How are you today?

Any student of mine knows that my priority in class is their well-being, which is why classes usually begin with: How are you? How’s your day going? What’s new and exciting?

I’m sure that most teachers would agree that a happy student is a learning student (at least, more likely to be learning student!)

So coming across one of Martin Sellgman’s latest books, Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being (Atria, NY, USA, 2011) was a fascinating find. In this book, Seligman describes the research and explains the principles behind his innovative theory of Positive Psychology.

Today I thought I’d share three takeaways from his exciting work.

  1. Optimism can be learned.

What does that mean? Let me give you an example, when dogs were exposed to electric shocks and were unable to control them, they learned that they had no control over their circumstances. However, if they were given the means to control the shocks, they would and therefore avoided potential shocks.  Similarly, we as humans learn at a very young age whether we have any control over our environment or not. Unfortunately, if we feel we have no impact no matter what we do, we will have a tendency to experience feelings of helplessness and depression.

However, the good news is: if we learned helplessness, then we can unlearn it, and take control of our reactions to our circumstances, thereby choosing optimism. Maybe you weren’t good at using verb tenses in English. You are not doomed to perish in a tenseless existence! You can learn. The question is not: Why do I have to learn these when I’m useless?, but rather: I have a bit of difficulty in this area, but I can do something about it. What tools, tricks or resources can I use to make a bit of progress? Optimism can be learned.

2. Positive Psychology focuses on mental health (not illness).

When Seligman began his research, it was hard for him to get funding. No-one wanted to invest in this strange new idea that perhaps it would be better to focus on the positive, rather than the negative. Once he got the ball rolling, however, the money came rolling in too. In fact, today Seligman’s work is being taught in educational, military, political and corporate settings around the world.

Why? The theory doesn’t focus solely on ridding people of their mental illnesses, but more on leveraging the five ingredients proven to enhance well-being: positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning and achievement (thus the acronym, PERMA).

What do I mean? Let’s say you know you have a learning disability, maybe you’re dyslexic. You still remember the shame and embarrassment when a teacher told you you’d never be any good at learning English since you had no memory for grammar rules, never mind spelling irregular verbs or strange-sounding words in foreign languages.

Putting the dyslexia aside, perhaps it would be more helpful to think in terms of, I enjoy my English class with my colleagues. We have a good time. We laugh and learn together. Everyone makes jokes and it certainly makes for a terrific break from the humdrum of my regular work! That’s an example of positive emotion. Perhaps just that will help motivate you to continue taking classes when the going gets tough.

Or maybe the heady feeling of accomplishment, having overcome a difficulty and proven you can do it despite the odds, or for the sheer fun of it, will keep you motivated.

Whatever the means, focus on one of these elements of well-being either at work or in class, and see what difference it makes.

3. Gratitude +  Love of Learning = Well-being

Another researcher, Barry Kauffman, a peer of Martin Seligman, decided to run some tests and do the math to determine the two values that were most important to attain PERMA (link: https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/beautiful-minds/which-character-strengths-are-most-predictive-of-well-being/). He found that they were gratitude and love of learning. I love that!

How can we develop gratitude? Seligman recommends people ask themselves on a regular basis this simple question: What went well? You simple cannot remain negative when you are focusing on the positive!

The love of learning value comes into play once the list of positive events is compiled. The follow-up questions are obvious: How can I make this happen more often? What do I need to do?

Coming out of class tomorrow, either as teacher or student, ask yourself the questions: What went well? Why did it go well? How can I get more of that? What do I need to do?  No matter the misunderstandings or seemingly unsurmountable challenges, an upward spiral of optimism and hope is sure to ensue.

So, how are you? What went well for you today? Let’s keep the gratitude energy flowing! Drop me a line in the Comments section.

  • Claire :o)

[Photo: Shutterstock/fizkes]

When Initiative Is MIA: What to do about it?

I had a wonderful opportunity to take initiative on the weekend. And I didn’t.

No, no, of course I won’t obsess about it (not!) It’s just that this weekend, I was preparing an activity for a class this week about initiative because a student and I had a discussion that ended with the question: how can a manager encourage employee initiative?

I googled initiative and came across articles discussing engagement. According to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace, only 15% of today’s workforce consists of actively engaged employees* . Which begs the question: why? Lack of interest, indifference, stress at or outside of work?

