I teach parenting classes and do some parent training at my local church and school.
As I've noted else where in this blog I was a play therapist in my earlier career and this volunteer work is an extension of that earlier Social Work stuff.
With that in mind I wanted to give some color commentary on the Love and Logic concept of 'contributions to the family'--chores to the old fashioned, and how that should affect character education in our classrooms. Essentially the Fayes note that chores are important for children to feel connected to the family and I couldn't agree more. That connectedness is what I wanted to write about.
The structure of chores-whatever structure one puts in place-is the lattice work of family and familial style relationships. Structure for the family is one hard won inch of ground every day, a bed time achieved and wake up time observed, a log or chore chart updated these are the things that are important in a family because they give parent and child a chance to fight, squabble, and grow close over a (mostly) dispassionate practice vs. over one another.
Through focusing on a job the child has the opportunity to express their genuine and authentic love for the family. The parent on the other hand has the gratification of seeing their child grow into self-sufficiency and in their awareness of themselves as part of a larger whole.
As chores are hung on the lattice work of structure they become grist for the relationship mill: Why do I have to do this chore, the hard chore? Why do I always have the hard chores? you didn't do your chores?-what should those consequences be? etc.
In describing this Eden of implementing chores with your kids I'm sure you are champing (it's really 'champing'- I always thought it was chomping, too) at the bit to get those arguments started! There's good with the bad-these same arguments will allow a million touch points to make your relationship with your kids better. Soon their chores will indeed contribute to the wellness of the family and in the meantime the structure provided will give you the platform to teach cause and effect & responsibility to your kids but also to enjoy them and their growth.
The final reason chores and structure are so important in the home is by virtue of the fact that chores in the home help build Agency in children. As I've posted elsewhere in this blog Agency is the concept that refers to the extent to which an individual controls their environment. Agency is about predictable, consistent, and reliable feedback such that the individual can take advantage of the prevailing circumstances to help themselves out. The more we can build agency in our kids the better. Chores are without question the best way to build agency at home (and probably at school, too but that's yet to be determined). In the Steven Pressfield sense of the word this is one of the highest callings of 'work' there is.
Growing agency is an important consideration for today's kids. Grit is the skill many schools and families are focused on when character education is considered but there's no clear formula for growing grit in kids. The path to growing agency in kids is clear. Score another point for agency/grit.
We’re entering a great age of measurement. I haven’t heard about this anywhere so caveat emptor.
Regardless, what I have heard a lot about is Big Data. We hear about lots of data-more data than we know what to do with and that is forcing us to rethink the type of data we keep, where we keep it and what we do with it.
Wearables, and implantables that are currently in the trough of disillusionment on the hype curve are the most interesting component of Big Data. You thought ‘Big Data’ was big-wait until we have all kinds of medical and personal wearables, implantables and other feedback devices tied to the myriad of physical responses the body makes to it’s environment. We’re going to have some fun then.
Apples’s newest headphones-look ma no wires-give us some clue to as to the position of wearables in the future. Accessing the apparent limitless store of data in our phones will, in the future, be as simple as pondering a question-now we have to ponder it out loud but in the future it doesn’t take too much of a leap to consider that this type of interaction with our phones will be silent. We’ll just think a thought and all of that thought thinking will turn into electrical stimulation and that electrical stimulation will be interpreted by the phone and it will respond appropriately.
In addition these wearables that are now currently somewhat out of favor will begin to be available to average joes like you and me for all kinds of uses. Historically we’ve tracked steps-did you walk 10fk steps? Did you go up or down the right amount of stairs--yawn. It’s measurement but nothing remarkable by today’s standards.
