. If the goal is worthy and well planned out, perhaps there are other things getting in the way. Are there competing agendas that need to be assessed for priority and time management? Or, is it just a paralyzing fear of change that is stopping effective action. In his article Beyond New-Years-Resolutions & SMART Goals-Achieve-Success Derek Lauber points out that moving forward requires a person to take a deep breath, look at why they are stuck and then do something about it!  Ironically fear of failure can actually guarantee it! 

At his first inaugural address President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said "All we have to fear is fear itself" Less well known, but even more important were the words that followed "Nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance." Hopefully your resolutions are still on track, but if not, take heart. Good planning, careful analysis and the courage to act can still provide the impetus to reach those goals!

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Patience - A Necessary Virtue

We live in a fast paced world where speed and instant change and action have become the norm. Whether its the number of airport queues I've passed through recently, or the presently glacial pace of progress in the current teachers labor dispute, its worth remembering that patience is a necessary virtue.

Patience can be defined as the capacity to accept or tolerate trouble or delay without getting angry or upset. The modern world is not a patient place. We are used to fast food, fast computers, instant results and service on the fly. Time is money, and no one has time to just stand around and wait. Watch the line ups at a bank, or the body language in a waiting room and the annoyance with any degree of delay can be seen first hand. But how do people cope when circumstances dictate that we "hurry up and wait"? Stories about road rage and violent frustration over delays in service are increasingly common .

And yet when students get impatient in the classroom teachers talk of a need for "self regulation".  In the classroom patience is not just a virtue, its a necessity for both students and educators. Real and effective learning takes time. Learning something new often involves a degree of adversity. The light bulb moment, when students get something that was previously unknown or unfathomable, is cited by many teachers as the best thing about teaching, but what about the struggles that led to that magic moment? Calmly dealing with the frustrations that bring us to a successful break through is equally if not more important.

Anyone can be quick to boil over with frustration when faced with adversity. "Someone should do something" we think. The blame game is an easy, but futile option. If only (insert scapegoat here) would act/be reasonable/give me what I want, all would be good. A better test might be to think about what can be done about the situation. And, if the answer is nothing, or not much - if the matter truly is beyond our control - how can we be constructively patient as we wait for circumstances to change or sort themselves out?

In his article " Dealing With Adversity" Chuck Gallozzi outlines several techniques for improving one's patience. Amongst them is the PPPP program. Briefly summarized, the P's recommend a person deal with frustration by not Panicking,  by making a Plan, to Progress by implementing the plan, and ultimately, to Prosper in maintaining one's calm in frustrating times. Perhaps easier said than done. Gallozzi outlines several other strategies in his article. Maybe the trick is to have the patience to find one that works best for you.

The Serenity Prayer asks that God grant people the serenity  to accept the things they cannot change; the courage to change the things they can; and the wisdom to know the difference. Perhaps it should also include having patience necessary to properly identify which is which. 

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Paying it Forward Down Under

"Let's have a look then" - with those words the professional photographer took hold of my camera. During my recent trip to the southern ocean it seemed everyone had a camera. With wildlife and breath taking scenery all around us photo ops were everywhere. Most of us, were amateurs carrying fairly expensive cameras. Three of our company were professional photographers armed with a dizzying array of technology, who routinely produced amazing pictures. It was intimidating to be even aiming at the same subjects, let alone have one of them analyze my results, but Lionel was a remarkably cheerful and insistent man.

"You've got not a bad eye" he pronounced after skimming through a few of my pictures, "But yer making it hard on yourself". What followed was an unsolicited 30 minute hands on workshop that soon me taking better pictures than I ever imagined. "You got to to be brave enough to take it off auto" Lionel pronounced. I have a Canon Rebel EOS digital SLR. One of its chief selling points was that it is "idiot-proof" - anyone can take great photos simply by using the auto functions. Having disavowed me of that belief, Lionel proceeded to show me  some tricks of the trade and shooting techniques well suited to the types of pictures I was aiming for. "Now go and take a few yerself" were his parting words. 

I did. The results were inspiring, and so much better than what I'd been producing before. When I asked Lionel about why he'd offered to help me, he just shrugged and smiled. "Gotta help a fellow photog now don't I?" he said with his broad New Zealand accent. Lionel's cheerful and selfless instruction, offered for no other compensation other than a love of the craft, improved my photography and added to the enjoyment of an already incredible holiday. It was a classic example of the concept of paying it forward. As I return to my day job I can't but think that perhaps we should all follow Lionel's example. When we see someone starting out, or struggling with an activity that we know and love, it can't hurt to lend a hand, offer a few tips and help them along the way. (For a more detailed explanation of the pay it forward concept see http://www.wikihow.com/Pay-It-Forward)

I've since shown my pictures to dozens of people and have heard many complements. Thanks Lionel! Good on you, as they say down under! Hopefully I'll  pass on a similar favor to someone else one day!

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Out of District: The Benefits of Travel

The start of a new year found me away from my desk and out of district. Actually, right out of the hemisphere, spotting penguins in the Snares Islands in the sub Antarctic south of New Zealand. It was my second trip to Antarctic climes. Last year my wife and I were able to camp overnight on the Antarctic peninsula. Our preference for the far south may come from living in a place where winter reigns supreme much of the year, but I think it has more to do with my wife's fascination with penguins, and her life long desire to see them in their natural settings. (for a cool penguin classroom tool see penguinscience.com) Traveling to the Antarctic requires considerable planning. The region is accessible only at certain times of the year, getting there is a challenge, and fitting the trip into a work schedule is never easy.

And yet it is all so worth it! The benefits of travel far outweigh the reasons not to go.  Travel frees the mind and provides first hand experiences far beyond anything one can see on tv, the internet or in books. There really is no substitute for being there. If a chance comes up to go to a place you've always wanted to go - take it! Fortunately I work with colleagues who think the same way. Our Director of Instruction took a gap year and moved his whole family to live in France, and the district's superintendent and board of trustees support requests for time for international travel, believing such trips promote well rounded and better energized personnel. Human resource research supports the idea that employees who travel and move outside of their comfort zones are more likely to have the flexibility and improvisation skills to deal with the demands of the 21st century workplace.

Travel benefits students as well. Brightspark (Simplifying Student Travel) illustrates this point, with their 10 reasons why teachers should definitely consider traveling with students. SD 60 students have journeyed to Japan, Europe and South America. This spring, our secondary gifted program students are headed to China. Without exception, these journeys provide experiences above and beyond the benefits of traditional instruction. Students share their stories with family, friends and classmates, thus becoming living learning resources. Travel is real life learning that broadens a student's perspective on on other countries and cultures. St. Augustine wrote "The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page." Here's hoping 2012 brings people opportunities to turn as many pages as possible!