Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Economy of Values

I have been doing some reading at my turtle's pace. I have been doing some thinking as well (at a similar pace it would seem). I've been reading Thomas L. Friedman's most recently updated book Hot, Flat, and Crowded. So far I'm really diggin it. In one part he cited a guy by the name of Dov Seidman who is the CEO of LRN. Dov explains that there are two types of business relationships: situational and sustainable. The difference between the two all come down to values. In a situational relationship you are only concerned with what you can get out of the right here and the right now. In the sustainable relationships you are worried more about your the long term success of your company and your customer and your environments (economic and natural).

Now as I had alluded to before it is all about your values. The reason that I say this is because, as Thomas points out, we could have had all the regulations that the brightest legislators could of ever conceived but it would not have delayed our Great Recession because regulations tell people what they can and can not do. Values tell us what we should do. With out buying into the values of sustainability, all of the people who made decisions that lead us to the current state of affairs would not have asked themselves what they should do but rather a how they could do what they wanted to do with out getting caught overtly transgressing the imposed regulations.

I could not help but draw some parallels between this messy situation and my own little slice of heaven. The demographic of my school is about 90% Low German Mexican Mennonite immigrants with a sprinkling of more "traditional" western Canadian kids. In our school we have tried modeling our values. We have tried enticing the our students. Some of us have even tried legislating crowd sourced regulations (aka classroom rules). Our kids do not share our values (granted, this is a blanket statement that has too many holes to keep me warm at night but I still believe that it holds enough water to be useful diagnostically). I believe that this may be the missing link. We can make all of the rules and regulations that we want but until they buy into our value system they will only have a situational relationship with us and try their best not to get caught overtly transgressing the imposed regulations.

Where does this leave us? Well, I'm lost. But I believe that this is an opportunity for us to find and define ourselves. The first thing that I think that we need to do as a community is to define for ourselves what our core values are. And I'm talking like our top four or five most relevant, significant, overarching values that encompass all of the seemingly silly things that we ask our little angels to do. From there we can move away from our class room regulations and move toward exemplars of how we uphold our shared community values. We can have a Star Value for each month with activities and more incentives and contests. We can make it a regular part of our classroom discourse. We need to overtly identify, advertise and promote these values so that our kids can finally see where we are coming from and why we expect the things of them that we do. My greatest hope is that this will help the next time that they are faced with a choice to ask themselves what they should do instead of what they can get out of the situation in the right here and right now.

Sorry for yet another rant but I was inspired and I had to share it with you. You've probably already considered this stuff. Let me know what you think our values should be.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

A Bright Idea About my Mobile Pods.

I love pods. I always have. The problem is that I have an odd shaped space to work with making every inch of real estate obscenely valuable. I have two stacks of science benches replete with sinks which is a wonderful curse. Something that has been a pet peeve of mine is the way that my pods seem to spread out and migrate around my limited space. I think that I may have a solution. I intend to strap the desks together in their intended conformation. The down side of this is that it may diminish some to the spontaneity of forming impromptu groups. The up side is that we will not have to waste time straightening out desks so that people can get around the room about four times a day.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Daniel Pink on Motivation

I've been thinking a lot about motivation recently. What is motivation? If motivation were a currency, how could you acquire it? Does it come in different denominations like bills? Does it have different values based on where it comes from like dollars and euros? Are some people born rich with motivation while others have to earn it and other may have it given to them? I just don't know. But I have recently watched Dan Pink talk about the gap between what science knows about motivation and what business (and schools for that matter) does to motivate people.


In the past we have relied heavily on rewards and punishments to help us motivate people to do the things that we want and need them to do. Pink argues that this simplistic model only works when the behavior or action that we are trying to elicit is equally simplistic and mundane. Let me tell you, there are very few of these sorts of things that we need done at schools. Our biggest struggle is to get our kids to move past this simplest model and start to stretch themselves to be creative and independent (two things that rewards inhibit covertly). Pink suggests in his talk at TED that people need Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose in order to become truly activated and intrinsically motivated. I am totally down with all of that because in my hear I can sense the ring of truth in that. Now all I have to do is have figure out how we can shift our paradigms in schools to match up with this new model and set up the environment where these three guiding principals can be cultivated and then harvested. Now the search will begin to find out if there is anybody out there who can point me down the right path now that I know that there is a path.

Friday, June 4, 2010

A new science gem that I stubbled across.

I just wanted to drop a quick note about a super science resource site that I just found. If you are a new teacher like myself, there is nothing more bothersome than trying to create thoughtful, complete and effective rubrics. It's hard to know what you should be looking for when you really have no idea what you should be looking for. Sciencebuddies.org has reams of great science fair information including over 1 000 project ideas but the thing that interests me the most at the moment is their list of wonderful rubrics. Stop by and check it out.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Power of Politeness

I feel very strongly that there is great value in propagating the use of social conventions such as using the "magic words". My adherence to the use of these “silly” words is rooted in my belief that words really are magical. Words have power: latent, raw, mystic power. It is this power that fuels self-fulfilling prophecies and predictions (positive as well as negative). When we incorporate these silly words into our everyday vernacular, we improve the chance that their sentiment will be imbued in our daily interpersonal interactions and become a part of our paradigms. Some argue that using these words do give you the power to "manipulate the responses" of people whose values are rooted in the Canadian culture. We are a proudly polite (and some other cultures might argue pretentiously polite) people. We love that about ourselves and I for one hope that we never let this virtue be taken away from us. When you employ these social contrivances you tell other people that you have enough respect for them and empathy for them as fellow human beings to adhere to these somewhat cumbersome conventions. And when my two year old son tells the bakery lady at Safeway "tah tu", he has just manage to earn huge social currency in that interpersonal interaction; social currency that will earn large dividends someday when he interacts with other "more traditional elders" who hold the balance of power in our society. Is this why we do it? Hopefully not. But it sure is a nice perk. In this age of globalization we have to decide which uniquely Canadian qualities we want to keep and defend. I believe that our adherence to this Canadian value is one of our great gifts to the world and all of the other cultures that come to be part of our great experiment. Pleases and thank yous are important. Magic words are magical after all.