But soon-and not too very far off-we’re going to be able to have realtime feedback on some more stuff that really matters-calories ingested and burned, o2 and respirations, heart rate, hormone manufacture and release all a result of wearables and implantables. Soon we’ll have the tools to measure things, glean insights, and use that in problem resolution in ways that in past we’ve only dreamed of. The best example I can give you is from this blog. One of the reasons Freud’s theories have remained theories is that proving up or measuring things like the death drive and the drive to life have been so difficult to do. Measuring neuronal response to in vivo stimuli (stuff that happens in the body in real time) has never been an option. If it were Freud would have used it as would subsequent investigators and now we might be having a different discussion about things like apoptosis (cell death), how to regulate it, and how it is related to behavior. As it is these things are on the horizon-hence the age of measurement.
Freud’s difficult to decipher theories won’t be the only thing we’ll measure. Average Joes will be able to measure their caloric intake and o2, investigators will be able to fly hundrends of drones into a weather system and measure the individual forces to find out what’s really happening. Emotions can be inferred from internal and external behavior and fed back to an individual who can then take that information and piece it together with their experience.
The creative uses of wearable and implantable technology coupled with the ubiquity of cloud computing and good old ingenuity & curiosity will lead to a tremendous amount of understanding in our world.
In so many ways our understanding of the world has hinged on our ability to measure all kinds of aspects of it in the past and now we’re entering an age where average people will be faced with measurement tasks that they have heretofore not concerned themselves with. But that’s where all of the new dogs will thrive.
Big Data, now largely about B2B and B2C predictive analytics that help those in power make the best decisions possible is growing into the era of Big Measurement. A time when we can all measure the things that are important to us and get the kind of idiosyncratic answers that will spark tremendous amounts of deep, meaningful learning.
Steven Pressfield has written a remarkable book about how to stick with anything meaningfully important and do the hard, lonely, slow, and painstaking work necessary to bring dreams into reality.
I won’t rework the entire book here-read it, you'll be very happy you did. What I'd like to do today is to give some consideration to Pressfield's ideas and hopefully amplify on those ideas with some thoughts of my own.
Pressfield gives a great deal of attention to the concept of resistance. Resistance is the force that serves to bedevil the creator at every turn. It convinces the creator that his/her work is unimportant impossible, silly, it should be abandoned. Pressfield then sets this force in opposition to the muses or the genius of the universe-God or something similar.
Robert McKee in the preface to War of Art notes that Pressfield's 'resistance' is a recapitulation of Freud's concept of the 'death drive' or 'Thanatos'. Most everyone knows about Eros and libido this is essentially the drive to live, thrive, and procreate.
Many who are aware of the drive to live in Freud's work are unaware of the drive to death. Although Freud did not initially postulate the death drive others in Freudian psychoanalysis did and he explained the concept in the book 'Why War'.
So Pressfield’s highly readable and practical book seems to be something of a redux of classical analytic thinking. A drive to live, love, and create, versus a drive to death and destruction, one that compels us back to dirt.
Pressfield’s work makes the struggle between the forces of life and the forces of death very real and while the concept of life force and death force can be argued, minimized, ridiculed, etc, the strength of our experience validates Pressfield's work.
In a very real way Pressfield writes about the daily struggle we all face between life and death, and, instead of the life-and-death struggle occurring only when two people are fighting for a gun or a knife it's clear that this same struggle occurs daily as we struggle to live our lives in ways that validate support and encourage life. When we do that we win. We can take a deep breath and know we've done our part in supporting life in making our effort to bring something that only exists in the infinite to the time bound world.
The urgency that such an understanding brings is profound and I'm grateful Pressfield grappled with this excellent book to bring it forth from the Infinite.
When my now 11 year old 6th grader was ending his 4th grade experience he had to take the "STAAR TEST". It's the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness, a high stakes exam that might result in a student not moving up to the next grade-for him 5th. He was VERY nervous about failing and perhaps not moving on with his friends. I got the impression his teeth might rattle out of his head-he was this way off and on for weeks. Although we talked about the fact that he had done his homework, had brought home good grades, and had always performed pretty well on tests he was only slightly assuaged.
At about this time-perhaps a few weeks before that-he was to take a standard math test. It was a rather lengthy one that required some study on his part. Prior to him taking it I asked how he felt about the material--"pretty confident!" was his enthusiastic reply. As you may have guessed he came home with a 50 on the test he felt "pretty confident" about but he passed the STAAR test.
