Invaluable Intangibles

As of late I find myself swirling, if not drowning, in acronyms. First SPACS and now most remarkable of all, NFTs. Non-fungible tokens.  Never one to be a laggard I took a deeper dive.. And to simply know what NTF stands for is not enough. More than “all the rage,” NFTs likey are the future. Clearly millennials grasp the concept of NFTs and are paving this somewhat ethereal and hard to conceive of future.  One where we may stray from the more traditional business model of stocks, bonds and mutual funds, but also dip into the entertainment industry.  Artists, athletes, and musicians are seemingly all rushing to create limited digital editions of their “goods.” 

In layman’s terms, digital items being bought and sold with digital money.  What is especially of significance is how authenticity is being guaranteed.  Each item stamped with a unique code and stored on a blockchain.  For more information on blockchain technology, there are a host of YouTube tutorials on the subject.  For now, just think Bitcoin. and where a distributed ledger system underlies blockchain technology. Meaning, the ledger or records, are spread across the whole network, making tampering difficult.  Further, it is encrypted, anonymous, and data added cannot be removed or altered. Everything is recorded.  The whole “story” intact.

Big Money

In the news you may have read how a band called the Kings of Leon garnered more than $2 million by auctioning a song.  Then, American football superstar Rob Grownkowski auctioned playing cards.  Many others followed but none matched the recent trade of a JPG digital piece of art which sold for $69.3 million.

The beauty in each sale is how the internet acts as a short of auction house, helping artists reap the benefits of their trade. The middle man cut out.  In the case of the near $70 million dollar graphic art sale of “Five Thousand Days,” graphic artist Mike Winkelmann, known under the pseudonym Beeple, profited from his 13 years of attention on the “masterpiece.”  

New York Times technology columnist Kevin Roose posited in a March 24th article, “Why can’t a journalist join the NFT party, too?”  $558,134.50.  This was the result of Roose’s column purchased by a user named @3FMusic.  “The biggest perk of all, of course, is owning a piece of history,” Roose wrote in the column. The article is the first NFT in the New York Times’s almost 170-year history.  The column purchased is about what NFTs are all about. Now that is philosophical!

Shifting to professional sports, there is question of whether or not athletes will be able to fully represent themselves.  Or, will players be more like owned commodities?  Gronkowski’s NFT trading cards were auctioned for over $1.6 million.   Patrick Mahomes, another professional football star raked in $3.7 million. The 25-year old has a mission to “make the world a better place,” and proceeds were donated to his 15 and the Mahomies Foundation, as well as 40 different Boys & Girls Clubs in Kansas and Missouri. However, the National Football League is moving fast in hopes of cashing in on NFTs.  Recently a memo was sent to teams telling them that  league approval was needed and to not begin making their own agreements.  This is on the heels of the National Basketball Association establishing a partnership with Dapper Labs and development of NBA Top Shot.  This is a place where fans are able to buy, sell and trade official licensed digital cards. With an estimated market cap over $1.5 billion, this is a slam dunk for the league. 

But What Does All This Mean to Education?

A lot.

College admission is riddled with stories of fraud, cheating and inauthenticity.  The list is as long as it is wide. Implicated parties include organizations, universities, athletic departments, coaches, parents, and celebrities to name a few.  Centralization has permitted secrecy and scandal.  Timothy Collins, a financial adviser, recently shared how “the education industry could use NFTs to share and/or secure transcripts, letters of recommendations, standardized test scores, certifications, and diplomas.” What is being traded or shared as an NFT may be questionable.  However, the significance of adopting blockchain technology is certain.

The future of higher education, and I might argue the future of work, will make this shift.  This may even be considered old news, as nearly two years ago, “nine universities from around the world collaborated to create a trusted and shared infrastructure standard for issuing, storing, displaying, and verifying academic credentials.”  Amongst these was the University of California at Berkeley, MIT, Hasso Plattner Institute at the University of Potsdam in Germany, and the University of Toronto in Canada.

This is good news.  

Verification.

Authentication.

A Future of Great Possibility

The fashion apparel brand Supreme was a bit a bit ahead of the curve. Opened in 1994, Supreme was just that.  Supreme in its uniqueness and originality, possibly even items being limited in stock.  Yet, living in Asia has afforded me many lessons. One, is to not be fooled by a fake.  Ubiquitous are the markets where knock-offs are so well constructed, that only the price attests to imitation. Buyers ultimately chasing exclusivity.

Will education follow a similar trend? Hopefully not in exclusivity but in authenticity. As students “brand themselves” with credentials and accomplishments that ultimately can be attested to by a ledger.

