A Powerplay of Spontaneity; Is It Classy?

Raise your hand if you’ve ever had something like this happen to you, as a learner.

It’s my freshman year in college. I don’t remember if it was 1st or 2nd semester, but I DO remember that it was 7:30 in the morning, Monday, Wednesday, Friday! [Seriously, who was in charge of that decision: A mandatory, first-year class that early! Clearly, the college was trying to weed out the non-morning-people… with a vengeance.] It was intro to something or other, and I had to take the class as a prerequisite for future necessary courses. So, I’m stuck in this pedagogical prison with what seems to be a brilliant professor who is trying as much as he can to wake us all up with exciting anecdotes. 

The thing is, there is this one rose among us weedy, thorny freshman who has grown beyond the bramble to sing in the early morning sunlight. This student probably already had a higher education, or at the very least was well-read on the topic. I don’t know. I never conversed directly with the guy. He would raise his hand, and the rest of us would lay down our pencils and pens. The lecture was over, as far as the rest of us were concerned. This star student would ask the professor a question. I never even understood the inquiry, let alone the lengthy response the professor clearly loved providing, complete with gigantic vocabulary that drifted like cirrus above our cerebral sleepiness. 

I don’t know how I passed that class. What was I supposed to do in the moment the lecture unexpectedly derailed to plow through the wilderness? Should this naive novice to higher education raise his hand and suggest the conversation steer back toward the original topic, where the rest of us are still stuck in mental mud? …And, while you’re at it, can you use verbiage the rest of us pion-pupils can understand? Should I have left the lecture hall, to go back to the cocoon that was calling me: my bed? It WAS 7:30AM!!! Or, perhaps I should ignore the nonsense (that’s what it was to me), and read the enormous, expensive textbook that I drug around with me, but hadn’t cracked?

That really happened to me. Another thing that happened was my very own participation in derailment, back in highschool. I remember glorying in getting teachers off topic to discuss some random recent event. The class was happy to rest note-taking hands and enjoy some cognitive freetime. 

And, lastly, as a teacher, I have found it fun to discuss something off the cuff that a kid brought up, assuming that he or she was invested in this divergent topic. I’ve thought that the spontaneity of switching gears to something that mattered, personally, to my students would be engaging. It very well could be, for that one student. But, what about the rest!?

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This is a quote of Diana Hess in an Interview with Joan Richardson of Phi Delta Kappan

I’m preparing a collaborative blog post with Mountain Buddha, author of “The Write Inspiration” on the topic of controversy. I was reading an article about using political controversy (oh my!) in a Social Studies classroom, when I came across an idea that stopped me dead in my tracks. 

It may seem classy and fun to allow a spontaneously surfacing idea to infiltrate a lesson, but this can isolate, marginalize, disengage, and feed in to a powergame. 

One of my favorite books is “The 48 Laws of Power” by Robert Greene (2000). Law number 30 (page 245) states “Make Your Accomplishments Seem Effortless”. When a professor or teacher spontaneously expounds on an idea that wasn’t previously advertised, he or she is showing off his or her power. Unbeknownst to the pupils, the teacher has done loads of research, reading, and thinking on the topic. He is older than they and has had some life-experiences that have added to his breadth of knowledge, as well. It may seem like he is speaking off the cuff, but there is a muscular arm of mental muscle under that sleeve. By not explaining how much he prepared for this seemingly surprise question, students are left in awe of his god-like knowledge.

The goal of a classy teacher should be to empower or “put power into” students. 

What would be classier to do, when a student brings up a topic that lies outside the given lesson, is encourage the thoughtfulness by affirming the question; “What a great question. I love how much you are clearly thinking about this topic.”

You could further support her participation in discussion with, “It’s great for you to ask a question that could really further our thinking.”

And, rather than hording the power, share the keys to it by telling the class, “I have read and thought a lot about that, and would be ecstatic to share the information with you. Let’s do that early next week. Why don’t you talk to your parents and peers, and think up some questions that you might have. If you want to really participate, you might want to see if you can find something to read about the topic. Sound like a plan?”

