Another dot in the blogosphere?

You hurt your bottomline if you rely only on the short term view. This applies equally in business and in schooling.

One thing I dislike about neighbourhood malls in Singapore is getting harassed by promoters and sellers. They aggressively tout their insurance, banking, or other wares by pushing “gifts” in my face, standing in my way, or pursuing me even after I have said “No, thank you!”

It is the mall management that takes the shortsighted view by charging a fee and allowing these touts to operate. They risk complaints from patrons and reduced foot traffic as patrons avoid being pestered.

Schools are not immune from being shortsighted. One needs only investigate the effects of teaching to the test, buying into unresearched vendor claims, or perpetuating the use of empty ideas like learning styles.

Both malls and schools will see the impact of uncritical adoption of superficially helpful actions. But while malls might feel the impact every financial quarter, schools might only see the consequences of what they do — or fail to do — a generation later.

If your plan is for one year plant rice.  If your plan is for ten years plant trees.  If your plan is for one hundred years educate children. -- Confucius

In my line of work, I meet a fair share of new people I have to help or negotiate terms with. I have to gauge the sincerity of a new contact quickly so that my subsequent effort is worth the trouble.

While there are many ways to evaluate the intent of strangers, I have learnt that there are three Ps that are hallmarks of good communication: Promptness, politeness, and professionalism.

Promptness is how quick and regularly the other person replies. By this I do not mean an endless stream of disjointed WhatsApp messages. That would show a lack of organisation or coherence.

Promptness involves timely replies. These acknowledge that the other person is waiting for an answer and that you do not wish to keep them waiting unnecessarily.

A sure sign of a lack of promptness is when you need to send a message that starts with “I have not heard from you since…”. By then it is too late.

Politeness is embracing basic human decency. It is starting with a greeting, saying please and thank you, and wishing people well before signing off.

Politeness is not simply providing filler in a message. It recognises that modern messaging is rife with misunderstanding and negative interpretation in part because of the need to be prompt.

Professionalism is a catch-all, x-factor quality. It is hard to define, but you know it when you see it. It could be in the tone of the message, be it friendly, authoritative, or organised.

Professionalism is showing that you mean business. It is anticipating what your contact will say or ask and providing responses in advance.

How do you attain these hallmarks of good communication? From practice and learning quickly from mistakes. The mistakes do not have to be your own and you certainly do not want to repeat mistakes by practice. It is ultimately about learning by being observant, reflective, and having empathy for the other party.

We live in testing times. Literally.

Tests and exams are a fact of life in school, so teachers have devised strategies like drill-and-practice to help their students cope over the short term.

Any strategy that helps students actually do better in tests is good, right? So how about creating some metacognitive awareness?

Video source

The video above highlights how students might procrastinate and sabotage themselves during test preparation. The psychology behind this is behavioural and claimed self-handicapping.

Why do learners sleep late, not study, or distract themselves even though their teachers might have taught them test-taking strategies?

According to the video, students anticipate failure or poor performance, and create an excuse in advance. This way they can blame something else other than ability.

Test-taking is stressful enough. Other than reassuring students than academic tests are a narrow measure of worth, parents and teachers should nurture student self-awareness as a metacognitive strategy.

If I was conducting a workshop on pedagogical change, I might start it by showing the video embedded in the tweet above.

Participants would invariably offer different answers to my question: What does this video have anything to do with pedagogical change?

I might then guide them to the importance of not making hasty decisions due to a lack of perspective.

It takes effort to get a new perspective. Sometimes the effort is quick and easy while other times it takes a marathon. It is easier if one is able to balance a systemic view and necessary nuance.

This is where having an outsider’s or learner’s perspective is crucial. When you are too close to a problem you often cannot see it perched right on your nose.

At first I was not convinced that the video in the tweet illustrated student-led inquiry over teacher-delivered curriculum. After all, the ideas and skills in the video could just as easily have been taught and trained by drill and practice.

That said, each example did illustrate better ways to do things, and as a result, to learn as well.

For example, most people peel bananas from where they are bunched. But if people observe other primates eating them, opening them at the other end makes more sense.

All the examples also illustrate how what we do are learnt behaviours. We do what we are told instead of trying to figure out how to do things or do them better.

Ah, perhaps the video does illustrate student-led inquiry after all.

Whether it is at a talk or a workshop, there will always be participants who seek to pack as much as they can in as little time as possible so that they apply it as quickly as possible.

There is nothing wrong with that unless they miss the point of the session. I am not talking about the content, but about nuance.

Life is not black and white; there is some grey nuance to it. -- Pilou Asbaek

You can ask the same question to ten different experts in a field and you are likely to get ten different answers. This will make the people I described above impatient and unhappy because they want bite-sized concepts.

Nuance recognises that there are different aspects of the same thing. This is rooted in the complexity of an idea or practice.

Nuance is also about different perspectives of the same thing. This acknowledges the subjectivity of a concept or behaviour when applied in different contexts.

Substituting nuance for novelty is what experts do, and that is why they are never bored. -- Angela Duckworth

It is important to simplify or conceptualise because that is how our brains operate. But it is equally important to not be simplistic.

There is another saying — the devil is in the details. Solving a problem or implementing change is not easy. The difficulty, complexity, and subjectivity of such processes should be embraced instead of feared. It is nuance that makes the journey worthwhile.

I enjoyed the four-part Netflix series, The World’s Most Extraordinary Homes. The original shows seemed to be part of a larger BBC series.

Here is a playlist of official snippets from the BBC series. However, they are not quite representative of the Netflix series in terms of emphasis and tone.

Playlist source

One might walk away from the Netflix episodes envious of how some of the ultra-rich live. However, I admired how the owners and designers of the homes took care to minimise the impact of the buildings on the environment or blended the former into the latter.

As is my habit, I link what I watched with what might be practiced in schooling and education.

Just as the architects worked closely with their clients on the homes, so should educators if we are to truly personalise experiences for their learners. Even the youngest of our learners has hopes and experiences we can build on.

It might also seem easier to try to start with a blank slate by clearing the land. The equivalent in teaching might be starting without finding out what the learners know first. Just as the designers and builders took pain to integrate the environment and the buildings, so should teachers and educators if we are to create learning experiences that are special and meaningful.

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