Ever wondered why change can be so difficult? Many wonderful change models exist, yet all but a few truly consider the brain and neuroscience. This missing element from change management often explains change success stories, as much as the disasters. If you are a change agent (i.e. a teacher, leader, parent, manager...) ignore the brain at your peril!Read More
For those of us in education, the flipped classroom model has been one of those nirvana-like strategies that sounds great, works for savvy teachers, but, well, there is just so much to learn.
In reality, and done well, the flipped model can be both as efficient, in terms of teacher effort, as it is effective. The model leverages students' preference for video/visual information and the true expertise of a teacher in guiding application and understanding in the classroom.Read More
After well and truly being snowed under since September 2014, with the delivery of two significant information systems at the Australian International School, I have some breathing space to begin the blogging pastime again.
The two systems, FireFly VLE and iSAMS MIS have been very successfully deployed, and it has been very interesting to watch, learn and contribute to a number of concurrent domains, swim lanes if you like, that have finally merged into a successful launch. While I'll elaborate more in this in the future, the key features of the double project include string project management with clarity on deliverables, high stakeholder engagement, leadership buy-in and advocacy, a talented and diverse team with key expertise and people skills and some plain old sleeves-up hard work.
So now, it is back into the world of posting thoughts, observations and (hopefully) some engaging content.
Here's to a wonderful 2105!
Not surprisingly, questions are key to the results you see. Ask a bad question and get (at best) useless answers. Ask a great question and there is even a chance for a transformative outcome. Here's the thing though: we are rarely taught what makes a powerful question. We just seem to osmose a repertoire of questions that others have asked us. With the best questions ready to deploy, and the right choice of question at the right time, you will be seen as insightful, in tune and influential. Combine skilled questioning with deep listening and you become transformational, whether as a parent, teacher, coach or leader.
1. Ask permission...
This secret weapon of buy-in is so often overlooked, yet is critical in engaging a blue zone response. Depending on the context, an unexpected and unusual question, quite apart from triggering red zone threat responses, can divert limited reflection resources to trying to make sense of why the question has been asked. If you are in a general conversational context, try something like:
"Do you mind if I ask you a bit of a thinking question?"
"I'm curious - do you mind if I ask you a few questions about that?"
"Do you mind if I throw an interesting question into the mix?"
If the question coming might be confronting, you might ask:
"Do you mind if I ask you a tough question?"
This preps the mind and creates buy-in to reflection-style thinking.
If the context is more formal, shape the permission accordingly. In a coaching session for instance, you may already have permission (even expectation) to ask interesting questions, so buy-in should not be an issue. But, a change in direction might need permission:
"We started by covering fitness as the main context for today, but you've just mentioned some other factors impacting on your health. Would it be OK to explore these, or would you prefer to just work on the thinking around fitness?"
Permission is a powerful engagement tool that covers off the need for autonomy (the A in the SCARF framework from David Rock).
2. What did you learn?
So often, when recounting a situation (positive or negative), we stay stuck in the detail. Bringing attention and accountability to a situation helps someone actually articulate what was gained or learnt (even in negative circumstances). When the brain has to give structural sense to an idea by constructing spoken language, often a great deal of clarity is the result.
This question is also often the missing element when we are holding someone accountable to something that went wrong. Completing this sort of conversation with "What did you learn?" allows the value of learning from mistakes to be articulated and actioned. In this case, follow "What did you learn?" with "What are the implications?" (how does it change things?) and a call to action: "What will you do now that you know this?" To further increase accountability, add "By when, and who will know?".
As a final comment around this question, note that we learn more from what does not work than we do from what does. Adding this question to reflective thinking on such outcomes allows the learning value to be found. Hard wiring the Learning From Action framework set of five questions to your repertoire adds high value to your influence, whether as a teacher, parent, leader, manager or friend:
- What happened? (Tell me about it)
- How did you feel (Articulate the emotions, deepens learning)
- What did you learn?