In this way, the classy teacher will pull all of his pupils into the pedagogy, rather than marginalizing most and exclusively speaking to only one or two who share interest and/or experience/knowledge on the spontaneous subject. If there are students who choose to ignore the challenge of preparing for the future discussion, they are electing to disengage from learning. They are rejecting the power of meaningful discussion. For those who are interested, they can fill their coffers with copious particulars for engaging classroom participation. 

This could very well be a controversial subject. I always enjoyed spontaneity in my teaching. I will likely need to work at this classy practice of empowerment. Do you already do this? Do you disagree with my thoughts? Can you suggest an alternative way of handling the questioning student, tempting off-topic discussion? Please share your thoughts.

 

Works Cited: 

Greene, R., & Elffers, J. (2000). The 48 laws of power.

Richardson, J. (2017). Using controversy as a teaching tool: An interview with Diana Hess. Phi Delta Kappan, 99(4), 15-20. Retrieved November, 2017, from https://www.kappanonline.org/richardson-using-controversy-as-a-teaching-tool-an-interview-with-diana-hess/.

 

7 Powerful Ways Classy People “Stand Out”

IMG_9266Page 11 within introduction to “Learning Transformed: 8 Keys to Designing Tomorrow’s Schools, Today” by Thomas C. Murray and Eric C. Sheninger  (2017) discusses the typical high school diploma’s lessening value. The authors suggest that “the opportunities available for those with only a high school diploma remain in a freefall.”(Italics added IMG_9264for emphasis.) This got me thinking. First, I made a text to film connection. Just recently I had rewatched the movie “21” (Luketic, 2008) starring Jim Sturgess, Laurence Fishburne, Kevin Spacey, and Kate Bosworth, and something that stood out to me more during this second viewing than the first was the premise for the whole movie: It opens with an interviewer asking Jim Sturgess’s character what he has done that stands out. Sturgess is applying for a grant that would fund his education at Harvard Medical School. The interviewer points out all of the impressive credentials that the applicant has earned, along with powerful letters of reference… But… he tells Sturgess that there are thousands of applicants with similar qualifications. He is going to need to “dazzle”.

Then, I got to thinking: What could students do to stand out? How about class? There is no shortage of articles streaming the Internet about declining manners. And, in my own experience, students who behave in an extraordinarily polite manner stand out as noteworthy individuals. 

picked up the most debris
Portrait: Students cleaned up debris after water play.

A year ago I acquired an iPhone 8 Plus. This phone has a dual photo lense. This allows me to use a feature called Portrait. When I activate this, I can focus on something and everything else goes out of focus. My photos have gone from “very nice” to “stunning”. Classy people capture the attention of those around them by displaying behavior that stands out. Capturing the focus of powerful people through being classy is an inexpensive way to add to the high school diploma. Here are six more “P” words that “phoster” class.

