"Navigating a No-Phone Zone" by Jason Gay in the Wall Street Journal for Friday, April 6, (http://j.mp/I4bNqJ) provides a great window into the experience of the gallery at the Masters with its "no phones" policy. That's as in no phones. They'll escort you out if you use one. Wow. And, cool! Mr. Gay describes the experience as "oddly satisfying." He says that fans "look at things - with their eyes. They solve questions - by asking nearby human beings. They come up with clever comments and somehow survive without offering them to the world in 140 characters." Love that last bit! He goes on to talk about having to make plans (meet under the big tree at 2 pm) and then having to stick to them! And he points out that, because they weren't looking at their phones, spectators got to watch, really watch, the event. They didn't miss key moments, or fail to make interesting observations from seemingly mundane moments, because they were too busy texting, tweeting, typing, or touching (the screen - not a person!).
This strikes me as a policy that promotes mindfulness. Right now, my personal working definition of mindfulness is: sustained, continuously re-focused non-judgmental attention to what is. In other words, it involves paying attention to some aspect of reality (one's breath is a frequent focus, but the Masters should work!) and continuously re-focusing on that reality when the mind wanders. Some Masters fans may be more non-judgmental than others: noticing the heat of the sun rather than constantly assessing whether it is "too hot" or even complaining about it. This sounds somewhat naive and detached from reality when I write it - as if being "real" requires being "judgmental" - but that's not my experience when I practice mindfulness. It also doesn't seem to be the result for highly-experienced practitioners. Rather, they seem more able to deal with the world as it is and less caught up in dealing with the world as they think it "ought" to be. (The next book I'm looking forward to reading in this area is The Emotional Life of Your Brain: How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel, and Live--and How You Can Change Them by Richard Davidson.)
However, as someone who loves me my smartphone, and because of my interest in education, I want to give a brief nod to an alternative view: smartphones actually make us smarter. David Perkins in Smart Schools talks about what he calls "person-plus" intelligence. (Book note: http://j.mp/Im4nts.) This simply means that your ability to understand and contribute is greater if you have access to tools and
repositories of information that you have mastered, and the same for me and everyone else. As an incredible tool to augment our intelligence, is it any wonder we're "addicted" to our smartphones. The trick, as with any tool, is becoming a skilled master of its use. Right time, right place, right manner.
So, mindfulness? Yes. Person-plus intelligence? Yes. It ain't easy being modern. But it is a lot of fun!
This post is actually a response to John Merrow's Huffington Post column on value-added. Recommended - it's quite good!
First, I appreciate Mr. Merrow going to the source. I've known and worked with Bill for years and his work inspired my passion for education, leading ultimately to serving on the school board here in Nashville. His work is solid but the policy recommendations drawn from it are often wrong. Part of that is Tennessee's fault - we've had almost 20 years to learn how to help teachers add more value, and we've failed because we spent most of those 20 years fighting the data rather than working with it. Based on years of working with that data from a policy perspective and my work in positive psychology, here are my policy recommendations:
1. Recruit great teacher candidates. TFA has found that high grades and test scores from top colleges are not enough. We need better data on the qualities of character and outlook that make for great teachers, and how to select for them (I suspect there will be multiple patterns), but, in the meantime, look to resilience - especially optimism and a growth mindset - plus a passion for teaching.
2. Help teachers develop personally to become more resilient, more growth-minded, better at relationships, more focused on strengths - and show them proven ways to help develop these same qualities in students while teaching academic content. The Army is doing this for sergeants to help soldiers; why can't we do it for teachers? http://csf.army.mil/news.html This book I co-authored can help: http://www.smartstrengths.com/
3. Focus teacher professional development on teacher-led instructional improvement through "Lesson Study" or something very similar. http://www.shearonforschools.com/books_lesson_study.htm
4. Develop better leaders. Top young teachers want and deserve good leadership, and they want open, meaningful pathways to leadership. A great principal can help inspire and guide young teachers toward excellence and high value-add; a poor one runs great candidates out of the teaching profession. Many unnecessary obstacles have been placed in the path to leadership by legislators and administrators in the name of "improving leadership" - get rid of those that don't have solid, empirical evidence that they actually make better leaders (when in doubt, cut it out) and focus on leadership opportunities and mentorship to build on the base provided by the professional development and teacher-led instructional improvement cited above.
For more on the thinking behind these recommendations, see the chapter on "Positive Education" in Marty Seligman's new book <i>Flourish</i> or the white paper available here: http://www.flourishingschools.org/Positive_Education_FSWhitePaper.pdf
James Burke's K-Web project combines knowledge mapping, virtual realities, and open content generation into a potentially exciting project to create a new way for learners to engage. Check out the web site or, better yet, watch the 10-minute video here.
We do a pretty good job of teaching students to read and a lousy job of getting them to read to learn. Knowing how to read is just not enough; it is the habit of reading for the pleasure of the story and the tingle of new learning that matters. (Buy the print here!)
E.D. Hirsh, Jr. writes here about the importance of knowledge to reading comprehension. He notes:
"According to the latest scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the reading achievement of eighth-graders has declined since the law was passed in 2001, and the large reading gap between advantaged and disadvantaged children -- "the achievement gap" -- has stayed where it was. Today's eighth-graders had recorded gains in fourth grade, but these have not led to improvements in later grades -- when reading scores actually count for a student's future."
He argues that the focus in K-4 on teaching kids to read works, but that the continued focus on that same topic in 5-8 produces diminishing returns. Thus, reading in middle school needs to move from "how" to "why" -- from teaching to leading.
