When you’re aiming for the moon…

Beresheet may have crashed, but for a moment we raised our eyes to the heavens.

The headline of the Times of Israel article  (first in links below) couldn’t help but grab my attention. I wondered what the article would say about ‘raising our eyes to the heavens’ and began to read.

I was so glad I did. Quite frankly, I was blown away.  Five big life lessons jumped out at me, lessons that if applied consistently and wholeheartedly, have the power to change a life, a community, even the world.

#1. Look beyond. – There is so much more to life than our own little existence and circumstances. In fact, there are infinite possibilities if we look for them.  When LunarX held a contest to land an unmanned spaceship on the moon (with a twenty million dollar prize for success), Israel seized the vision.  Though SpaceIl’s efforts were unsuccessful, and the project closed in 2018, the scientists kept working.

#2. Aim for the moon. – Dreaming and imagination is limitless, and it’s included in the package deal of being a human being. Why not go for it? The dream took root in 2010, when three friends dreamed of making Israel the fourth country to have a space craft land on the moon. As the flag in the widely published photos of the Beresheet craft nearing landing proclaims: Small country, big dreams. Why not?

#3. Invest in your dreams. – If we want to see dreams come true, then our ideas require action, and action requires means. Put your money where your mouth is. It took over 100 million dollars to finance the TeamSpace IL dream.

#4. Expect the unexpected. –  Life happens and it can be messy sometimes. We can’t always prevent the upsets, but we can learn from them and work better. The Beresheet space craft landed on the moon, but certainly not in the gentle fashion the team had planned.

#5. Failure means you tried. – As the saying goes: It is better to have tried and failed, than to have failed to try.  Journalist Melanie Lidman concluded that perhaps the greatest lesson of all was that the space endeavour united millions of people around the world in a collective dream to reach the moon. Although they failed within 150 meters of the moon’s surface, Buzz Aldrin (1969 US Apollo astronaut) tweeted the TeamSpace IL team, saying: ‘Your hard work, team work and innovation are inspiring to all – never lose hope‘. Indeed!

Five huge life lessons from an apparent disaster. I had just learned about constructive journalism this week, and so it was amazing to come across a piece that so effectively explained and exemplified how an apparent failure can be reframed into a powerful and uplifting life lesson.

Instead of taking a victim mindset and describing at great lengths the heartbreaking failure, disappointment, and loss of so much work and so many millions of dollars, the journalist focused on the lessons learned and left the readers feeling hopeful, not devastated.

Recently re-elected Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared: ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try again. We’ll try again, and next time we’ll just try it more gently.’

Optimism  – and humour – to boot!

It got me thinking: which is more important in the pursuit of dreams: the process or the final product?    

What do you think? I’d love to hear your ideas on this in the Comments.

Sweet dreams!

– Claire  :o)

 

LINKS: https://www.timesofisrael.com/beresheet-may-have-crashed-but-for-a-moment-we-raised-our-eyes-to-the-heavens; https://www.timesofisrael.com/buzz-aldrin-to-inspiring-beresheet-team-after-moon-crash-never-lose-hope/; https://nationalpost.com/news/world/israel-lands-on-the-moon-but-not-in-the-way-we-wanted-to-as-spacecraft-crashes-in-history-making-journey.
[Photo: Shutterstock/Ruslan Ivanslov]

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]

3 Lessons My Students Taught Me

I came across this quote on my Facebook page this week, a gif shared by the BrainPower Neurodevelopmental Center in Newburgh, Indiana.

At first, I thought about my home situation; the older my sons become, the more I realize they are their own selves. What a myth to believe that kids become what parents ‘make’ them! Even if you raise them in a totalitarian environment, their personalities will surface (I hope!) and they will emancipate themselves to become who they truly are!

However, the second part of the quote was what really got me thinking, the part about children teaching their parents so they can become what they, as parents and people, can become.

I suddenly mentally flipped over to my classroom situation. My students, too, are what they are supposed to be, not what I thought they’d be. Oh, so what have they taught me then to help me become a better teacher and, ultimately, person? Certainly, a lot! Here are just three examples.

Lesson #1: You don’t have to know everything.  

Teachers know that questions are a sign of intelligence. I always say it is the door opening to understanding. I get excited when students ask questions; it means they are ready to learn, and they are going to ‘get it’. The brain is processing the data. Cognitive psychology explains that the more the brain processes the information, the more likely it is that the individual will develop the neural pathway and maintain the information in their long-term memory. Deeper learning means greater mastery and that leverages competence.

Yes, but sometimes a question comes up that you just weren’t anticipating and just don’t have the answer. You don’t know. Brain freeze! No matter how much you search your brain, the answer is just not there. For example, how come ‘theirselves’ is not the correct reflexive pronoun? Not so easy! Some of the forms take the possessive form of the personal pronoun (I – myself; You – yourself). It would seem logical to then say They – theirselves). But that is not the case. It’s just one of those things – something you have to memorize.

You’re almost afraid they’ll ask questions! No big deal. You can’t know everything, so you use that handy phrase: That’s a great question!  And then, either follow up with a Google search live, or go home and do your homework so you’ll be prepared with a fantastic explanation next class.