  • Say, “Ma’am” and “Sir” when talking to people. Speak, publicly and privately, in a way that distinguishes you from others. Use impressive (but correct) vocabulary. Do not be profane or crass. Crass is the antithesis of class–whole separate blog on this around the corner. Pronunciation.
  • Stand/sit up tall and straight; Posture is a rare and separating phenomenon today. It shows pride and assurance. These are characteristics people gravitate toward–posture could very well be the only thing that puts some in a leadership position. Confidence is a magnet, and posture presumes it.
  • Treat others kindly/be positive. Who is drawn to the Negative Nancy or Debbie Downer? No one. Here is a whole other blog: Find and express something positive about every single thing. The most challenging things to be positive about will cause you to shine as a light in the darkness — Remember, the idea is to stand out.
  • Be polite: Display good manners. In addition to saying “Ma’am” and “Sir”, behave in ways that show “good upbringing”.
    • Put others first; This is more than The Golden Rule.
      • Hold door
      • Offer seat
      • Clean up after yourself
      • Communicate absence: “I’m going to be late.” “Sorry, I was late…” “Excuse me for a moment…”
      • Treat others even better than you would expect to be treated, raising the global politeness factor a fraction of kindness.
        • #manners has stories of guys literally standing up whenever a lady stands. Talk about “standing out”!
        • This kind of thing is chivalrous and archaic, and some women may not like inequality of being treated differently, but in general, showing extreme respect is going to make you memorable, either way. And, that is what you are going for.
        • Look up some outdated polite actions that would make you seem classier than even the classiest to standout that much more.
    • Be helpful
      • You see someone struggling; Offer a hand.
      • Does a peer need some assistance figuring something out; Help. They will remember the action, but they will also remember YOU.
    • Communicate gratitude
      • This could be through, but is not limited to, writing thank you cards.
      • Do something for someone in return.
      • Tell everyone “Thank you” for everything.
        • A week ago I was conducting a professional development course on using iPads in the classroom. At the very beginning I was rushing around trying to get everything working; projector, Apple TV, computer, etc. I bumped into an unoccupied chair and said, “Excuse me”. People laughed and commented on me talking to chairs. I overheard them and, laughing at myself, commented right back  with, “Yeah, that’s right, I apologized to a chair!” It made everything more comfortable and connected me, the frantic facilitator with my waiting audience, breaking the ice. This isn’t gratitude, but it shows behaving in a classy way, ALWAYS, even to chairs. How much more will that type of person show kindness to a peer? Thank “everything”. 
        • Be the kind of person who can’t help but be thankful.
      • When you earn something, be proud, BUT when you get something without earning it, be thankful. It is not classy (Here is a whole other blog in the making.) to act like you deserve things. Do not assume entitlements. Be grateful for everything.
  • ALWAYS be publicly presentable (Here is a bonus “P” word;) This isn’t to say that you should be dressed- or done up at all times. Simply be outwardly and inwardly prepared to speak to important people no matter where you are. If you are working in the garden, you will look messy, but your person, and even your work space, could be neat–a working neatness. If an important person were walking by, would he/she say, “Wow, impressive!” or would they look down on you and your work.
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    “Capturing the focus of powerful people through being classy is an inexpensive way to add to the high school diploma.”
    • Integrity is classy: Here is an idea for a whole other independent blog! Suffice to say, being the same person all of the time, whether you are building a sunken pirate ship, which I was working on just yesterday, or speaking in front of people, will cause others to view you as someone reliable, dependable, and consistent; someone they can count on.
    • Sometimes you must detour to class. The easiest example of this is my mom answering the phone in the middle of yelling at my sister and me. She could be mid-scream, and when the phone rang, she would instantly smile and sweetly say, “Hello” with a voice devoid of any trace of the hurricane winds blowing around her. Thank goodness for those phone calls. If we had had cell phones back then… Was she displaying integrity? Yes. We will get messy, metaphorically, but must be classy under it all. What would happen if my mom spoke to the person on the phone with the same volume and tone that she had just been using to communicate to my sister and me? Would that be more congruent with integrity?
  • Be productive. I’m not telling you to build furniture or anything. A classy person adds something to society or the world at large. Produce something of value that others can use. This is why I blog. You will have your own way of contributing; make yourself valuable to others. Don’t worry about the numbers. You can influence/do something for one person to create personal worth.
    • This could be as simple as smiling.
    • My daughter (seven years old) has begun saying nice things to service persons: “This food is delicious!” “I really like your hair.” Any person at any age can add value to the world.
    • Be dependable. Being that student in class whom a teacher can count on to do the tasks that require respect and responsibility is very valuable!

“In today’s global economy, a high school diploma is simply not enough for people to succeed” (Murray & Sheninger, 2017, p. 11) (italics added for emphasis). Thomas Murray and Sheninger’s (2017) book is for educators. It outlines things schools and teachers can do to align with the impending revolution of technology taking over the world. These ideas equip educators to provide the “more” that students receiving diplomas need to succeed. I look forward to reading the rest of the book, but I am happy to announce that just the introduction is extremely thought-provoking!

There are many other ways to stand out. You could fly to Vegas on the weekends, count cards, win tons of money, secretly live the highlife, and turn in a corrupt professor (Luketic, 2008). While that sounds exciting, I’ll at least begin with being classy.

