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What’s the big cheese?

(read time 2 min) That’s right. The sketches on the post it notes in the photo all represent the same object. They don’t look the same?? Well that’s what happens when you only know something second hand. They were the visual interpretation of a single verbal description of the object. This week we were exploring the importance and impact of clear communication, and I started us off with a ‘bad’ example to show just how things could go awry, and the result was these adorable cheeses.

How many times have we had to say, ‘no- that’s not what I meant…’ even in a casual conversation? Clarity becomes all the more poignant when professional interaction relies on being able to communicate well. For me, as a teacher, I am aware that communication and the descriptions that introduce students to new things and ideas – as if showing them shadows of what they will later experience as reflections, and then embody in their actions – can be the first step in their own understanding, and if this is presented with clarity that students can use it as a tool to move forward, but if it is vague then the resulting interpretations can be as varied as our cheeses.

Everyone took a turn explaining and the importance of feedback and ‘checking up’ along the way was easily demonstrated, even when the explanations seemed clear, the results could be a bit wonky if we didn’t communicate along the way…

Exhibit A: The broccoli, explained by 10 people collaboratively, but without viewing the progress – only the result. We thought this broccoli might be called Sponge Bob.

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For our purposes, the concept of clarity and communication was translated into musical explanations – as often, in the beginning stages of learning, students don’t know what they are doing until they have done it.

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You know that phrase… I hear what you’re saying… yes, but do you understand?

A piece of the story…

Photo CC licensed: http://bit.ly/1ElgSUX (read time 2 minutes, watch time 3:40)

I received an invitation for my students and me to take part in a project – an externalisation of people’s individual masterpiece for their lives.

WHOA…. that sounds heavy, but really valid and exciting. The idea was that these students in California were questioning their lives and sharing dreams in an effort to find a way to make them happen. or something like that. They asked me to share something – music, images, words, video, anything that held part of my story.

They asked:

How did you get to where you are today?

Where are you going?

What is your masterpiece (dream)?

I passed this request all on to my students and some of them will be sharing and sending bits and pieces. Someone has already sent along a video of them performing some music, and more is in the pipeline. I love to think, and reflection is essential for me, both personally and professionally, so I am game. I believe in teaching it is really important to lead by example, even when that presents a challenge. So last week after cycling home (I often think on the bike. It is when I clear my head and sort things out.) I thought, and sat down and made this piece. It took me a few days to go back and watch it — I wasn’t sure if I dared or not — but I did. and here it is, unedited. It is certainly not my whole story, but in that cycle ride, this is the fragment that I thought I’d share.

Your story of where you’re at or how you got there may be a story, a factual chain of accomplishments, or a description of geographical moves – that is up to you. I think however you interpret it, it is a good question, and worth asking.

In the alphabet soup of life

Photo CC licensed: http://bit.ly/1B2Khzv

This morning I was inspired by Gardner Campbell’s Downstream Deliverables, where he reflected on two things: the impact of what we say, and the convergence of people who impact or have impacted him. When I read his post I had so much to say I decided it was too much for a comment and that I would write about it –

Firstly words. Words are so, so important – especially when they come from teachers. We have all heard about the pink elephant, or the white bear. No? Well, you probably just imagined one. Wegner, Schneider, Carter & White (1987) first presented the effects of asking people NOT to think of something. I love that. Teachers (and everyday people) do this all the time.

Don’t colour outside of the lines. Don’t be late. Don’t forget to do your homework.

For all of these, we must first think of doing it wrong before we can imagine doing it right.

Another one that gets me- and is possibly my favourite ‘faux-pas’ of all time is the word TRY.

How the heck can you try to do something? Seriously, have you ever tried to make your lunch or tried to teach a class? No. No, you have not. You have either done it or not done it. The magic here is that we do. We choose to do, and sometimes the things we do are partly completed – because we hit a roadblock and need help, or need to learn more before we can complete that task – and other times we do things and fail. That said, it is no bad thing to do and fail – as long as you (like my teacher used to say) get back on that horse. Trying was perhaps the first generation of the very nasty phrase that unfortunately gets used in real school settings nowadays ‘deferred success’. ouch. Personally, I would rather fail and get back on that horse.