According to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace, only 15% of today’s workforce consists of actively engaged employees

An attractive infographic on snacknation.com presents the 9 pillars of employee engagement: 1. Values & Purpose; 2. Workplace Environment; 3. Recognition and Incentives; 4. Communication; 5. Well-defined Roles; 6. Buy-in from Managers; 7. Health & Wellness; 8. Relationship with Colleagues; 9. Personal Growth & Development.

In three words, lack of initiative stems from lack of knowledge, purpose and support: head, heart and hands. An actively engaged employee is at work head, heart and hands. She’s all there. Present!

An actively engaged employee is at work head, heart and hands.

And that takes me back to the start of this post: why didn’t I take initiative? An assumption. That assumption was, once examined, erroneous, not true, false. In short, I lacked knowledge – ‘key intelligence’, so to speak. The heart and the hands couldn’t follow; they were missing out on the intelligence!

How often do we miss out on amazing opportunities for lack of the facts? Further, do we always have to know, be told, be asked — to take initiative?

My personal definition of responsibility is response-ability. If you can respond, then act. I even break down the base word response into an acronym:

Resources

Energy

Skills

Power                                  – ability = responsibility

Opportunity

Network

Savviness

Experience

You have the resources (if not all, some), energy (even if minimal), skills (once again, maybe not all, but some), power (if you have the opportunity, then you have the chance to intervene), network (people are all around you: talk!), savviness (enough knowledge to see there is a need, and if you can’t, you can ask someone to help), and experience (again, if not all, some).

The bottom line: If you see the need, then you have the response-ability to intervene. That, to me, is what initiative is all about. Whatever, you do, don’t listen to those sneaky assumptions; get the facts and act.

So, I missed my opportunity on the weekend, but at least I gained a powerful object lesson to use in my class this week on manager intervention to encourage employee initiative.

The bottom line: If you see the need, then you have the response-ability to intervene. That, to me, is what initiative is all about.

Gotta go, now. There’s laundry to take care of and classes to plan. Initiative, right?!

What are your tricks to taking initiative? I’d love to know! Drop me a line in the Comments.

  • Claire :O)

 

* https://www.forbes.com/sites/brentgleeson/2017/10/15/5-powerful-steps-to-improve-employee-engagement/#6bb67fb4341d

[Photo: Shutterstock/Mila Supinskaya Glashchenko]

The Flipside of My Un-March-Break (or: How to translate 3 great québecois expressions of enjoyment)

For primary and secondary school teachers and students (and many of their parents!) in the Quebec City area, it was the March Break this past week. A delicious week of rest and relaxation to sleep in, go skiing, skating or tobogganing, or take in a movie, visit a museum or just plain stay home and be a couch potato.

This is the first time in fifteen years, that I didn’t have the March Break.  That’s because I left the school system last June and now teach in the business environment.  Since, I have a trip planned for May, taking a week off now was out of the question.

What to do? I wondered how I was going to ‘survive’ the week that for so many of my friends is a hard-earned perk of being a teacher. Well, I am happy to say it was great! And I figured out how to translate a trio of tricky expressions while enjoying it!

Expression 1: Décrocher (as in: J’ai besoin de décrocher!)

This expression is invariably used within the same breath as the word ‘vacation’. It means ‘to unwind, relax and take it easy’. In other words, chill! How did I do that this week? Check out the following song:

Let me tell you, the corporate environment, and your colleagues dancing in their chairs, beating their pens on the conference room table or humming are to provide a momentary slice of tropical paradise – right in class!

 

Expression 2: Se changer les idées (as in: Il faut que je me change les idées!)

One of my students thanked me for getting his mind off of things (clearing his head) after a stimulating discussion on leadership, as a spin-off of a discussion about the Trudeau-Wilson-Raybould-SNC-Lavalin debacle of this week).

Another instance of mind refreshment took place when, instead of sticking to the program of review- -new point-practice-reinforce-production, I opted for a game fresh off of a webinar I attended this week. It worked like a charm and certainly motivated the students, who vied furiously against each other to win the remainder of the freshly-baked banana cake I had brought to class. I think it’s safe to say that despite the Arctic temperatures outdoors, the heat was on.

Don’t know about them, but for me, it certainly gave me an opportunity to get my mind off of things – like not being on a beach somewhere in the Caribbean!

 

Expression 3: Un bol d’air frais (as in : J’ai pris un grand bol d’air frais!)

