Sunday, January 22, 2017

To change your behavior, change your environs.

How are your resolutions going?

Well, I hope. But changing behavior is hard. There are all sorts of pitfalls. One I heard a psychologist talk about was the rebel-against-the-grownup syndrome. When I am telling me not to eat that donut (or "doughnut" if you prefer), I am the grownup bossing me around . . . and who likes to be told what to do?

Lately in my corner of the blogosphere I've been encountering more and more the idea of "Systems, Not Goals."

The big, early proponent seems to have been Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, and wide-ranging thinker. His blog is HERE; I think you'll really enjoy it. He writes often about what psychology and brain science teach us about real behavior and how to affect it. The idea is not to set goals, but to set up systems and habits so that if you will follow them, good things will happen. Instead of setting a goal you might miss and then feel bad about yourself, set up systems and make them easy or even fun to follow.

I've recently come into contact with another thinker/blogger gaining steam, James Clear, who also writes about how to get ourselves into good habits, based on psychology and neuroscience.

His very simply-designed blog (simplicity is one of his keys) is HERE. That'll link you to a specific post about how our environs help or hinder behavior. Like choosing a gym that is on the commute home, rather than even five minutes the other way. Or buying smaller plates so you eat less. 22% less! on 10-inch plates as opposed to 12-inch.

I got to thinking about my classroom. The environment is constantly giving us cues about what to do. And it makes some behaviors easier and some harder.

I know if I go move a crate of journals off the windowsill and set it near my desk so that I have to walk around it I am more likely to grade them. I've had a student and a custodian with ADD thank me  for having a relatively uncluttered, non-busy classroom. At least for them, it facilitated focusing.

How can you structure your environs, whether kitchen, bathroom, office, classroom, so that it promotes behavior you want to see more of? In yourself or in others?

Be well!

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

"You Are a Super-Hero!" (Special Guest Post)

Hello, colleague.  I hope you, like me, sometimes come across a reading that stops you in your tracks. I was surprised, wowed, pleased . . . you name it, by this energetic, empathetic, and encouraging essay I came across in our Michigan Education Association magazine, Voice (December 2016). It's by Bill Triolet, teacher and union local president at South Redford district, a stone's throw from my hometown of Farmington. I contacted Bill about posting his words here and within a couple of hours he responded most positively and then sent me his essay, "For Days You're Feeling Low."

As we are at a de facto mid-point of the school year, and at the start of a new calendar year, these words reach us with very good timing. With no further ado, here's Bill in his own write, © 2016, all rights retained by the author. Enjoy!


This year will be starting my 20th year teaching in South Redford, and my 10th year as a [union] local president. I would be lying if I said there weren’t times when I was frustrated, disenchanted, or just plain depressed over the direction public education moves, how the government treats us, or my inability to reach a student.  I can’t help but wonder sometimes, “Why am I doing this?”

But then something always brings me back to the most important reason I come back year after year - really the only reason that matters:

The kids.

Recently a student I had back in 2007 sent me an email.  In it he recounted some fond memories he had of my classroom, then concluded with this:

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The social media are rewiring our minds. Are they worth it?


I know the headline looks weird with the verb "are"; but I always try to use "media" as plural with my students, to stress that there are a number of ways reality is mediated to us, usually filtered through a profit motive. 

I digress already and I haven't even begun!

I was surfing the online news, one of the media I use to waste time -- I mean, entertain myself. [Long ago in Latin class,  I learned "entertain" comes from "inter" (between) and "tenere" (to hold).  Hence, whatever holds your attention between times spent on important stuff is "enter-tainment."]

Ironically (since I'm blogging) the article that caught my attention, one of the New York Times' top hits today, was about the risks of social media. It's an op-ed by Cal Newport, a millennial computer scientist. First, he disputes social media's importance to your career. That part isn't something I see a lot of, at least in the teaching ranks -- a felt need to maintain an online brand.

But more importantly for all of us, he discusses how he is not on social media (including blogging) because of what it does to your mind.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

A Sprinkling of Follow-Up on Salt and a Sense of Mission

I want to follow up just briefly on my last post. I was talking about a mission statement I've had close in mind for a couple of weeks: to "be an agent of salt and light." It comes from my religious tradition, the words of Jesus of Nazareth. By accident yesterday I read about salt in the ancient world.

It was a fertilizer! (And still is, in some places, such as the Philippines, where it helps grow coconuts, of all things.)

So as salt of the earth (literally "salt for the soil"), if this were your mission, you would go about "promoting the life and flourishing of others" (Anthony R, Bradley).

If we were to translate Rabbi Jesus' words into modern usage, we might say, "Be manure for the garden." That's kind of a crappy image (see what I did there?), but if you garden, you know just what good some natural fertilizer mixed into the soil does.

I wish you well in the coming week as you go about promoting life and assisting the mental and moral flourishing of children and young adults!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

These two quotes can ease pain and give you purpose.

Sometimes I screw up. Often I do ok. Occasionally I do something very right. Yesterday (post-election day), by God's grace, I think I did good. I resisted mansplaining the election results to my progressive facebook friends in pain. 

(Please understand, this would not have been to downplay their pain. I wanted to help people understand how the other side could choose as it did. I live in a very blue-collar town.) 

Rest easy: I’m not going to attempt any such explaining here either.

But I do want to share a couple words from my religion that help me. If you’re of a different faith, I hope you have similar helps. I’m not trying to convert anybody here, believe me.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

This Annie Dillard quote is really helping to motivate me today.

Novelist and essayist Annie Dillard writes very insightfully. This one sentence of hers really cuts through a lot of noise for me today as I think about the present and the future.


“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

Hmmm. That's got me thinking about my days. And my life in general.

Here's the good news . . . At least you and I, colleague, get to spend our days -- mundane or stressful though they may be -- in the service of a greater good. We are building up fellow human beings (often remediating what was not done for them by parents). In so doing, we're helping to make a better society in the long run. This is significant and consequential!

You are an agent of light in a very dark world. Be well, and try to enjoy your days!

Sunday, October 23, 2016

This quote from Lolly Daskal is a good reminder of your significance. . . .

"Shift your focus
from being successful
to being significant."

~ Lolly Daskal


Lolly is an inspirational speaker, motivational coach, and author whose emphasis is on leading from within. She writes about how personal values are more important than management strategies or fads. I'll bet if you're in the education profession, you're not obsessed with success or getting ahead; sometimes mere survival is the order of the day! But Lolly reminds us to remember our focus: as educators we are significant in the development of future men and women. As the school year goes by, with all its drudgery and stress, remember that you really matter in students' lives as you help them grow.