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“Portrait” in iPhone camera helps focus on what’s most important. Be an important person.

Sources:

Crouch, M. (2011, November). How to Teach Good Manners: Raising a polite kid in a rude world isn’t as hard as it seems. Retrieved August 21, 2018, from https://www.parents.com/kids/responsibility/manners/teaching-manners-kids/ [This article breaks down what manners are best to learn at different ages.]

Luketic, R. (Director). (2008). 21 [Motion picture on DVD]. United States: Sony Pictures.[inspired by the true story of the MIT Blackjack Team as told in Bringing Down the House, the best-selling book by Ben Mezrich” (Wikipedia)]

Murray, T., & Sheninger, E. (2017). Learning Transformed: 8 Keys to Designing Tomorrow’s Schools, Today. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Pederson, T. (2016, April 25). Survey: Most Americans Think Good Manners are Declining. Retrieved August 21, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2016/04/25/survey-most-americans-think-good-manners-are-declining/102262.html [This was published before the 2016 presidential election.]

The Value of a High School Diploma. (2016, January 2). The New York Times. Retrieved August 22, 2018, from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/03/opinion/sunday/the-value-of-a-high-school-diploma.html

“From Paralyzing Parameters to Powerful Potential; The Classy Pawn”

Being a pawn in someone’s game is not positive, but why? We’ve all heard the analogy used, but what does it mean?IMG_8434

This evening I attended the second of three two-hour training sessions in Philadelphia, preparing me to coach a chess club this coming year. I sat directly across from a manIMG_2885 who could teach a plant to play competitive chess. He cleared the chess board of half its pieces. Yesterday, we learned all about how to help kids comprehend the use of every chess piece, save one. This one covered two entire ranks* of the board before me.

IMG_8777“No other piece has more rules governing it than the pawn,” Steve Shutt told the table of teachers. As people produced parameters for the pawn (we came up with eight), I pondered the symbolism of the weakest piece being the most restricted. My first thought was that the rules protected the pawn. My blog title was going to be, “Protecting the Weak is Classy”. I found it curious that the symbol of something being meaningless enough to thoughtlessly use up without recourse would have the most regulations. A practical parallel might be that a ruler must regard certain stipulations in order to “pawn off” a person, and perhaps these were installed to safeguard the weak. That would be classy.

Alas, although the chess player has laws governing the use of the most prolific piece, IMG_8776these rules do NOT protect the weakest member of the team. On the contrary, it is the rules that make it weak. The pawn is not allowed to retreat; It can’t move backward. While other pieces can simply land on a space, capturing the piece occupying the square, a pawn is not allowed to attack straight on; It must attack diagonally. This restricts its movement, so that the pawn cannot move forward when something is blocking it. Pawns get stuck all over the board, forced to wait for the pieces in front of them to be captured or moved. Ironically, the ONE unique power of the pawn, its ability to move two squares forward for its first move, can even be stripped away through en passant!

There is good news for our symbolic pawn, however. As I mused about the plight of the pawn on the way home from my chess training, I was speaking with a fellow chess enthusiast and new friend, Alex Pappas. He pointed out that the pawn is the only piece that has the power to change. If the pawn reaches the opposite side of the chess board, it can change into any piece it wishes. Most players choose a queen, the most powerful piece, but the pawn is not restricted to changing into a queen. Finally, the pawn is liberated from all restrictions. IMG_8709

In the game of life, a person wielding power would do well to realize the potential of his/her pawns. A hidden talent could be a pawn. Perhaps the career path you have chosen does not permit you to be as artistic as you would like. Your creativity is blocked everywhere you try to use it. Keep pushing forward, and maybe your natural talent or personal passion will be honored in the end, providing you with power and opening exciting doors. IMG_8774

This is one of the most attractive things about America. Someone can grow up surrounded by peers who want to cut you off (diagonally), yet persist to rise above the tide, weaving in and out of adversity, to finally be crowned with riches and power. There are parameters that fence you in, but there isn’t anything tying you down. I’ll leave you with this: While climbing up is classy, holding others back or down is not…