Can You Change Your Attitude?

I am totally depressed by rain. Gray days make me gloomy and lethargic.

So when we headed out the door to go see James (and Ben) Taylor in Richmond last night, I wasn’t excited. Now I love JT, so this was kind of unusual. I found myself grumbling about how cold it was, how I would get wet walking from the car, how much traffic there was on 95–actually, I grumbled about everything.

About 45 minutes into the drive, I remembered a post I had read recently about our attitudes. How often a simple reframing of a situation can make us see the world in a different way. Usually, if I’m in a bad mood, nothing helps but time. However, I decided to give it a shot. Three or four minutes later, and I was on my way back up, getting excited about the concert, trying not to worry about the weather, and feeling a little sheepish that I’d let it all get to me.

How did I reframe this?

I reminded myself that the weather would break soon. It wouldn’t be gray and cold for months!! ( I tend to exaggerate.)

I focused on how lucky I was to be able to go see one of my favorite singers in person.

I reminded myself that I have this great job that allows me flexibility to do things like this–AND sleep in a little in the morning if I want to.

In other words, I stopped being negative. And I had a terrific time.

In our school culture, we often face negative people.

“I don’t have enough time.”

“There’s too much on my plate.”

So often, these attitudes could be changed by a reframing. That doesn’t always work, as our genes, our DNA, have much to do with whether we are able to move beyond the “glass half empty” mentality.

But imagine if we could help our students understand that their ability to recognize and “control” thoughts will change their attitudes.

(Aaron T. Beck, M.D., is the President Emeritus of the non-profit Beck Institute for Cognitive Therapy and Research, and University Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania.)

“…helping patients identify and evaluate these thoughts and found that by doing so, patients were able to think more realistically, which led them to feel better emotionally and behave more functionally.”


That’s powerful information.


image credit: by Karin Beil


Asking the Right Questions

Are you someone who likes to ponder? Think about both sides of an issue? Wonder why something has occurred? Don’t we all?

Then why don’t we ask this of our students? Why do we tend toward direct instruction so much of the time? True, if learning content is our goal, direct instruction is faster, more efficient. But if we want to help students become thinkers, independent learners, and creative participants in society, then asking questions is a better model.

Ewan McIntosh shares his thoughts on a system, where “content isn’t king” but students are encouraged to “interact around content.”

To me, effective teaching and learning comes down to asking the right questions. I read a post on The Eloquent Woman this morning, which listed suggested questions for good panel members. These same questions are great places to start with students:

What if?

Why not?

How is this like?

How is this different?

What makes you wonder?

Learners must know how to think and reflect, and for teachers it starts with the right questions.

Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.Voltaire

image credit: by Oberazzi

The C Word


No, not really. Though I do want one. And warm bread. And muffins, the Morning Glory muffins from Hyperion.

No, I’m talking about change again. I think about change a lot. Why it is easier for some of us than others. Why some of us resist.

I’ve always thought I loved change. I moved every year of my early life, attending 13 schools in 12 years. I’ve had quite a few jobs, lived in many homes, and changed my name four times (long story).

Though Scientific American shared research that shows older folks resist change more than younger, I seem to thrive on it.

Yet, changing habits is difficult for me. I am trying desperately to shift my diet to non-gluten, non-dairy–and it’s hard. I struggle daily with choices before me, often rationalizing why I should just go ahead and eat that darn sandwich or pastry.

So when we ask teachers to shift their teaching practice, teach in ways that seem foreign or at times somewhat chaotic, I am not surprised when we get resistance.

Professor Robert Kegan says part of the problem is that we have “hidden commitments.”

They are brilliant behaviors, just exactly what you should be doing, in order to fulfill the hidden commitments — but these behaviors will also make it impossible to fulfill the visible goals. It is this combo of commitments that creates a single, powerful system — one foot on the gas pedal (the improvement goal) and one foot on the brakes (the hidden commitment). So the car doesn’t go anywhere.

Kegan says in a way it’s like an immune system that wants to protect us–but instead it’s failing us.

Our immune systems are founded on certain core beliefs which need to be examined. We call these our “big assumptions.” They are “big” because we are currently taking them as certain truths, not just assumptions, which may or may not be true.

His approach is to get people working together, reflecting upon the assumptions.

Our approach invites people to shift to an inquiring stance toward their big assumptions. They begin to run experiments of increasing size to see whether they should continue to hold their assumption exactly as they have, or whether it needs to come in for some modification. Even small modifications in the big assumptions can lead to very big changes along the lines of one’s original goal.

Sounds a lot like what we do in Powerful Learning Practice. I wonder how I can apply this to my diet?


Image credit: By bigbluemeanie

What Do We Need to Remember?

I am taking a class at the gym called “Boot Camp.” We gather each morning at 6am to let Emily wear us down and build us back up.

Lately, one of the participants has been bringing his son, who looks to be about 10 or 11. This morning, though, he didn’t show up with his dad.

“Where is Chuck?” someone asked.

“Oh he has his test on the state capitals today. He’s only up to 28, so he’s studying,” dad said.

Grrrrr. I could feel my stomach start to turn.

“Why do we do that to kids?” I asked. How many of you remember all the state capitals. And why do we need to know them?”

My husband, always the one to push me, said: “It’s good for us!”

Yeah. So here this poor kid is waking up early to memorize state capitals for a test he is taking today. In his book, Confusing Harder with Better, Alfie Kohn says:

And, this isn’t new. Here’s a discussion about how “memorization in schools is fading,” from a New York Times article in 1982.

”Memorization is a luxury that isn’t used anymore,” he said. ”We have fundamental goals to accomplish with our youngsters today. We have to practice in dealing with ideas so that they can conceptualize and draw conclusions.”

I don’t get it. I suppose there is some value in memorizing short poems and some math concepts, but state capitals? Why? Does anyone have a valid reason for using time in this way?


image credit: By cityyear

It’s All About the Projects

When I was Director of Instructional Technology at my former school, I once asked teachers to stop calling projects–well, projects. That’s because I wanted them to think in terms of projects being the way to teach, rather than the exception, the “fun” extra (which is what was happening). I fully believe that year-long, student-centered, project-based learning  will be a key to developing thinking, caring, productive children.
Now that I am about to start working with the Australian Victoria Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, I plan to share my resources and develop new ones online.
Powerful Learning Practice will be running a cohort for the teachers in Victoria (in collaboration with ideaslab), focused on project-based learning. As the Community Leader (I’m so excited!), I’ll be working with them in our NING, sharing projects, collecting examples, and building community.

Sacha Chua’s slide deck has inspired me to try to share here more often as well. I tend to use this space to reflect rather than create. But let’s see if I can stick to my goal of creating and sharing–at least for a while!

Six Steps to Sharing

View more presentations from Sacha Chua.
image credit: By courosa