This experience left me thinking about how we teach and assess our kids. I couldn't tell him all of what was going through my head at the time but 20+ years as a Social Services and IT pro in education had taught me that one of the strongest and most persistent predictors of academic performance was socio-economics and for good or ill he was in pretty good shape on that score with middle class parents in a middle class school. Statistically, this alone suggested he would pass the STAAR. However, Duncan also had very few absences (another big predictor), hung around with other kids who also did pretty well in school, and both his parents had advanced degrees. Statistically, he was most likely going to do OK.
One thing Duncan didn't have, however, was a realistic confidence in his abilities. When he felt 'pretty confident' it wasn't based on much other than school and homework. While he got a good deal of feedback from his teachers and parents it wasn't enough. He needed a lot more feedback to allow him to realistically assess how well he understood the information and when he didn't have a good understanding he needed a way to communicate that to his teacher who could then fill in the gaps for him.
Duncan's class has 23 to 25 students in it and managing a class of that many students can be at the very least a challenging task. More often than not it's simply herculean on a daily basis. To provide feedback to the tune of 60 to 80 times a week on math problems is simply not possible but it's what Duncan needed to ensure he understood all of what was before him.
What was clear to me was that 1) we could use technology to provide the critical feedback that was necessary for both the teacher and student and 2) we could use that feedback, along with other available data, to make ongoing statistically appropriate predictions regarding Duncan's understanding. And, in so doing, we could reduce and in the future hopefully eliminate the stress inducing high stakes summative testing with low key, ongoing, formative assessment that would still give an accurate assessment of his understanding. This approach could help target Duncan's area of need and communicate that need to his teacher in such a way that student centered learning could be achieved with very little effort on the part of the teacher. In addition Duncan could get the kind of feedback that would contribute to true confidence and understanding. For a quick explanation take a look at the innovative STEM assessment video on this web site and let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
I just finished reading my post why Agency > Grit. And then I said-oh yeah, who are you? Mr. So and So, to tell us about Agency! So I thought I'd take a moment to make a quick <- with regard to who I am and why I get to say this silly stuff.
I got a psych degree ('Man', he said drinking his white Russian) so I get a pass on commenting on all things psychological. Then I have masters in social work so that's social and clinical stuff, then I was a play and family therapist for a while so that's more social and clinical stuff.
I wasn't social and clinical enough in my understanding of people to see my impending burnout on the career highway. I left social work to go into IT. As it turns out in the late 90's one of the folks making a lot of money was the for-profit education industry. They needed IT so I hitched my wagon to that train until July 2015. Along the way I learned a lot about motivation, education, and IT and Fake Work. Fake Work is just like you'd think it would be given what you already know about Fake News.
I had a boss that would hand out Brent Peterson's Fake Work so I learned at least a little bit about it. One of the things that the idea of Fake Work taught me was that lots of things can look like work-Steven Pressfield has a giant of a book called the war of art and in it he tells us about real work. I'd highly recommend it to anyone.
I am interested in measuring with IT the kinds of things that in the past were measured by self-report. 'How are you feeling today'? and 'Do you know the impact of the Pythagorean theorem'? These are questions that computers can assess in individuals today and I am working on software solutions to do just that.
In terms of working to understand how to encourage students to persist through difficulty in school and in life Agency is a better concept than Grit. Agency focuses on an individual’s performance in a responsive, or not, environment. It makes sense, doesn’t it, that an individual is ‘in’ some sort of environment when they are being evaluated and that that environment should also be a part of any individual evaluation?
Agency is defined in a nutshell as an individual’s ability to act in any given environment. What makes Agency a beneficial concept to consider in character education in particular is the accompanying concept of reflexivity. Low reflexivity in a given situation yields an individual who is largely shaped by that institution while a high level of reflexivity suggests that the individual has more autonomy to shape themselves.