- What are the implications for your learning? (How does it change things?)
- What happens now that you know this? (Turns thinking into action).
The beauty of this framework is that it is cyclic - after the action has happened, you can ask the same framework again, reiterating the learning-action process.
3. The Miracle Question
Emerging from Solution Focused Therapy in the 1980s, this powerful question - it calls out an ideal future in the brain and strongly connects it to the present. The potential for a better future to be actualised via this question is probably the highest of any question I know.
There are a few variations, and the exact wording cane shaped, but broadly it goes like this:
"If a miracle occurred overnight, and when you work up tomorrow, things were as perfect as they could be, what would be different today?"
The keys are to (a) have the future 'perfect' or 'as good as it could be' state identified, and (b) to have the difference between the current state and the future solution articulated.
This question works powerfully when there is some autonomy and ability to influence the future state, so careful framing, or careful use within this context is required. For example, asking this question to someone who has just lost their partner will not provide a useful answer.
love adding other questions to depend the value of the original question, and two great examples from the second link shown below (via Andy Smith's site) include:
- 1. Who else would notice that this miracle has happened? How would they know?
- 2. Does anyone else have to change in order for this miracle to happen?
I also like to add some ratings questions to further sharpen a now-future comparison:
- How would you rate your current [dimension*], say out of 10, against this ideal state?
- What rating does the ideal state get out of 10? (Beware, it may not be 10/10)
[*Dimension could be, for example, satisfaction, effectiveness, confidence, success...]
This gives a gap analysis for the 'coachee', and can be easily be linked to the next phase of questioning around strategy (to get from the current rating to the ideal rating). I'll be talking more about ratings questions in the next blog on this topic.
urther information on the Miracle Question can be found here:
Call to action:
- Comment back with your top 3 powerful questions
- Start to ask powerful questions - it is the only way to build them into your available repertoire...
Coming soon: Questions 4 to 7 in the 10 great questions series...
If I reminisce back to less than 10 years ago, 8 to be exact, I remember a world that was B.F (before Facebook), and before the rich i'Devices' that we take for granted now. In less than a decade, we talking about a world, in 2006, that is incredibly different to today. Just to labour the point further, think about what we do to connect on an everyday, even hourly basis now, on trains, at home, travelling, and compare this to the almost prehistoric tech behaviours back then. I mean, I now rarely call people, I don't really text in anywhere near the same way, I don't carry a separate camera and I haven't purchased a physical music CD since 2005. All of these functions, and more, are done on a single device, online, anywhere, anytime.
While I'm indulging you in the moment of amazement, what we don't appreciate as we revel in remembering, is what else is about to hit us. The video below needs no paraphrasing or summary - it is a relatively simple essay on what is coming, and how underprepared we are as we revel in our technological wizardry. Every school should watch this, as should every enterprise involved in designing education - we are still educating kids for not quite today's world, let alone the future suggested here.
What are your thoughts and comments after seeing this...?
So you think you are a great listener? Test yourself against these five traits and see how well you do. Give yourself a rating from 1 to 5 on each trait (1 is rarely or poorly expressed, 5 is habitually and permanently a part of the way you listen).
1. Quiet mind listening
Great listeners do so with a quiet mind. We have very small attentional budgets, and the more noise and conversation we have going on in our own heads, the less attention we have to devote to listening to another person. Given that attention on the other person, for the other person, is the currency of engagement, this is a critical characteristic of high- performing listeners.
Key reflection question: How quiet is your mind when you listen?
2. Full observational attention on the speaker
We have limits on how much attention we have to 'spend' (and it is far smaller than we might suspect). The more we spend attention on ourselves, the less we have for the speaker, and the lower the engagement, empowerment and true solution-finding. The best listeners are generous with their attention - they 'spend' as much as they have on the speaker, and do so by observing. Observing what they hear, what they see. This then gives conversational content for the listener to feed back to the speaker: "What I see/hear is..."
