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

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]

JDI! (Just do it!)

Every page answers a question“, a student explained as he proudly me his PowerPoint presentation. We tweaked a few structural errors here and there, and corrected some forgotten capitalizations.

“Wow!”, I thought, “intentional”. The whole content was intentional.
I suddenly heard the voice of an editor I once I had.

“What’s the intention? There has to be a pedagogical intention. Why are the students doing this activity?”, she would ask, and rightly so! Back to the drawing board. Invariably, I had to redesign the activity and rewrite it too.

But what a valuable lesson, and a timely reminder: intention. You need to know why you’re doing what you’re doing for your work – or life, for that matter! –  to be meaningful and effective.

 State your intentions

Here are five verbs you can use to express intention. They are always followed with the infinitive form of the verb (to + verb).

Want              Joe wants to open up a new branch in the coming year.

Need              We need to order new parts for the customer.

Intend           HR intends to hire twenty interns this summer.

Plan                The technician plans to leave for Italy on Friday.

Aim                 I aim to help you express intentions in English with this post.

 

Setting goals to map out the work flow serve as rungs on the ladder of productivity.

 

Be smart about it

Whether you’re a teacher, student, customer service rep, accounting clerk or project manager, your intentions need to be clear every step of the way for the results to be satisfying. Setting goals to map out the work flow serve as rungs on the ladder of productivity. The best goals are SMART – specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely.

 

Action is the 3D printer of achievement; intentions and goals are the raw materials required to feed that printer.

 

Here’s the deal

As the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Figuring out intentions and setting goal are great, but without any action, they’re pretty useless. Action is the 3D printer of achievement; intentions and goals are the raw materials required to feed that printer.  So, JDI (just do it!)  

What are your intentions for today?

 

[Photo: Shutterstock/FabrikaSimf]

 

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)