The future holds great possibility. And I wonder where we might be in 10, five, or even three years.  Because I continue to try and wrap my head around how a piece of digital art, a JPG file, something not in the physical realm sold for nearly $70 million.  Purchased with digital money also not in the physical realm.

Do, do, do, do, do, do, do, do (The Twilight Zone Theme Song).

School leader voices tell the real story of pandemic stress

In my recent study into school leader wellbeing during the COVID 19 crisis 70% of the 721 school leaders who took part say they have come close to breaking point at some time during 2020. Even allowing for a response bias, that figure is worryingly high and is worthy of closer examination. You can read the full findings in my report School Leader Wellbeing During the COVID 19 Pandemic 2020. For this post though, I am handing things over to school leaders themselves to tell their own stories. What is published below are their unedited responses to the question “what is challenging you most at the moment.”

“Putting on a brave face and leading every day when some days I’d rather stay in bed and cry. Feeling the weight of accountability for everyone’s health & safety. Feeling and being isolated and alone as HT in a small school with no other leaders.”

“I have completely disregarded my own well-being for the benefit of others.”

“Keeping up to date with the barrage of guidance. Supporting EVERYONES emotional needs, being the punchbag for people’s anxieties AND having to manage new educational remote learning requirements.”

“Trying to remain positive or at least pretend it’s all going to be okay for other staff.  I feel I’m doing the most work but teachers and TAs need to be told they’re doing an amazing job to keep going. They are, don’t get me wrong, but as the only person in leadership at our small school, I could really do with someone telling me I’m doing okay too!”

“Everyone…I mean, EVERYONE is angry…all.the.time.”

“Trying to continue to do everything that is normally expected and required while dealing with a significant increase in Safeguarding and Covid related issues. Staff anxiety and workload management, parent and pupil concerns. Bubble closures, staff absence due to Covid issues. There are not enough hours in the day. And the pressure of knowing we are due a full OFSTED and possibly as soon as Jan 21.”

“Making sure we systematically offer the best programme and support for all, from the students quarantined locally, those on campus, those quarantined remotely and those who have not made it back yet. Supporting the teaching and support staff so that they do not feel too stretched by this ‘best offer’ and burn out by the end of Term 1. Supporting our community when SLT chose to cancel the Oct holidays 10 days before it was due to start.”

“The pressure to continue school improvement, whilst managing everything related to the pandemic. Also dealing with disciplinaries, performance issues, appeals and restructuring staff due to budget. With the possibility of an Ofsted / HSE visit too. Completely overwhelming and beyond stressful.”

“Being everything to everyone and my own family (and kids) being neglected.”

“Managing the stress and anxiety of staff, students and parents whilst disregarding my own.”

“The constant uncertainty, shifting guidance and parents taking their stress and anxiety out on us for decisions we have no control over.”

“Staff feeling isolated and suffering with mental health challenges. Staff shortages whilst working in bubbles. Asking teachers to implement a remote curriculum and prepare resources for this alongside working in isolated conditions and managing increased workload. Pupil separation anxiety. Managing space for isolating bubbles during break/lunch times. Supporting pupils/families with no access to online learning. Keeping up with the volume of guidance and paperwork we need to read every day.”

“Reassuring everyone about being safe and supporting the emotional needs of staff and parents when I don’t felt safe myself and I’m also going through this myself. I’m a teacher not health care or h and safety expert. It’s just exhausting and so worrying- what if I get this wrong. Big responsibility! If a member of staff dies – not sure if ever sleep again.”

“Managing the wellbeing and mental health/ anxieties of all of the school community. No one is willing to make any decision about how to do anything which has had to be changed due to Covid so even the tiniest decisions have fallen to me. This is so draining.”

“Parents – not being rational, shouting, much more emotional.”

“Every day being in fear of what will happen if we have someone get seriously sick or die. Feeling a tremendous weight of the responsibility of keeping everyone safe.”

“The fact that the district’s plan is horrible and unsustainable. The fact that I have to do double the work because they couldn’t create a plan that actually works.  Telling me I need to completely reprogram the school because of covid testing. It’s all about communicating and their information streams are severely lacking.”

“Pressure of keeping the whole school community safe (staff, children, parents, governors, neighbouring residents, visitors and all families attached to those people who never even set foot in my school) and feeling like I need to be a COVID expert, whereas in reality I’m just a human being with a family who loves working with children and teachers.”

“Parents not following the guidelines and then swearing at you when they disagree.”

“It feels like you are working 24 hours a day with having to manage and juggle everything to ensure the constant safety of children, staff, parents and their families. No real rest of wind down time as something is constantly happening.”

“Keeping calm when being continually used as a dumping ground for others.”

“All of it… balancing my own life with COVID-19.  Basically, my personal life is wholly compromised, my partner neglected. I want out.”