This is such an interesting expression for anglophones who have recently arrived in Quebec. What? You took a bowl of fresh air? What a weird expression – yet how eloquent at the same time!  In English, we simply say: Enjoy the great outdoors (or the fresh air). It is also one of those examples of an expression that is so much better said in French than in English. It is much more poetic and visual!

I got my bowl of fresh air today when I sat outside (suitably dressed, of course!) to simply bask in the sunshine and catch some rays. I enjoyed the sounds of my neighbor frantically shoveling the snow around his garage, the chirping of a couple of song sparrows and the occasional airplane. Bliss!

So, there you have it: the flipside of my un-March Break. I was able to unwind, get my mind off of things and enjoy the fresh air, while still taking care of business as usual.

I guess it’s the little things that count the most, right?  How did you enjoy your Un-March Break, my faithful readers?

– Claire :O)

 

[Photo: Shutterstock/Song_about_summer)

Is lack of focus always that bad?

Last weekend, a friend of mine posted on Facebook an informative infographic about AD/HD (attention deficit disorder with or without hyperactivity) symptoms. An iceberg illustration showed the multi-level ways that the disorder can affect an individual’s life.

A friend replied with the comment:  “Most people possess at least one of these attributes! Does this therefore mean everyone is ADHD?”

Valid question, indeed. And one that merits a detailed answer.

However, I can only speak from my experience. I was diagnosed with ADD about ten years ago now.

ADD (I’ll be using this form, since it is the type I experience) is hurrying through your shower to answer this question in a blog before you lose your train of thought. Don’t look at anything. Switch off your hearing, you may get side-tracked.

ADD is explaining an activity to your students, and noticing a car get stopped by the police for speeding on the high way directly outside the window of your conference room classroom.

ADD is stopping mid-sentence as you participate in a discussion because a beautiful snowy owl just paused to land on the lamppost of the company parking lot beneath your classroom window.

ADD is feeling embarrassed when a student asks the difference between the words themselves and theirselves, and suddenly having a blank for no apparent reason, even though English is your mother tongue.

ADD is meeting a former student’s little sister that you used to say hi to nearly every day of the school year, getting her confused with her younger sister you just spoke to, and then realizing you have forgotten her name.

ADD is preparing a class, objectives, explanations, examples, video, exercises and game based on a learning difficulty you noticed a student had, and getting to class, and being on the point of presenting the class, when you suddenly realize that you made a mistake It wasn’t that student, it was another that had that difficulty.

ADD is the anxiety that seizes you as you cruise along the high way on the way to work when you suddenly realize you forgot to take your medication.

ADD is mulling over the day when you get home and recalling the fun moments, and suddenly feel ashamed at the way you blurted out a negative comment about a situation, unprofessional and totally uncalled for, and wishing with all your heart you could just delete it – and hoping the person forgot.

The key words:  suddenly realize… anxiety…embarrassment…distraction forgetfulness…impulsivity…blurt…

This is ADD. Though many people may experience the occasional bouts of forgetfulness or distraction, for a person with ADD it is a normal part of life. You want to get rid of it to just be like ‘everyone else’.

The main take-aways I got from attending a CHADD (Children & Adults with Attention-Deficit/ Hyperactive Disorder) multidisciplinary conference in Orlando, Florida in 2011, was that ADD/HD:

  1. a) is a real disorder, that usual comes with other disorders;
  2. b) affects all areas of an individual’s life: personal, professional, school, legal etc.
  3. c) treatment is multimodal (and no guarantee of a cure for all the unwanted symptoms!)

 

ADD affects various parts of the brain, such as the frontal cortex (which controls emotional expression, problem-solving, memory, and judgment) and the cerebellum (which controls sensory input and our movement, whether it be speech, posture or balance). That means a person with ADD will tend to be forgetful, easily distracted, impulsive, somewhat disorganized… and a lot of fun – since you never know what links their mind will make or what unexpected thing they will say!

Although I take medication, meditate, exercise, practice mindfulness and adopt strategies, being a teacher with ADD is a challenge. Over the years, I have learned to accept the diagnosis; I am not ADD. I deal with it and go beyond the label. It’s just a condition that adds some unexpected spice to my classroom and daily occupations.