I know it is a bit cliché, but no less potent because it came from a film. (Did ‘there is no try’ actually come from this film??? I would love to know because I have quoted it in the draft typescript of my book Fostering Self-efficacy in Higher Education Students and if there is another source, I would love to get that right!)  

The other point that Gardner made was about the impact of people, their words, and actions –  and really completing the circle, the cycle, that what flows from one may come back one day. That touched me and I thought YES! I know !!! You are so right!

I had a teacher who touched lives and taught his students to think for themselves and to believe in themselves, and he gave more than he had to give, and in turn the students gave back more than they knew they had. A year ago, 60 of this teacher’s students (past and present) came together as a giant cello family to make music together. We recorded the Adagietto of Mahler’s 5th Symphony – and it is being prepared for release on cd. That event was a meeting of people who have had positive marks left by this one teacher – and we came from across the globe and had many different professional destinations. Each person had grown into their own musician, but we all had that ‘familial’ influence of the same teacher. I cannot really describe how powerful that was in the space of a paragraph.

When in that moment – when downstream and the gathering and culmination of various experiences and paths is delivered to you, – for me that gave me a certain clarity, to perceive the convergence and soak it in. I took from it a perspective on the impact of my teacher, but also of myself- where I had been and where I had come. …and that river is still flowing. That is amazing. Hope to meet you down stream.

That is not really finished, but I hope you’ll agree that was too long to put as a comment.

It is Saturday morning and time for breakfast. I’m off to make waffles.

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“JUST DO IT. (NIKE)” by Source (WP:NFCC#4). Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:JUST_DO_IT._(NIKE).gif#mediaviewer/File:JUST_DO_IT._(NIKE).gif

Those beautiful books

I wake up happy. Yesterday on twitter, an acquaintance from an educational course encouraged me to share my experience with writing a first book – I have just finished the first complete draft – and that was the most lovely extended hand of an invitation. Haven’t blogged for a while, as there has been just too much typing to do, so I thought I’d ease myself back in with a story. I love stories, and this one is short, true, and lovely.

Last night at around the table there was the usual lively discussion. Grandparents were hearing the news of the week from different grandchildren and there were happy sounds of eating and drinking. It was a good family meal. At one point, a teenage child disappeared and reappeared with a large book, nearly two feet long, hardback – I thought it was an artist’s sketch book to show to people, but it wasn’t. Any guesses what this exciting book was?

The atlas

It was an atlas – found at a charity sale in the village. It cost 20p.

The book was laid out on the floor with great respect. – It is so beautiful; I just have to keep seeing its pages. I want to put them on my walls, and look at them all the time – even the cover is beautiful.

It was a completely genuine display, and and it made quite an impression on me. To the older generation around the table it was an atlas- a very nice one, but an atlas all the same. As someone said – yes, and there was one of those books in every school desk, too. But for this teenager who has grown up in a world of Googlemaps, these pages were fresh and displayed the aspects of terrain and contour so beautifully. I want to have those eyes that see things with beauty and adore the unique contribution they can make.

…so a pause to look at the early morning stars now that everyone is up (before the dawn). I said that I didn’t recognise any of them… and I was told – the summer triangle is rising, Vega, the tail of Scorpius… -and if you’re ancient of days that’s how you know spring is coming. Those are the summer stars rising.

I am distracted now, but that was really the whole story. ‘Just a book’ was actually inspiring and beautiful, but somehow that was easy to miss. I’m not saying that every book is inspiring and beautiful, but I am sure there are things around us everyday that are and that we miss.

On that note, I am off to watch the night sky fade as the sun comes up over the fields.

I will compile thoughts on the experience of writing a book, but that’s a story for another day.

night and morning