“Most challenging: the number of high importance tasks which all need to be done at the same time( ensuring wellbeing and academic progress of children, curriculum, remote learning, keeping parents happy, SEF, SIP, updating website, educating , covering staff due to Covid absences, absorbing everyone’s anxieties whilst remaining outwardly calm and positive ).”

“Response from anxious parents and staff . Often they take this out on you as a senior leader. Trying to cope with restraints of guidance that doesn’t suit them. Quite a few have been very aggressive.”

“Living alone away from family and friends but leaving my baggage at the door in order to support my whole school community without any personal support.”

“It’s been very very confusing with mixed messages from government. It feels like I’m planning for something unknown, blindfolded and hand tied behind my back!”

“Parental pushback. The level of judgement and critique our teachers have been subject to and the sometimes threatening behaviour from frustrated, and often desperate families.”

“My workload has gone from immense to unmanageable.”

“Managing constant change, managing a wide range of expectations, managing comparisons, determining what is in fact the ‘best’ next step, ensuring continuity of learning while emotional well-being seems to hang in the balance for everyone.”

“Being understaffed due to having staff down Covid-19 was extremely challenging. Three members of my leadership team had the virus at the same time, leaving only me leading a team of 90 staff with 1100 children as we moved over to home learning.”

“When we returned to school, staff anxiety was high due to Covid having been in the building. At this point, and still working alone, my cup was full and I was not able to deal with their anxiety which I felt at the time was ultimately shifting pressure to other people.”

Identity Texts: A Pedagogy for Self-Discovery

Image created on canva.com by Shwetangna Chakrabarty

In a world that is becoming more and more globalised, there is an emerging tension clearly visible in the definition of identity. While we have managed to travel around the globe, experience diverse cultures, food and fashion, we also seem to have developed an identity crisis. By ‘we’, I mean all people who identify themselves as global citizens but fail to identify themself. For example, my son represented Tanzania on International Mother Language Day at school even though he is an Indian citizen. Some argue, citing this as an example of global mindedness, the way students/children can adapt to diverse cultures and appreciate them. But on the flip side, these global citizens find it extremely difficult to develop a well-defined identity or a sense of belonging. I find students struggling with the idea of identity when related to language, culture, race and nationality, to the extent that they feel completely alienated. How do we instil a sense of belonging in our students when we want them to relate to every culture they experience? How do we identify a global citizen or how do we create an identity for a global citizen?

A simple idea that I recently came across is integrating Identity Texts into the narrative of global citizenship. Identity text is a way of creating a sociocultural space in the pedagogy and curriculum that can facilitate the learner to share their experiences and identify their natural inclination to their preferred cultural and linguistic context. Students get an opportunity to express their learning approaches and experiences by writing about themselves, their cultural identity, as developed by their experiences. Identity texts can be written, spoken or visual and even musical. They are pieces of evidence from a students cultural heritage, language, ethnicity and race. Identity texts help students to tell and share their stories with their peers and teachers. Identity text is not a pretence rather a prerogative. A simple example is asking students to write about their life journey, family and friends. Students are prompted to share this journey with the rest of the class in the form of a research study, this not only builds vocabulary but also makes the student feel included within a very diverse classroom. Being able to share their stories allows students to go on a journey of self-discovery, which in turn leads to developing an identity in the beautiful but chaotic fabric of diversity.

Identity texts can be used in any classroom particularly in a diverse inclusive classroom. In a diverse classroom, students are from different cultures, nationalities, socioeconomic background, hence they can use their context for learning to feel included. There are opportunities to include identity texts into pedagogy; while activating prior knowledge; when providing a rich contextual background to make the input comprehensible; actively encouraging comprehensible output; drawing the student’s attention to the relationship between form and function, developing learner independence. The whole idea is to make it an integral part of pedagogy, this will also have academic benefits; students will take ownership of their learning; improve communication; learn vocabulary. This is an approach to the holistic development of the student. 

Let me explain with a personal example, I speak four languages, but being multilingual has been very challenging. I think in one language and communicate with another, I even switch to a particular language when I am stressed or angry. Rewinding to my early years, I spent my childhood in the beautiful country of Bhutan, I started my schooling in school in a town called Wangdue Phodrang where the medium of instruction was English. After completing my primary and middle years in Bhutan my family moved back to India where I started school in the Indian system. Though the medium of instruction was English the methodology was very different, and I had to learn a new language-Hindi. Even though I was in my home country India, I felt like a misfit. This experience evoked a sense of wanting to go back into a very diverse classroom with friends who would look different, speak different languages and yet have a sense of camaraderie, belonging and understanding each other’s differences. I had to adapt to this new system without questioning or asking for help as there was no system in place that helps students to transition and adapt to a new environment. I struggled the first few years due to a lack of support for cognitive development and negative stereotypes towards students not fluent in Hindi. My parents hired a tutor to teach me the language, even though I picked it up I struggled with it even through high school. For most of my school life, I focused on improving on Hindi while I could have used that in subjects that mattered to me. I could have benefited if my curriculum included a provision for identity texts. If I was allowed to share my story, I would have felt more included in my school and probably learnt better. Identity texts did not exist in pedagogy or curriculum.