Key reflection questions: How much do you observe the speaker? How well could you reflect back to them succinct observations (not interpretations) of what they have said, or what you have seen?
3. Listening for the speaker, not for you the listener
The secret X-factor of engagement (or even influence or charisma) is the generous use of attention by the listener, for the speaker. When we detect that someone is listening to us for their benefit, our trust, engagement and/or connection with them falls. This is, indeed, the social default in our world. We rarely experience being listened to in any other way. Often, when somebody does listen to us for us, the effect is profound.
Key reflection question: How much of your listening is geared for you to gain something (eg an outcome for you or the speaker)?
4. Absence of agenda, judgment, assumption and/or advice
Unconditional respect and acceptance is most fully expressed (and experienced by the speaker) when the listener disengages from default positions of seeking a solution, giving advice or pushing an agenda. Such a listening attitude also creates a conversational environment absent of judgement, empowering the speaker to access their own solutions and confidence. In many ways, this point is a variation of point 3 above - if you display advice, agendas, assumptions or judgement, then you are really listening more for yourself than the speaker.
Key reflection questions: How aware are you of a your need for a particular outcome or agenda? How often do you seek to find a solution for the speaker? How often do you find yourself judging the speaker? What assumptions might be in play in your thinking?
5. High self-awareness
The best listeners observe the conversation much the same way as a coach might observe a football match - from some distance and/or elevation. This perspective allows the listener to have some, if not low levels, of attention on monitoring themselves for unhelpful emotions, agendas or thinking. This distance from the conversation allows observation to flourish.
Key reflection questions: When in a conversation, are you involved and 'in the game' (using the football metaphor) or are you connected to the person but distant and observational to the content (like a football coach)? How aware of yourself, your emotions and any emerging agendas, assumptions or advice?
How can better listening advantage you?
Coaches who want to coach well: It is an imperative of sound coaching that the coach listen deeply, observationally and without filters, agendas or judgement.
Leaders who want to have influence: many people in your workplace would think or say “Why should I listen to you if you won’t listen to me?” This is particularly true of Gen Y and younger people, including today’s students. When people are heard and acknowledged, the are more open, creative and resilient.
Parents who want to engage with teenagers (or any children): Parents, generally, are struggling to maintain a ‘grip’ on the development and management of their teenage children. The thing is, if your teenage kids are not listening to you now, it is almost too late. The time to demonstrate listening is at as early an age as possible, certainly before puberty. When children know that you listen to them, you have far greater influence on them as teenagers. All is not lost, but it does take greater effort and change by the parent to re-engage their teenage kids.
Teachers who want better student behaviour: When students know that a teacher listens, that the teacher accepts them as they are (unconditionally) and that teacher is there for them (encouraging) then they will work hard not to let this teacher down. Student management demands are far lower, and students are more engaged with the teacher (if not the content). Note how this all starts with listening .
So how did you go? A score of below 10 says that you need to spend some serious time addressing your listening skills - those around you would say that you don't acknowledge them well, or don't understand them deeply. They may also interpret your low listening connection as low respect.
Most people would score between 10 and 20 - if you are here, look to your lowest score and work on this aspect of your listening.
If you scored over 20, then you are indeed a deep and effective listener. Congratulations, you have high influence with others, and you are well respected.
1. Ask for some informal feedback from others around you on how well they percieve your performance in the above 5 traits. How does this compare with your self assessment? Where are the gaps? What actions arise?
- Theory U, by Otto Scharmer - http://www.ottoscharmer.com(he references 4 types of listening, download an outline of Theory U here)
- Why Listening Is So Much More Than Hearing - Seth S. Horowitz
- This TED video:
In reviewing content for my updated Success Zone Classrooms workbook, I cam across this wonderful YouTube video on the brain, models to explain the brain, and comparing the brain to the internet (as a model).
This well produced and equally well-explained piece could easily be used by teachers in expelling brain function to kids, if not for, ourselves, simply better understanding the organ we are trying to influence as educators.
