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

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)

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]

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)

Wishes, hopes and regrets (or: where’s the magic?)

This week, we were up to the unit on conditionals, and I noticed the caption Wish and Hope in the class activity book.

My imagination went wild immediately; although, be honest:  isn’t the topic of wishes and hopes enough to make any introverted, creative individual diverge into an ecstatic reverie?

Wishes… hopes… palm trees swaying in the breeze… idyllic moments in the hammock… refreshing breezes blowing off a turquoise Caribbean Sea…

Oops! Back to Quebec City, minus 20 degrees and icy snow blowing outside. Reality check!

“Oh well, we’ll have an interesting discussion together anyhow!”, I mused, and diverted my attention back to the class about to begin.

The Conversation Muse was favourable, and the students immediately got into the mood and started answering the questions that were written on the whiteboard: What do you wish? What do you hope?

But what’s the difference?”, one asked, stumped, after misusing the word wish.

Wish and Hope: Non-Identical Twins

We began brainstorming on the subtle difference between the two.

Wish – a desire or ‘blessing’, generally less likely to be fulfilled (e.g. I wish you a Merry Christmas! I wish I were a millionaire.)

Hope – a desire for the future, more likely, feasible. (e.g. I hope we get a lot of snow this winter. I hope to travel the world one day.)

This led us to talk about past events, in which wish can also express a regret.

Regrets, the shattered shards of shiny wishes and hopes that somehow weren’t fulfilled.

Ah regrets! Now there was an interesting topic to get into with a group of adults!

I wish I hadn’t had the accident.”, contributed a student who had experienced a collision that Monday.

Another student refused to admit what she wished. It was just too personal nature to share. We all laughed, totally understanding her reticence.

Who doesn’t have regrets?”, we commiserated together.

Regrets, the shattered shards of shiny wishes and hopes that somehow weren’t fulfilled.

The promise of When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are. When you wish upon a star, your dreams come true, broken.

Life is not like in Disney!”, a student concluded with a guffaw, albeit, a sad guffaw.

So, where’s the magic? 

The magic was operating. As each class member shared a regret, the sympathetic listeners began asking questions and encouraging comments, as though to somehow restore the sharer’s hope.

Why didn’t you do it? Why didn’t it work out? Is it really too late?

And ain’t that the truth?!

It has been said: As long as there is life, there is hope.

And there is. There is always today. Makes me wonder:

  • What do you wish?
  • What do you hope?
  • What are your regrets?

I like the following quote by Michael J. Fox:

Image result for there's always failure. There's always loss.

So, that leaves one last question to ponder:

  • What can you do today to start moving towards the fulfillment of a wish or hope?

Drop me a line in the Comments section! I’d love to hear from you.

– Claire :o)

Here’s to 2019!

In one word, how would you describe your Christmas vacation?

I gave each of my adult business English students a pale blue hashtag-imprinted post-it. The students kind of gave me a funny look, then took out their pens and began to write.

When they were done, I asked them to stick them on the conference room whiteboard.

“What should I write?”, I asked, thinking aloud.  

“Wonderful!”, someone quipped.

“Not so sure…”, I responded, then thought for a moment. “Sure, it was wonderful”. I repeated the word as wonder – full for extra emphasis.

“Teaching moment!”, I realized. I can teach them about the many meanings of the word ‘wonder’. I laughed. It was wonder-full. Full of wonder. Wonder can mean awe, surprise, to be stunned, to be amazed, to be impressed by something bigger than self.

I then asked the group to choose one of the papers and interview the person who wrote it.

Once we had reviewed open and closed question formation with past tense verbs, we began.

My turn. “So, why was your Christmas vacation wonderful?”, the student asked.

I explained. It had been a wonder-full period.

My brother-in-law passed away suddenly on December 31 from cancer. Shock. Disbelief. Anger at apparent medical error. Pleasure and pride to hear of how his colleagues had honoured him at work by wearing bowties, in his own signature style.

“How is that wonder-full?”, you may ask. Three ways. Three words: life, language, learning.  

Life. It’s precious, out of our control. You never know how long you have.

Language. The Saturday before passing away, Ben, my brother-in-law was looking through the photos of the trip to Switzerland he and my sister had taken last summer. My sister later shared some of the comments he had made about the trip. Those words became extra meaningful, and valuable, personal memories. Words are powerful.

Learning. I spent the first week of 2019 at my sister’s place. I realized firsthand how important it is to have records up-to-date, in order and accessible to get the legal and financial paperwork underway. I saw the cards and flowers and meals caring neighbours and friends dropped off, sent and had delivered. I witnessed my sister’s reaction to sympathetic calls and texts. I was floored. It was a sobering, yet essential, learning experience.

Throughout the year to come, we’ll all have our share of life, language and learning To what extent we make 2019 wonder-full, will be up to us.

To varying degrees, our language class ended with us all reflecting on the following three questions:

  • What can we do here and now to make the best of the life I have?
  • What can I say today to those around me to encourage and help them?
  • What can I learn today from what I am experiencing?

Whatever the following months hold, have a wonder-full 2019!

Any comments or ideas? Just drop a note below. I’d love to hear from you! – Claire