Respecting cultural identity improves teacher-student interactions and peer-to-peer relationships. This also allows the development of language, vocabulary, identity and self-esteem. The use of identity texts can improve cognitive engagement and identity investment (Cummins, 2001). Identity texts will help students in their journey of self-discovery.

Cummins, J. (2001). Negotiating identities: Education for empowerment in a diverse society. 2nd Edition. Los Angeles: California Association for Bilingual Education. 

GLOBAL BOOK REVIEWS

Picture Books About Science

Here are some fabulous new, and not so new, titles to use as tools in the classroom with students while studying science. 

When Elephants Listen With Their Feet by Emmanuelle Grundmann is a brand new title that looks at animals’ senses. A 40 page picture book, it has attractive art and lots of text boxes to encourage curious, budding biologists. From fish that pass gas to communicate to the taste buds of pigs and everything in between, this book is full of fascinating facts about senses. ISBN 978-1-77278-123-6

It’s About Time, Pascale Estellon.From one second to one century, this book teaches young children about time. Combining information with activities, it touches on clocks, how to tell time, on calendars and seasons. 

ISBN 978-1-77147-006-3

Putting a whole different slant on telling time is the new release Once Upon An Hour byAnn Yu-Kyung Choi and Soyeon Kim. This bedtime picture book is based on the tradtional Korean practise of timekeeping with the 12 animals of the zodiac assigned to a section each of the 24 hour clock. 

ISBN 978-4598-2127-9

50 Climate Questions, Peter Christie, with fun art by Ross Kinnaird, poses an, often funny, question on each page with the answer chockful of information from ice ages to today, including temperatures, weather, greenhouse gasses and global warming. Besides questions, the book also has answers on how we can change our ways.

ISBN 978-1-55451-374-1

In a similar vein, but for older readers, Paul Fleischmann looks – in his book Eyes Wide Open – at the politics and psychology behind environmental headlines. Besides opening eyes to issues such as reducing carbon emissions, the book brings awareness of differences in media coverage of the issues. Great for (highschool) classroom discussions.

ISBN 978-0-7636-7545-5

Design Like Nature, Kim Woolcock and Megan Clendenan is another brand new, fabulous title in the important Orca Footprints series. Its subtitle is ‘Biomimicry for a Healthy Planet’. This book explains that humans design buildings and cities that change the environment. But what if we designed like nature, learning to design stronger, better, brighter and more sustainable by using nature’s examples? From solar power to natural dyes, from bullet trains to medicine this book looks at reducing our footprint and making the impossible, possible by learning from nature.

ISBN 978-1-4598-2464-5

For budding marine scientists, the book Orcas Everywhere by Mark Leiren-Young is a valuable resource. Exploring the ‘Mystery and History of Killer Whales’ this book has great photos and facts on all aspects of orcas: a look at aquariums, hunting skills, communication as well as what we can do to protect these valuable mammals of the sea.

ISBN 978-1-4598-1998-6

As Education Evolves, We Must Continue to Integrate Parents

Schooling and learning have changed. From passivity to authenticity. Transferability the clear goal.  An analogy that might help better understand this evolution is the user experience of shopping and how it has morphed, almost into an unrecognizable state. The advent of shopping catalogs can be traced back further back in history than one might assume, however we are but a couple generations removed from the “Golden-era of mail order.”  You may even have memories, fond or otherwise so, of the 1980’s when we saw the likes of Lands End, J. Crew, and Sears.  The retail catalog business  estimated at $164 billion in 1989.  Catalogs now are but a faded memory, yet they were the  building blocks for the budding behemoth, Amazon. Nowadays there is talk about the use of augmented reality to assist with virtual shopping.  Amazon being one such company utilizing patented mirror technology.  The evolution of shopping is an illustration of an undeniably different world than the one adults experienced as children. This is not unlike our schools and classroom.   Yet, unless you never left school, many adults today may not have realized this transformation.

One Question Remains

Before the turn of the millennium I started teaching in an urban school in a large city in the United States. Three quarters of the 8 and 9-year olds in my class would not share the end of the school year, as name tags would tirelessly be replaced with the incessant cycling in and out.  Transience was often a result of families being evicted from government subsidized housing.  Most headed by a single parent, always mothers.  The young women’s experience with education, negative more often than not. To get them to come for a parent night or conference was a stretch.  Families merely surviving.