The concept of Grit focuses almost exclusively on the student (lower reflexivity). The teacher and the environment get a pass. So, the message ‘Persist’. Persist in the face of every obstacle. Is laudable. It’s excellent. But if it’s the only message i.e., if it doesn’t also include the message that there are (perhaps intractable) structures in your environment that will have a daily impact on your success then the message is blunted. The issue is further complicated when consideration is given to the fact that the individual and hundreds like her have knowingly or unknowingly built the structures that will impact their level of achievement.
Winston Churchill might have said something like: “We shape our buildings thereafter they shape us”.
Schools should be asking themselves: Do the tools we have now enable us to measure non-cognitive, character education? That is, are students ‘getting it’ and is the institution doing all it can do to assess whether or not students are given the kind of support we would choose for them? What tools do we have that currently measure Agency and reflexivity in our educational institutions?
When Character Education started right along with school itself in the 1800s it wasn't anything special-it was sort of exactly what school was all about. Teaching kids their 3 Rs and how to be 'good'.
This moral approach to character education worked well for decades, however, in the 50's this approach began to run into some headwinds. Russian space achievements, coupled with Einstein's theory of relativity encourage parents and schools to question the value of religiously based values and as a result character education suffered.
Into the 60's and 70's value clarification was the order of the day for character education in the United States. This approach sough to help students define their own values independent of religious structure, however, the approach was less than successful with critics noting that the morally relative stance of value clarification was not rooted with a firm enough grounding.
The 80's saw a resurgence in conservatism in the United States and character education got a surge as well. Although a return to early religious values was not in the cards neither were the values clarification efforts of the 60's and 70's. The 80's saw a focus on the individual and an effort to measure the effectiveness of character education. While some programs had a demonstrated effectiveness this was not the case universally and character education again didn't fully live up to expectations.
Fast forward to current, November 2016, and we see character education focusing on individual character traits with perseverance, long term dedication, and empathy leading the way in what has become a focus on the individual and his achievements. In future posts we'll take a look at why the individually focused and poorly measured character education programs most likely won't meet the high expectations parents and administrators had for them.
Technology is such a devil's mistress. On one hand she'll flash a smile at you with entrancing eyes and the next she'll puke on your shoes after humiliating you on the school gym floor. Yes. She is a wiggly beast.
In the recent past technology in education meant hardware and software. How did we extend our capabilities to do new things in the classroom. As our abilities grew so did the hardware and software. So did the capabilities to do more new things. In fact our capabilities quickly expanded to the point that further advances in data gathering without concomitant increases in our ability to analyze that gathered data will soon be more damaging than fruitless. It will confuse even the most bureaucratic system into paralysis.
Information technology in school districts today should be leading the way in educating kids. I know that might sound naive or somehow confused about how schools work but it's true in a way that was not possible in the past. The golden rule in education is that IT supports education. They don't make outcome decisions, they don't make curricular decisions, and they certainly don't tell educators how to educate.
But educators are voraciously inquisitive. The good ones will drill into you and poke around for a bit until they think they know how you tick. Once they believe they've got a good handle on how you roll (psychotherapists call this knowing someone's 'religion') they know exactly how to challenge you, how to reward you, how to soothe and rattle you. How to relate. They test and refine their understanding of their students so often and so artfully that learning becomes the logical fruit of genuine relationship.
And, In the past IT couldn't help educators engage in this complicated process of engagement and prediction and now it can. Not only can IT help clear up a scheduling snafu on the fly it can tell you which kid is gonna get freaked out about it.
And, guess what? Kids who get freaked out about schedule changes tend to need a little help in English Comp.
So, now not only can educators build better relationships with kids, institutions can build better relationships with kids and relationship is the foundation of a good education.
I have a friend who is remarkable in so many ways. Really intuitive when it comes to his work. A joy to be around when it comes to serious deliberation.
We were talking the other day and he mentioned that his multimillion dollar, 21 employee commercial real estate company struggled to such a degree in the early days that he and his partners would pow wow to decide who would get paid that week. He came to the point, perhaps more than once, where he was within weeks of making a mortgage payment and he had no idea where the dollars were coming from to make that happen.