Lesson #2: You don’t have to always be in control.

The other day, I suddenly felt sick during my first of two morning classes. I was sure I was turning green and about to fall of my chair. Catastrophe! I’m the teacher, I’m supposed to be in control! I couldn’t move, and just wanted to put my head down and rest.

The students were great. They offered advice, they suggested I drink some water or go for a walk. When the class was over, the next group came in and continued the good work. They got me laughing. They took over. They first took out their homework and began correcting it with my weak input. Then one of them asked if I had any games. I did, so she went and chose one and got the other two playing. By the end of the class, I felt much better. They were wonderful.

The concern, care and initiative of the students blew me away. It also reminded me that I didn’t always have to be the boss. After all, what is student-centered learning all about? Students take ownership of their learning. The teacher is just there to guide and facilitate.

Lesson #3: It’s okay to not be perfect.

Perfectionism is the bane of the teacher. We want everything to be just perfect (you know, a perfect A, 100%): the lesson plan, the presentation, the activity, the materials, even our appearance!  But sometimes you just don’t have the time to get it Just Right. Anxiety attack! And the quality of the lesson goes downhill from there!

Last week I asked a student what their lesson of the day was. The student answered: stop thinking, start doing. An enriching discussion ensued.

Once again, it was the disciple teaching the master. Do what you can with what you have. You don’t have to be perfect; be real, drop the ego, and enjoy the discovery of learning with your students.

In conclusion, maybe the people, places and events around us are not the way we expect but are rife with lessons to learn. Accepting, acknowledging and appreciating them for the truths they reveal, is not easy, but part of adapting to the ever-changing nature of life.

Does this resonate with you? Please let me know in the Comments section. I love hearing from my readers!

Cheers!

Claire :o)

 

*Photo and link to BrainPower Neurodevelopmental Center : https://www.facebook.com/BrainPower-Neurodevelopmental-Center-889931051105659/?tn-str=k*F

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)

In a rut? Maybe it’s time to follow Sarah’s Script!

But I don’t want to follow the script! I hate scripts.”, I commented emphatically to a colleague while discussing a professional experience I had had a few years ago.

“Me neither”, agreed my colleague Sarah, “Whenever I try a new recipe, I can’t just follow the instructions, I have to add my own personal twist to it.”

“And why color in the lines when there is so much beautiful white space around it?”, I asked.

 “Yes, because the lines are what someone else did. The shape is someone else’s creation.”, she added.  

“And we can’t do anything original if we just draw within the lines. Hey, a new expression: when you change things up, it’s a case of Sarah’s script!”,  I laughed.

Indeed, why do things as they have always been done? After all, if you don’t change the script, you can’t expect a different ending.

So, what’s this got to do with your language learning class? Three things: mindset, motivation and mastery.

  1. Mindset. Carol Dweck wrote an amazing book about the mind of the learner (Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. How we can learn to fulfill our potential, Ballantine Books, 2006). She explained that when you are in a learning situation (which in my opinion, is pretty well all the time!), and you keep in mind that you will take risks, stick your neck out, make mistakes, and remember that that is okay, then you’ll make progress in whatever it is you are learning. That is what the growth mindset is all about: making mistakes and continuing to lean in and grow. If, however, you get stuck, and choose to stay stuck, and stop wanting to learn, then you’ve fallen prey to a fixed mindset. Maybe it’s time for Sarah’s Script! Change up the ingredients a bit. As Dweck encourages: “Next time you’re in one of those situations, think about learning and improvement, not judgment – and hook it back up.”

 

  1. Motivation. Daniel Pink eloquently explained how personal purpose drives humans to outperform themselves in his book entitled Drive: The Surprising Truth Abut What Motivates Us, Riverhead Books, 2009). If you’re having a hard time learning how to use real conditional sentence structures, you’ll find a way to learn them because you want to be able to negotiate with that supplier in Colorado quicker, and be able to get home in time to coach your son’s hockey team. Take it from Pink: “The science shows the secret to high performance isn’t our biological drive or our reward-and-punishment drive, but our third drive – our deep-seated desire to direct our own lives, to extend and expand our abilities, and to make a contribution.”

 

  1. Mastery. I have studied eight languages. And I always emphasize the verb ‘studied’ because I am not fluent in those eight languages. I don’t study them or practice them near enough. And as long as that is the case, then I will continue to say that I have studied eight languages! However, I can say that I have mastered two: English and French (btw, I do get by in Spanish, but I don’t master it). Mastery is the reward of consistent study and practice. And that calls for Sarah’s Script on a regular basis. You have to change things up to keep motivated to study and practice. Robert Greene gave a list of different ways to keep yourself on the path to mastery in his book called Mastery (Penguin Books, 2012). He recommends: “keep expanding your horizons, revert to a feeling of inferiority, trust the process, move toward resistance and pain, apprentice yourself in failure and advance through trial and error”.

 

The next time you’re stalling in that steep learning curve, try Sarah’s Script and change up the ingredients so you can lock in your growth mindset, stay motivated and climb towards mastery.

Lights, camera, action!

– Claire :O)

 

[Photo: Martin Lopez/Pexels]