Fast forward to another reality, teaching in Asia at a respected international school.  Standards, compliance, and well resourced; many students have help at home: maids, tutors, coaches, and extended family.  Two parent households the norm; both often highly educated.  Conference attendance is nearly 100 per cent.  Still, one question is worthy of asking. 

How well do parents really understand what school is today?

In both situations above, intentionality is essential. How are we welcoming parents in, helping educate them on how the world has changed, and how this translates to being a student today?  Unless we do so, the divide likely will remain.  A disconnect where seemingly a more scientific rather than artistic means of measuring wins out.  The quantifiable, hard and fast grades prioritized over the qualitative process of learning.  Commanding teachers as opposed to empowered students.  

Just Where Are We Now?

During the pandemic Zoom was used in more than 90,000 schools in 20 countries.   In effect, this meant that hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of classrooms were opened to parents.  Sitting on the periphery, or in the case of younger students possibly directly in front of the screen with their child. Parents had an opportunity to be fully integrated, immersed in the learning even if virtual school was different.  Smeared or possibly even “broken,” it was a “window” nonetheless.  Zoom certainly required teachers to be vulnerable.  

Ted Dintersmith, author and film producer, of “What School Could Be” optimistically reveres the pandemic as a remarkable opportunity.  “Will we rush to go back to ‘normal,’ piling on the worksheets and fact-based exams? Or will we learn from what worked this past year and use these insights as a springboard for reimagining school??”  A component of this “reimagining” hopefully will be the critical role of parents.

Dr. Diana Hiatt-Michael, a professor of education at Pepperdine University for more than three decades, examined the historical role of parents in education.  Published by Academic Development Institute, “Parent Involvement in American Public Schools: A Historical Perspective 1642—2000,” attests to how the pendulum has swung back and forth. “From strong parent involvement in the home and community based schools of the agrarian seventeenth century to the bureaucratic factory model schools of the industrial revolution,” writes Dr. Hiatt-Michael.  What the impending Information and Experience Age propagates is still left to tell.  However, what is not in question, is the profound impact parental involvement has in a child’s education.  

However, hiring out or programming the lives of children is not call. Rather, the quiet strength in truly listening to children. As well, especially in the pre-teen and teenage years, maintaining trusting child-parent relationships where artful two-way conversation is a part of family’s home cultures.  This communication about friends, things a child may be excited or even nervous about, as well as what is being learned in school.  Parents and children alike never have expressed titillation from the generic deadend conversation that begins with, “How was school?”  

What We Can Do (3-2-1 A Common Technique in a Teacher’s Toolkit)

Parents play an integral role in assisting their child’s learning but how might we better facilitate this? Furthermore, how might we as students, parents, teachers, and schools have a more shared vision of what education can be?  Let us finish with some hopefully easily applicable ideas for paving a luminous path.

3 Things Teachers and Schools Can Do:

3 Invite families into the classroom to observe.  And not just once or twice a year.

2 Share regular “newsletters,” updates, or e-mails to help keep parents informed and involve .

1 Share recommended resources that can assist with building greater understanding of the world of children and education today.  As well, parenting wisdom.  For example, Madeline Levine’s Ready or Not: Preparing Our Kids to Thrive in an Uncertain and Rapidly Changing World.”

2 Things Parents Can Do:

2  Set down your phones and create time daily to speak with your children.

1  Parents teaching parents:  volunteer to provide or attend a workshop.  Topics such as as self-management and finding balance with technology are often especially valuable.  

1 Thing Students Can Do:  

1 Do not wait for events like student-led conferences to share your learning and lives with adults.  

######################

#ChoosetoChallenge GENDER GAP: Don’t just mind the gap, Mend the Gap.

Image created by Shwetangna Chakrabarty on canva.com.

8th March is celebrated as International Women’s Day. It was first observed in the United States as a remembrance of the 1908 strike of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union. This has evolved through the years into a plea for equal rights. In 1949 the People’s Republic of China declared March 8 an official holiday (scmp.com); in 1977 the United Nations declared March 8 to be the UN Day for Women’s Rights and World Peace. 

As per the above evidence, we have been minding the gender gap since 1908. Its time to mend the gap. The pitch for international women’s day this year is to; celebrate women’s achievement, raise awareness against bias, take action for equality.

This also means we have not made enough progress in the above areas, hence the need to challenge stereotypes. To choose to challenge is to come up with an action plan for every woman out there. This has to be done by women, as lack of the female voice and choice has increased the gender gap. All we have managed to do in the past century is to mind the gap, bridge the gap, but never to mend the gap. 