Therefore, to go back to the question with which this post began: Does everyone have ADHD? No, definitely not. After all, people forget things, and they are impulsive on occasion. But for someone with AD/HD, life is a constant challenge as they try to cover all the eventualities of a forgetful and distracted mind. A day without medication, is a day without order. Neglecting proper nutrition and regular exercise and meditation can cause a lack of focus.

But is lack of focus always that bad? In my books, lack of focus is often the prerequisite to fun, discovery and wonder.

Have a fun day!

Claire :o)

 

[Photo: Shutterstock/HBRH)

What’s behind your name tag?

I couldn’t find my name tag. You know, those corporate name tags that open all the doors, just like magic –  to get into the building, to your desk, to and from the coffee machine in the common area?

I had checked in my computer bag, on the floor, at front desk, in the washroom – no where to be seen!

¨Excuse me…¨, I began, after knocking on my co-teacher’s door. I peered in. There it was, on the table, ¨Ah-ha! You’ve got both!¨

We all laughed — two teachers and the student who was having her one-on-one class with my colleague.

¨Hey, I heard you adopted two children.¨, I began,as I saw who the student was.

My co-teacher graciously invited me to come in and have a seat. She saw the conversation was just getting started.

Three mothers. Three situations. A heart-to-heart exchange.

  • an adoptive mother with an elementary-age girl and boy.
  • a biological mother with two preschool-age sons.
  • an adopted other with two adult-age sons.

Abandonment vs adoption.

Nature vs nurture.

Adoption vs biological.

Crisis and triumph.

Laughter and tears.

United around a same purpose: encouraging and empowering each other to be better women and mothers to create a better life for our children.

¨What a remarkable encounter!,¨I mused, as I got in my car to leave that day.

Adopted or biological, parent or child, each person has their genetic background and accumulation of experiences growing up.

Individual perceptions and interpretative thought processes vary, as widely as do the personalities and termperaments. But what do we do with those life ingredients is entirely up to us as humans with a free will. The final product represented by our name tag is up to our own personal discretion.

As an adoptee, my ‘name tag’ was changed at birth. For a long time, I often labeled myself as ‘adopted’. However, I have a name: Claire Maria Ford. And our conversation as three women together let me realize a happy conclusion: I am leaving behind the label and assuming my name; after all, the ‘product’ behind the name tag is up to me to develop and define.

I am more than adopted. And amazingly enough, each individual is more than the label they may carry: divorced, gay, single, bullied, adhd. Each individual has a name, and a reality to develop and define.

You are not a label, you have a name. So, what does your name tag stand for? Assume it and enjoy it!

 

(Photo: Shutterstock/Syda Productions)

The Power of a Pause

My eight o’clock one-on-one class was over. My nine o’clock hadn’t arrived yet. Friday morning. I was on pause; I waited. And fiddled on the computer, wondering what I could read to make the best of the time.

I clicked on the double-arrow symbol at the top of my Internet browser screen. I thought I’d check out my saved links.

«Never know, maybe something interesting there.», I thought.

There was. As I scrolled down the list, I saw the word Happify: Science-based Activities and Games and clicked on it. I couldn’t remember what it was about.

Good choice.

The first title I saw was a TED Talk about learning languages. I started watching.

«No, not what I need this morning. I’m already a polyglot, and don’t need any motivation to learn morn languages – at least not this morning!»

Then my eye caught another TedTalk title to the right. It was on gratitude. I almost ignored it. Something stopped me. And boy, am I glad I checked it out!

I was mesmerized. The words, photos and music were absolutely spellbinding. I literally felt all my muscles and nerves relax as I settled into my chair, captivated.

When the talk was finished, and the last images and music faded away, I was transfixed. I didn’t want it to end.

The power of a pause. That’s what it was all about. What can happen when you really open your eyes and ears, take the time to really touch, feel and taste?

Startling insights, transcendence from the mundane and stressful, thankfulness for what is, powerfulness to act, and a deep sense of joy, the kind that can only come from fully being in the present moment.

It’s a shame the only time we ever really feel the present moment is when we are waiting: at the bus stop, the light, the doctor’s office or the garage. Yet those are the most interesting and enriching moments, arent’ they?

The next time I’m waiting, I’ll recall the words of the elderly man that spoke in the video.

Being by opening your eyes […] and be thankful you have eyes to see […] open your eyes […] and notice […]

I leave you with the link to the TedTalk video so you, too, can share in the wonder. As you watch, breathe and reflect: What are you thankful for?

Have a great day! – Claire :O)