He had recently been laid off and was attempting to sell his skills on the open market. He had no track record of success in commercial real estate, he had just gotten his MBA and the laid-off job was his first after interning while in school. Yet, not only was he trying to contract his services for a buck he was asking everyone he knew if they could hook him up with investors to take part in a deal.
Imagine what this guy's head must have been like as he went about convincing investors to write him a check: He'd just been laid-off and he was hustling to sell his services on contract right back to the industry that dissed him. While doing this he was asking investors to give him money to invest. He must have been fighting the notion that he was a fraud to self and others
Doubtless he had many dark moments. At those times he probably had to scramble to maintain his focus. He had to learn ways to persist time and again in the face of uncertainty and very difficult circumstances. He had to dedicate substantial resources and maintain that dedication for long periods of time. To look at him now all you see is an extremely successful man.
My friend also has a boy who is into programming and seems to be destined for a career that has at least a passing relationship with technology. That's great and wherever this boy goes to school I know ASIT can be there to ensure his learning environment is as supportive as it can possibly be.
This said, however, most educators would agree with Carol Dweck and note that most any lesson he is introduced to will simply not be as powerful as the lessons he can learn from his father. The focus, persistence, and dedication his father displayed are skills that will carry him over, under, around, and through any difficulty he encounters in his life.
If your campus needs a partner to help create the kind of environment where big lessons are learned, call ASIT today. .
Habit. So soothing. The same thing, the same way, every day.
I am hearing my 3 kids winding up and I'm sort of mesmerized by the intensity, the inexorable nature of their anxiety's escalation. As I marvel at the situation with a gathering unease of my own I wonder what it is that's fueling this cauldron.
The first thing I notice is that my oldest is being a cruel bastard to his younger brother-typically a loving, supportive relationship but not this morning. Older bra is kicking stuff too. So he's definitely leading the pack this morning.
As I stride quietly into the kitchen for more coffee I make quick eye contact with the older beast and whisper that he needs to relax. In the kitchen I engage my dear wife in light banter intended to warm her up a little and I learn that we will be hosting two cute twin 9 year old girls for the morning "Maybe some swimming, maybe a movie, who knows, we'll play it by ear". So, as I hear this destabilizing information the oldest beast's attitude makes more sense. Today isn't a regular day, today we have a couple of girls coming over and it's going to be a wide open afternoon-so not the same thing the same way every day, rather SOMETHING TOTALLY NEW, DIFFERENT, AND STIMULATING, which is great but why the cruelty to your brother, why kicking things?
New stuff is great. It's stimulating, heightening the senses and fueling inspiration. Too much of it, though, can be overwhelming. What will happen? Will I be OK? Habits help us curb the sturm und drang of life and give us the kind of support that answers the questions all that new stuff generates. "Yes, I'll be OK, I'm running the same loop I've run for years" "I'm drinking the same coffee out of the same cup for the past decade-I know exactly how this is going to go"
So. Now that we know this how do we let it inform how our kids learn? What does this truth mean when it comes to the technology we put in front of our kids? Honoring both the mundane and the unique has to be a lever an educator can pull. To that end, as much as possible, all computing platform jumping off points should be identical every morning. When a lab of machines boots or wakes up its behavior should be predictable and consistent. The desktops should be identical in their presentation and have the same software. Any presentation equipment should be predictably smiling and ready. From there the educator can go wherever the light of information takes them-holding their charges hands through the drama, suspense and wonder of learning.
Clearly this kind of environment doesn't occur overnight but in the best schools technology is a true lever for the educator. A tool that allows an educator one more bite at the apple with a difficult to reach kid, one extra stretch at reaching a kid that's almost two feet out the door.
If you need a hand in creating the kind of technology environment that's a lever for education get in touch with us at All School IT. ASIT provides comprehensive IT support for educational environments. From the educational experience to the metrics of giving ASIT knows the unique Information Technology needs of education.