Interestingly our students are ahead of us, at least I have experienced multiple interactions where students have challenged stereotypes with passion and purpose. Recently while discussing ideas for celebrating International Women’s Day, there was a suggestion of a dress-up day- ‘dressing like a woman’. This did not go down well with most students, the idea was vehemently argued by almost 60 students in the whole year group (grade 11) as stereotyping what women need to or should wear. They even went on to discuss other gender stereotypes like the signages across the globe on every building that defines male and female. I am very glad that my students think this way, they are actually mending the gap by participating in discussions on gender equality; practising plurality of perspectives; preventing stereotypes and discouraging toxic masculinity or feminity. In fact, the Millenials don’t consider gender as a constant in the equation of equality and equity, they consider it as a variable that can change as they discover their identity. This approach is empowering and can actually reduce gender inequality and discrimination. 

As teachers and educators, we must tread cautiously as sometimes we tend to overlook sensitive issues related to gender. There are many characteristics specific to a gender that has to be acknowledged but it cannot be used to discriminate. As any inequality, in the large scheme of things, creates an imbalance. For example, a study in schools in America has alarming gender trends: 80% of high school dropouts are boys; 80% of all classroom discipline problems are boys; 70% of students with learning disabilities are boys; 80% of behaviorally disordered students are boys; 80% of students on medication for ADHD are boys; 44% of college students are boys (Coniglio, n.d.).

This is evidence of the negative impacts of inequality, inequality in the way we treat and teach. Surprisingly we have created a toxic stereotype of the male gender that has pushed our boys to behavioural, disciplinary and dropout issue. Celebrating International Women’s Day is about balance, balance in how we teach and treat all genders. 

Can we choose to change, yes we can, if we choose to challenge it. Happy International Women’s Day: Mend the Gap, Don’t just Mind it.

 Coniglio, R. (n.d.) Why gender matters in the classroom, the differences between boys and girls. TeachHub.com. K-12 Teachers Alliance.

The Voice Inside Your Head

So I just recently finished reading a fascinating new book by Ethan Kross titled, Chatter. It’s all about that little voice that we have inside our heads, and the power that it has, when not harnessed properly, to lead us down a rabbit hole of negative self talk and endless rumination. This little voice can easily affect our moods, and if we don’t get control over it, this inner chatter can even negatively affect our physical health, as well the relationships that we have with others. 

Reading it was timely for me, as I’ve noticed lately that probably due to the circumstances that we’re all in, and the year that we’ve all just had, I’ve been finding it harder and harder to keep my inner chatter harnessed and happy. This book was a perfect reconnect for me on how to focus on the positive, keep my perspective in check, and to watch how my words and actions affect the moods and daly experiences of the people that I regularly interact with.

Kross shares stories, research, anecdotes and tools around how to keep your inner voice positively framed, and your negative inner chatter at bay. What struck me the most however, was the incredible impact that the voice inside your head can have on your physical health, and how easily it can take over every aspect of your life. 

Kross sums it up nicely by sharing that, “managing our inner voice has the potential to not only help us become more clear headed, but to strengthen the relationships that we share with our friends and loved ones. It can help us offer better support to the people that we care about and it will insulate us against burnout at work. In short, changing the conversations that we have with ourselves has the potential to change our lives”.

I’m not sure about you but my inner chatter is constant throughout the day, and by paying more attention to it over the past couple of weeks I’ve been able to purposely frame my thoughts and experiences in a more positive light. Take this week to notice the inner conversations and monologue that you are having with yourself, and watch how these conversations are affecting your mood and relationships. 

I highly recommend this book, and if nothing else, use this post to think about how your inner chatter is impacting not only your own daily experiences, but the experiences of the people around you. It’s very easy for negative thoughts and self talk to spill into your conversations with others, so be mindful of this, and find ways to keep focused on the positive, as hard as that can be at times. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other. 

Quote of the Week…

The key to beating chatter isn’t to stop talking to yourself. The challenge is to figure out how to do so more effectively – Ethan Kross

Related Articles – 

Your Mind’s Inner Chatter

Your Inner voice relationship

The Power of Positive Thinking

How To Stop Negative Chatter

Self Talk

TED Talk – Improve Positive Thinking

TED Talk – Live for Your Eulogy

Inspiring Videos – 

Ice Rink Memories

Returning the Favor

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

GLOBAL BOOK REVIEWS

Making Math Fun with Picture Books

Picture Books are more than entertainment. They can be great tools to teach concepts such as math. This works for children of all ages and also for second language learners. Here are some of my favourite math picture books:

A fun counting book for the very youngest readers, is Going for a Sea Bath by Andrée Poulin, illustrated by Anne-Marie Delisle. Leanne’s father has a great idea. He brings more and more sea creatures for her bath. Until the tub is overflowing. Then Leanne is the one with the best idea. ISBN 978-1-927485-92-7

Growing Patterns, Fibonacci Numbers in Nature by Sarah C. Campbell is a beautiful nonfiction picture book with photos that will fascinate young readers of all ages. From pineapples to pinecones, from snails to shells – this is a close look at numbers in nature. ISBN 978-1590787526

Mysterious Patterns, Finding Fractals in Nature by Sarah C. Campbell is an equally interesting picture book with photos. It looks at spheres, cones, cylinders – manmade and in nature and finds patterns from tree branches to broccoli. ISBN 978-1-62091-627-8

Fibonacci’s Cows by Ray Galvin is a fun short, chapter book. Ryan has to do his homework assignment before he can play soccer. But he needs to research Fibonacci cows and doesn’t know where to start. With a little bit of help from Leonardo, Ryan discovers amazing patterns in flowers and animals and ends up with a great classroom presentation. ISBN 978-0769913568

Fractions, Decimals and Percents, David A. Adler, takes young readers to the County Fair. Each booth offers tickets, cotton candy, or games that deal with decimals, percentages and more. ISBN 978-0823423545

Perimeter, Area and Volume by David A. Adler is a ‘monster book of dimensions’. The monsters are making a movie and need to know all about area, radius and other measurements. ISBN 978-0823427635

Equal Shmequal by Virginia Kroll is a fun picturebook about how to decide is both sides of a game of tug-of-war are equal. Is bear stronger than mouse? How should the animals make teams of equal strength?ISBN 978-1570918926

Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pi, Cindy Neuschwander. Radius has a problem. He has given his father the wrong potion and turned him into a dragon. How can he solve the circle’s riddle and save his father from dragon slayers? ISBN 1-57091-164-9

How Much Is A Million? asks David M. Schwartz in this picture book illustrated by Steven Kellogg. How high a stack would a million kids form? How long will it take to count from one to a million? This is a fun text to read out loud and keep the attention of kids fascinated by ‘a million’. ISBN 978-0-688-04050-5

As with all books, it is always best to support a local bookstore. If you order online, check out: www.betterworldbooks.com There is no shipping fee to most countries.

Credibility vs Visibility

Lady Gaga has 83.2 million followers on Twitter. The Dalai Lama has approximately 20 million. Cap’n Crunch, the iconic sugary cereal mascot of my youth, has 790. The Weather Channel, 3.8m.

Our ‘truths’ seem to be measured in likes, views, followers and retweets. Visibility, casting itself as the gatekeeper of what we want to believe.

Much has been written about the polarization of people thanks to algorhythms that suggest more of what we want to see and hear. This keeps us in a comfortable, likable, predictable (and dangerous) bubble. Your customized news, entertainment, sports and cultural sources are all here to serve…you.

Kara Swisher the host of the podcast “Pivot,” recently said that ‘feelings are not facts.’ In other words, you cannot just decide not to believe something because you don’t like it or it’s not convenient. You have to do some work.

We used to rely on the teacher, the priest, the judge, the parent, the text as those sources of credibility because they were close to us, visible in the community, tangible and accountable to those around them, and invested in the truth.

Now, that person or information source doesn’t have to be visible to the naked eye or touchable. Credibility is now in the form of upward thumb signs, followers, and shares, a true democratization of what people want rather than what they need to believe. I even read once that most celebrities and influencers don’t even manage their own social media accounts! Can you believe that?

Twitter is starting a crowdsourcing service called ‘birdwatching,’ where, similar to Wikipedia, people can become certified fact checkers and contribute to a credibility rating for postings that trend. On one hand, it’s nice to feel that people are empowered to contribute to truth. On the other, it opens up a world of possibility to those that want to shape others to their versions of what is true.

I belong to a social media group that posts a lot of messages about bikes and bike repair. Lots of people weigh in on a lot of ideas about things from derailleurs to seats to tires. It’s tempting to go with the most liked advice on the best seat to cross Siberia but no one is saying, ‘seats are dumb and don’t exist.’ We all have that basic agreement.

When I was teaching in the 1990s, I used “Lies My History Teacher Told Me,” (by James Loewen) and “A People’s History of the United States” by Howard Zinn to offer research based alternative views on factual events. These texts gave voice to the unheard, portraits of actual events that were not invented, but omitted. They made things already credible visible, not credible because they were visible. My students had the opportunity not to decide what to believe (because it was all true), but rather base their opinions on the facts in front of them, contrary as some of them may have seemed. It was also a quieter time, when the information age was only a trickle, allowing students to consider a couple of truths and deciding where to land before they moved onto the next question. Now, it seems as though the firehose is fully opened.