Based on contemporary neuroscience, we suggest a model of two mind states: the blue zone – where we are at our best – and the red zone where we operate well below our full capabilities. In terms of our brain’s resources these two zones or mind states represent having our resources in the most modern parts of the brain, the blue zone, and having them in the more primitive parts, the red zone.Read More
Teaching is a complex social activity, and while teacher training prepares teachers well around content expertise and delivery, very little is done to skill teachers in behaviour engagement. Behaviour engagement/management, in what is already a high-stress profession, remains one of the most significant stressors for teachers, yet little has been done systematically to solve the problem.Read More
I've long been a fan of Michael Bublé, both as crooner and person. This video shows so much of who he is, and is a heartwarming example of what I describe as Blue Zone brain function. I encourage you to watch this a few times, the first just to engage with the lovely emotion of the clip. Once you've got that bit out of the way, take a more forensic lens and view this from a leadership perspective, more as a metaphor. How many leadership 'actions' or behaviours can you label in what is less than three minutes of engagement? List them, and compare with my list below...
I actually found more than ten, roughly in order of appearance:
- Supporting risk taking
- Stepping away
- Sharing the win
- Humility/self deprecation
How did you go? Are there any you listed above that you want to challenge? Any that I missed?
As a parting question, what effect do you think Bublé's short engagement would have on Sam? In my view, acts of leadership that tick even a few of the boxes above, large or small, can have a lasting positive impact on the life of another...
If I think back and compare the world as it was in 2006 - pre iDevices and social media - and how it is now in 2014, I see entirely different sets of day to day living. Two big, and still growing phenomena have driven this revolution: massive mobility/access, and huge global interconnection. In less than a decade, the change in the world has been so significant that, for a long time, I had no idea of what 2020 would look like.
Recently I had an exciting glimpse of the NBT (next big thing) at the 2014 Digital Education Show Asia (KL, Malaysia), where Dr Adam Gazzaley presented some very interesting and engaging content around the intersection of neuroscience and gaming (something tells me that I'll be blogging a great deal of his work). Coming out of research around cognitive function on multitasking and ageing, the groundbreaking research was able to both measure the impact of secondary tasks on a primary task over a spectrum of various ages, using a video game, and to then use this data to feed back into the participant's brain, directly working on measured deficits.
The initial research findings was able show that the negative impact of a secondary task on a primary task is around 25% for a 20 year old, but increases to close to 70% for a 70 year old. In other words, a 20 year old loses 25% efficiency with multitasking distraction whilst a 70 year old loses nearly two thirds in efficiency.
Once that the measurement of cognitive function could be made by the connection of brain-wave sensors to the test game, it became obvious that this data could be used in reverse to modify the game in order to exercise the brain, to strengthen the deficit 'wiring'. The data set on the right hand side of the graphic above shows the amazing (and I mean really, really amazing) gains made in the aged cohort: not only was their multitasking function restored to that measured by 20 year old participants, the improvement well exceeded the 'prime of life' participants. If that isn't enough (here come the steak knives), the improvement effect persisted strongly for the measured 6 months after the trial, after only one month of playing the game.
Two breakthrough innovations were used in this experiment. Firstly the instant measurement of brain activity whilst playing the game. Unlike all other brain training games, this game was able to measure the real time responses - and deficits - in the participant's brain. Secondly, and key here, this feedback data was fed into the game, allowing the game to adjust to the individual needs to the participant, with a focus on strengthening the deficits. These two elements create a low latency, highly targeted, closed feedback loop simply gazumps (pun apology) nearly every other intervention we know of. Most, if not all other interventions and systems (including the brain training fad) are not targeted, and are open feedback. In other words, the strategy does not know about the effect it is having on the brain...
Now this is clearly big news for a range of degenerative issues associated with ageing, but as Dr Gazzaley pointed out in the presentation, it is equally massive for education. This development, ready for mainstream use by domain specialists on or around 2019, is well past early research and into mature systems implementation. Far more effective than any drug we know, Gazzaley has appropriately coined this methodology as the New Medicine of the coming decade. Could it be possible that the days of Ritalin in school are numbered?
