Friday, December 19, 2008

Use communication skills to foster rational conversations

With all the preparation for the holidays and the bringing together of friends and families, we often find ourselves involved in stressful situations. I invite you to take a few minutes and read the coaching reminder written by my friend, John Dyer. In a recent conversation, he and I talked about how the holiday season gives us a great opportunity to practice our communication skills with both colleagues and family. He writes:

One of the most difficult applications of the communication skills of coaching is to be able to use them when a speaker is in an extended emotional state, AND you are involved with or the cause of the emotional reaction. How does one maintain one’s composure and diffuse the emotion of the speaker so that the conversation can be rational and productive? It is not easy. Some possible suggestions for handling such a situation:

· Focused, sincere and genuine listening is essential. The listening set-asides are imperative. No autobiographical listening. No solution listening. AND, let us add two more in this situation. No “defensive” listening, and no “counter-argument” listening.
· Paraphrase is essential beginning with emotional paraphrase or combination emotional and content. Label the persons feeling. Examples may include: “ You are really upset about this”. “This is bothering you a great deal.” “You’re angry about how this was handled.” “You’re disappointed in me.” “You’re insulted because what I said offended you”. (Hey wait a minute – how come these examples are coming so easy to me?)
· It may be necessary to do repeated emotional paraphrases (3 or more) to allow the person to vent their feelings and lower the intensity level.
· What for evidence of the speaker’s reduced stress – slower, deeper breathing pattern, a reduction in the flush of the skin, reduced muscle tension, lower of pitch of voice and slower pace of speech.
· When the speaker is calmer present a thought provoking question that can focus the conversation on resolving the situation. Examples may include: “ What are some possible things we could consider doing to resolve this?” “What might I do to help rectify the problem?” “What might have to happen for us to avoid a similar situation in the future?” “How might I be more proactive in supporting you?” “What might be some alternative strategies that we could use in advance to make certain the situation doesn’t happen again?”

And I say with the smile – this is easy to say, it may not be so easy to do when you are equally involved emotionally – both in a work situation and maybe especially in a family situation.

Remember the coaching pattern: pause, paraphrase, pause and question. Your friends and relatives will be astounded at your conversational skills!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Developing a Better Focus

If there are two words in education we might soon tire of hearing, they are creativity and innovation. Yet, I can't help but be excited by the current focus on these two human talents, and I'm not alone. In this article from the New York Times, author and Systems Change 2005 Keynote speaker Dawna Markova illustrates the challenges for leadership in fostering these.

"The first thing needed for innovation is a fascination with wonder," Dawna says. "But we are taught instead to 'decide.' decide is to kill off all possibilities but one. A good innovational thinker is always exploring the many other possibilities."

In addition, to paraphrase, the focus on standardized testing often leads to a focus on preparing all students to be good test-takers, encouraging mediocrity and limiting students' abilities to achieve excellence in where their talents lie. Unless the brain has determined creativity and innovation to be worthwhile mental patterns by the time an individual reaches puberty, it will prune those areas to put more energy into the "critical" areas established.

For the sake of our future, it is imperative that we continue to find ways to focus on higher order thinking skills, from the first day of Kindergarten to graduation day and beyond, if we want our students to be lifelong learners who succeed in the 21st century.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Connectivism and the 21st Century Student

I received this video from Kathy Schrock's SOS weekly email. She always has interesting resources, but I just love the way this one provides a glimpse of life for the 21st century students. It was also an introduction to connectivism for me--I had heard of the concept but for some reason did not yet see it as an educational philosophy. Now I am working to merge connectivist thinking with the constructivist thinking for which I've been advocating to see how these philosophies work together.
The question I have for educational leaders is this: what kinds of systemic change need to occur in order to support this student? how will you make connectivist instruction possible for your students?
And on a side note, if you have not seen the original videos from Common Craft, visit for an easy explanation of practically any Web 2.0 concept and more.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

What if?

I recently read the article "Cover the Material or Teach Students to Think?" In the article, former school administrator (among his many other educational roles) Marion Brady poses the argument that our schools need to pose the question, "What if..." more often to encourage student thinking. His premise is that our system is currently geared toward a knowledge-based economy, and our schools with their textbooks, tests, and focus on recall are outdated for today's era of rapid social change.
"Education leaders can take a crucial step toward getting students to use
higher-order thinking skills by drawing a sharp line between firsthand and
secondhand knowledge."

In other words, instead of giving students lower level taxonomy skills to prepare them to think, or failing to believe our students are capable of thinking, maybe we should encourage them to actually think, by interacting with the world and through using the available technologies to connect them with primary sources so they can learn to analyze information, draw conclusions, and create new understandings.

Making this shift is not an easy battle--educational policy, influential business leaders, the media, and high stakes testing all tend to focus on those lower levels of thinking, making the assumption, one can only guess, that by mastering facts a person can then use those facts to synthesize, evaluate, and create. As leaders, it is a daily challenge to structure a learning environment where teachers are encouraged to involve students in authentic projects that incorporate higher order thinking skills, to face down the testmakers and focus on learning instead of covering what will be on the test. But what if...?