So, why should kids read and how can we get them to read? For some, it's easy. Their character strengths of curiosity or love of learning make it easy to get them started reading to learn and they take it from there. Others may require different approaches. The principle, however, is the same. As kids find out that reading helps them gain knowledge and experience that turn their talents into strengths, they will want to read more. Twenty-five books per year, or more. Or the equivalent in news articles, magazines, etc. The key is that reading builds knowledge, and knowledge enables reading. Again, from Dr. Hirsch:
[Hmmm... those are my beliefs, but I think I've just put forth what could serve as hypotheses for research. For example, are students for whom curiosity and love of learning are top character strengths more likely to be prolific readers? Does helping students connect to reading material that enhances their strengths increase the likelihood that they will read significant amounts?]
As Dr. Hirsch points out, it is not just the ability to read that matters. It is reading! Lots of reading.
"Studies of reading comprehension show that knowing something of the topic you're reading about is the most important variable in comprehension. After a child learns to sound out words, comprehension is mostly knowledge. Many technical studies support the assertion that after students can fluently sound out words, relevant knowledge is the crucial difference between students who are good or poor readers."
So who's going to lead the effort to re-direct more time and attention in middle school to reading for knowledge and learning? Teachers, if anyone. Some will focus on making time available for students to read. Others will defend reading against ill-informed attacks. Overall, however, it's teacher led instructional improvement that offers a realistic path to sustained superior performance.
I have had wonderful opportunities to apply positive psychology in recent months, and the schedule ahead suggests those opportunities will continue:
Culver Academies Faculty Workshop, Culver, IN, 6/11-13, 2007 (Workshop)
Culver Summer Camps Staff Workshop, Culver, IN, 6/13-15, 2007 (Workshop)
The Lawrenceville School Positive Psychology Conference, Lawrenceville, NJ, 6/16-18 (Participant)
United Kingdom Teacher Training, Penn Resiliency Program, Philadelphia, PA, 7/21-8/3/2007 (Facilitator)
Tennessee District Attorney Generals Conference, Capital Case Litigation Conference, Nashville, TN, 8/6/2007 (Speaker)
Penn Center for School Study Councils, South Jersey Superintendents Study Council, Sewell, New Jersey, 9/11/2007(Workshop)
"Positive Psychology and the Law", Nashville School of Law, 6:30 pm, 9/26/2007 (Speaker)
Coaches Workshop, Culver Academy, Culver, IN, 10/3-4/2007 (Consulting)
"Getting to 'Why?'" TBA Young Lawyers Division seminar, 10/25/2007
Victim/Witness Services Retreat, Nashville DA's Officce, 10/19/2007 (Workshop)
"Lawyers as Peacemakers, Lawyers as Problemsolvers", Memphis, TN, 10/28-29/2007 (Speaker)
"Government Lawyers CLE", Nashville Bar Association, 11/30/2007 (Speaker)
Penn Center for School Study Councils, South Jersey Superintendents Study Council, Sewell, New Jersey, 12/11/2007(Workshop)
Wellbeing at Geelong Grammar School, Australia, 1/21-31/2008 (Facilitator for faculty training)
Penn Center for School Study Councils, South Jersey Superintendents Study Council, Sewell, New Jersey, 2/12/2008 (Speaker)
"A Great Start", TBA Young Lawyers Seminar Nashville, TN (webcast to Memphis and Knoxville)2/15/2008 (Speaker)
Penn Center for School Study Councils, South Jersey Superintendents Study Council, New Jersey, 5/13/2008 (Workshop)
Elona, asked in a comment: "Why are some kids able to succeed despite everything while other kids can't?" You suggested that a caring adult makes a difference, and research on factors in the child's world does show that such relationships are important.
The Penn Resiliency Program, however, focuses on the thinking patterns of students, especially their beliefs about adversities that shape how they feel and respond in the face of such adversity. For example, the student who gets a bad grade on a quiz and thinks, "I'm stupid. I'll never learn," will react differently from one who thinks "I knew that material -- I need to ask the teacher how to do better on tests!" Likewise, a student who walks into the cafeteria and sees a friend look her way then turn and walk off and thinks, "I knew she wouldn't stay my friend, nobody ever does," is going to react badly to the incident. One who thinks, "Wow! Wonder what she's got going on -- must be exciting. I'll call her later," is going to follow a much different path over the rest of the day. A more positive explanatory style (the second example in each of the vignettes above) leads to more resource-building actions as well as to more positive feelings (the "Broaden & Build" theory, Barb Fredrickson_. In the context of relationships with adults, students with a more positive explanatory style are more likely to develop and sustain such supportive relationships.
Of course, this isn't as simple as "Think Positive!" Students need to learn to monitor their internal dialogue and recognize the connections between their beliefs and how they feel. Then they have to learn to generate alternative explanations and look for evidence about the accuracy of each. The goal is flexible, accurate thinking, not just positivity. But, in ambiguous situations (and how many aren't?), we should all lean toward positivity.
On that basis, the Penn Resiliency Program goes on to build skills in assertive communication styles, decision making, time management, etc. Good stuff! Multiple research studies, both those conducted by Karen Reivich and Jane Gillham, the developers of PRP, and studies conducted by others have demonstrated the power of the curriculum. And they've got it down to manualized set of 12 2-hour (or so) lessons that teachers can learn to deliver. I'll be going to Philadelphia in about three weeks as a facilitator for training Drs. Reivich and Gillham and Dr. Judy Salzburg are giving to about 80 teachers being sent over from three school systems in England. Very exciting stuff!
August 19 "The Many Connections Between Well-Being and Professionalism in the Practice of Law: Implications for Teaching", Association of American Law Schools, New York, NY
January 21 "Resilience for Law Students, George Washington University School of Law, Washington, DC
February 13-15 American Association of School Administrators National Conference, Nashville, TN