Remembering that this is all about video gaming as the primary vehicle, taking your medicine will never have been this much fun.
Videos to learn more:
Diets are notorious: notorious for their short period of currency (the fad syndrome), for being the best thing since sliced bread (pun apology) and, well, for putting on weight.
What seems to work far better, and certainly has assisted me to both lose weight and increase general vitality/fitness has been what I call a principled approach to nutrition. If you take this approach, it will allow for an inquiry/experimental approach to your health and weight goals. Since starting this process back in January of 2011, my outcomes have been:
- Sustained weight loss from 81kg to 68kg
- Increased fitness and vitality
- Body shape changes - some people now mistakenly assume that I am a runner from my body shape alone
- A general wellbeing that is far better than my quality of life at aged 40 (I am now 55)
Rather than jumping on any particular diet (though some diet research did influence my approach at times), I took an inquiry approach, trying things, and watching the results. This approach in education is known as an Action Research model, and there are key reasons why this is a successful health strategy. A mass fad/diet ignores the individuality of your particular biology. One of the big trends in various domains (education, medicine, fitness and training) has been that of personalisation, and you should take this very much into account when you take a health strategy. In other words, what worked for the author, or even the masses, may not work for you.
So what principles are good ones to start with? The ones that work for me are:
- Reduce calories and increase nutrition - most diets focus restricting calories, some without paying attention to nutritional aspect. I aim to leverage as much nutritional value (including enzymes, pre/probiotics, antioxidants and micro/macro nutrients) as I can out of my food.
- Decrease meat consumption, particularly processed meats, with more meat free days per week than meals with meat.
- Eat a wide variety of foods, including unusual or different fruits (well, excluding durian at least to this point), vegetables, nuts, grains and seeds.
- Eat at least 50% per day raw (clearly excluding things like raw chicken) - we need roughly half of our enzyme needs to be met by external sources. If cooked, then minimally processed. The more cooked and processed food we eat, the greater we put our bodies under enzyme demand. High protein diets (particularly animal protein) have high digestive enzymatic demands, reducing access to (e.g.) cell repair enzymes if the diet is lacking. Some people I know use the rule "raw before four" - only cooked foods after 4pm.
- Have a serving of at least 5 super foods per day. My regulars include raw organic cacao, turmeric, chia, flaxseed, organic raisins (golden and black), maca powder, a supergreens formula, ginger, garlic, dragon fruit, mango, coconut (water, meat or oil) blueberries and bananas (not all on the same day mind you).
- Take high value, powerful supplements. I regularly take probiotics, digestive enzymes, cell repair enzymes, vitamin supplements (must contain micro minerals such as selenium), melatonin and neem.
- Decrease processed sugar, particularly corn syrup, to as low an intake as possible.
- Decrease dairy products to a minimum
- Bend the rules, break out and enjoy an indulgent meal, and change it up and down (in terms of calorie intake). Keeping your metabolism 'on its toes' so to speak is a good thing.
- Keep reading, researching, experimenting
Looking at this list, it looks a bit intimidating, but it all started with one principle: reduce carbohydrates, particularly gluten based versions. Interestingly, this is no longer one of my principles, a victim of my learning, experimenting and individualising.
So my advice? Start with 3-4 principles of your own, work at it, create some habits and set yourself up as your own action research project. You'll be amazed by your journey!
Related post: My Morning Happy Juice
Schools and education systems are not widely known for their agility and adaptability to change, all the more the case in the technology domain. Interestingly, it could be argued that, from a device and infrastructure perspective, schools have been at the forefront of technology deployment. Take my experience in the Victorian education system (Australia), where, in 1995, a 1:1 laptop program for teachers was rolled out to 35,000 educators, where broadband was deployed to every school (ISDN back then), and that system wide serves such as email and intranets were very much on the agenda. Did any of the above transform education in Victoria? Sadly (from the perspective of ROI), probably not a great deal.