It’s not easy to resist something that has 2M likes or retweets. The visibility, the comfort in knowing others agree, is so human it’s hard to resist. We think something is cute, inspiring, sad, dangerous and we cannot help but to believe it because it makes us feel a certain way.

Feelings are not facts and credibility is not always visible. It takes hard work and a willingness to look past what is easy or agreeable to make up our minds about basic truths that we need to accept in order to keep learning on course and communities together.

Deserving Permission

Two bits recently grab my attention as I grapple to better understand each.  The first is simply a matter of syntax but the words I hear and choose to use clearly have an impact. The second is of much larger context and regards the commodification of education.  

“The self-talk you use regularly creates your reality and your destiny,” states Christopher Bergland in an article published in Psychology Today titled, “Scientists Find That a Single Word Can Alter Perceptions ~Language has the power to make the invisible appear real”.  Understanding this, two words seemingly have the power to raise the hackles on my hairless back.  

“Deserve.”

And “permission.”

Consciously I no longer use either, a disappearing act from within my lexicon.  The first, “deserve”, exudes entitlement. “Have a great break, you deserve it!” Or, “Go ahead and eat dessert.  You deserve it!”  

Caroline Myss, five-time New York Times bestselling author and internationally renowned speaker asserts, “The attitude of ‘deserve’, as a rule, is a one-way street.”  As if to say that the world and others are simply to revolve around an individual. Myss further adds, “Expectations do not get filled by themselves. Someone has to ‘make’ you happy; someone has to ‘provide’ security and safety; someone has to ‘provide’ love.”

The second, “permission”, appears especially out of place in the context of education.  A place where empowerment and innovation are essential.  Some these days even are proclaiming “fearless inquiry”.  Boldly questioning and willing to try everything. Yet, still hanging on are the enduring remnants of tradition and hierarchy.  A colleague in another school shared a pervasive example of a school community writhing in dysphoria.  “You have the permission to send Meghan to the office when she tells you to be quiet.”  A knee jerk reaction would surely need to be kept in check, a biting of the tongue just the same.  For surely there would be a desire to sarcastically respond, “Geez, thanks!”   Unfortunately this is not a stand alone example.  I have also overhead educators ardently disclose, “Jill (the principal) said we had permission to purchase supplemental materials with our PD funds.”  Like 7 and 8-year old children, professional practioners, those in the trenches, are so disempowered that they need to be given “permission.”  These examples are even more preposterous when we consider “teachers make over 1500 educational decisions every school day, a constant juggle of manager, content holder, master communicator, and support system.”

Occupying more of my thinking, at a 20,000 foot altitude is how might higher education be 10, 20, or 50 years from now.  Specifically, in the United States.  A proponent of alternative models and interested in learning from the past but also the pandemic present, a part of me is not entirely optimistic.  I have no sources to back my thinking, just experience.  

Last year, Forbes reported how student loan debt is just behind mortgage debt, a figure of $1.56 trillion.  Clearly a broken system, however with all the talk about the unsustainability of student loans, I posit “What would happen if we emptied the higher ed institutions of privilege?”  What if not a single American student attended the Yales, Harvards, and Princetons?  

A vacuum. 

That’s my prediction of what likely would see.  As true as gravity.  

A flood of F-1 student visas would result.  The elite from developing countries would fill the hallowed halls and desks up over night.  Education, a commodity bought up.  More than mere fad, attending such schools is a symbol.  Just as driving a fancy car, wearing certain designer clothes, or toting a $3000 purse.  In Bangkok, the city where I live, shopping is considered by some to be the nation’s favorite pastime.  With countless luxury malls, boutiques as well as upscale brands help fill a sort of void. Opulence a sort of addiction. Status but also appearance, the priority. 

Education is no different.  A commodity.  Only in much of Asia, education is rooted culturally, the pathway to success.  Therefore, what is considered the “best” or “first-tier” naturally is what is sought after. Not necessarily for better or worse.  An Ivy League sweatshirt worn with pride.

However, what is different is the messaging. A more progressive view wells up in the United States.  One example is the rampant rise in credentialing. This appears far more aligned with what it means to learn and work in the 21st century.  In the United States alone there are over 730,000 confirmed credentials.  According to Credential Engine, “Through an increasing array of credentials – such as degrees, licenses, badges and apprenticeships – job seekers, students, and workers have more options than ever to help them get ahead.”Again, I have just experience to make these claims.  Yet, for now my recommendation is to just give students “permission” to pursue an alternative approach.  Afterall, they “deserve” it!