You see, for change to occur, both at the level of the individual and their behaviour, and at the level of organisations and their systems, attention and time have to be diverted (as mission critical resources) to creating new workflows, new habits, new explorations. When a teacher, as driven by imperatives of the system of education, spends nearly every available moment on the delivery of teaching (preparation, delivery, marking and followup, reporting...) there is no time left for learning. Teacher learning that is.
The good news is that many schools are finally getting it - that organisational change is the aggregation of individual adaptation, and that the growth of the individual demands vision, focus, clarity, reflection and (most importantly) time. Teachers need access to learning opportunities that allow for differentiation of learning styles and entry points of engagement. Sound familiar? Isn't this what we try to provide our students?
The way that this is approached at AIS here in Singapore is constant with the complexity and diversity of learning in any brain (teacher or student):
- Vision and Mission - at a school level, and at the ICT intent level. We have both a school level vision, and a document that positions the intent and design of ICT use ("driven by pedagogy, inspired by technology).
- Structure and Strategy - we have leadership and management structures across the school, and within the ICT department, that are reflective of and adaptive to the changing demands of integrating ICT. Two clear strategies (initiatives) that pervade the whole organisation are our PLRS (Professional Learning Review System), a coaching approach to individual teacher growth, and TIGs (Teacher Inquiry Groups) that provide the opportunity for group learning around key pedagogical inquiries.
- A Culture of Learning - where the vision and strategies shape what people do on a day to day basis, and where the accumulated behaviours of many individuals lead to a set of beliefs and values that become 'who we are'.
- Workflows and Opportunities - as provided through both the PLRS and TIGs initiatives, as well as collaborative planning, targeted professional learning sessions and a strongly developing teacher-as-learner culture
- Action and Reflection - where at the ground zero level of change within an individual, goals, reflection, feedback, discovery and action are intertwined in an action learning cycle.
What should be immediately obvious in the above list is that a simple approach to 'training' teachings is far from sufficient. The other discovery available here is that this all takes time and effort, and successful schools have deliberately created resources for developing this approach by strategically abandoning strategies and workflows that do not contribute to mission and vision. In other words, some hard calls have been made about prioritisation to release precious time for learning.
Watch this space...
Quite a few people ask me about my morning juice regime, and I've often found myself describing the recipe verbally. Well here it is for reference - I credit this daily habit as largely responsible for my energy and capacity in what is a demanding role in a dynamic organisation. I've named it my "happy juice" literally because it gives me a general feeling of energy and well being, often within 10-20 minutes of consumption. It is also jam-packed full of bioactive nutrients, antioxidants and prebiotics. So, while it is wonderful for the short term effects, the drink contributes massively to ongoing health outcomes.
The Recipe (for 2 serves)
- 2 heaped tablespoons of raw organic cacao
- 1 heaped tablespoon if organic Maca powder
- 2 sachets if YOR Healt Berry Blast energy powdet
- 2 serves (approx a tablespoon) of YOR Health Supergreens
- Half to a whole teaspoon of turmeric powder (depends on taste)
- Half a red dragon fruit and/or 6-10 strawberries and/or a 125g punnet of blueberries, and/or half a cup of frozen berries
- 250ml of a quality juice or coconut water - I use a pomegranate and mangosteen juice available here in Singapore
I'll update this post soon with the research and benefits that each of the ingredients bring.
Attention is one of those conundrums in life: for us to be aware of something we need to pay attention to it, yet we pay attention to so many things that we are unaware of. Combine this with the brain's preference for paying attention the the novel or unusual, and we soon lose any mindful connection with the everyday around us.
The video below, from Apollo Robbins at TED, gives a great model for understanding the limitation of our attention budget, and uses the concept of this limit to completely befuddle a volunteer from the audience. Watch for the key statements, and for the last question...