Monday, November 29, 2010

Not your mother's board games

As predicted by an astute reader's comment on a previous post, I am currently immersed in Harvard Business Review case studies of innovative companies and how to foster creativity.  Most of them are surprisingly good at identifying ways in which creative companies and innovative leaders are different.  Reading about others does have benefit; ultimately, however, we have to put the reading aside, get off the bench, and play the game.  And the only way to play better is to play more.

Combining the serious aspects of education (learning objectives, practice, assessment) with the playful aspects of creativity is an opportunity to get into the game in a whole new way.  Since I obviously can't assign a grade to creativity, I'm still considering assessment options.  Ideally, I'd like to find some way to identify shifts in perspective from the beginning of the course to its completion.  I have some glimmers here, but not the fully shaped vision I'm going to need.

One of the course objectives is to be able to see common things in a different light, which stands much of traditional academic thought on its metaphorical head.  So, I'm toying with inviting some of my most playful--and successful--colleagues into the classroom...a physician, an auditor, an attorney...perhaps the executive for an NGO that writes product standards.  All of these people are passionate about what they do and represent a variety of perspectives on pretty much everything. 

I'm liking this...

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A "new" average

Sometime this week, I finished Daniel Pink's A Whole New Mind...and read (from a different author) this quote:
The average citizen must be a good citizen if our republics are to succeed.  The stream will not permanently rise higher than the main source; and the main source of national power and national greatness is found in the average citizenship of the nation. Therefore, it behooves us to do our best to see that the standard of the average citizen is kept high; and the average cannot be kept high unless the standard of the leaders is much higher.
And in one of those rare "Aha" moments, it all made sense.  Pink is advocating for an approach to work that combines analysis with affect--logic with emotion, if you will--to create a new average to follow on the heels of the information age.  His reason for doing so is to create citizens whose skills cannot be outsourced or performed better by a keep us competitive in the world help ensure the success of the republic.

What excites me about this perspective is that it takes the arts and humanities out of the academic ivory tower created to safeguard them from the "common man," while also debunking the bottom line mentality of the traditional business school.  By combining medicine with mythology, engineering with English, and business with bards, we come closer to the new average of citizens who succeed in a shifting world because they have the breadth of skill required for success.  And despite those who bemoan a crisis in the humanities, there is reason to be hopeful that the classics are actually more relevant for being lived and not just studied.

And the source of the quote above?  It's from a speech given at the Sorbonne in April Theodore Roosevelt.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Perfect moments

Today I watched a master teacher.  He'd met his students for the first time this morning and spent the day with them; the result of their collective work was perfect.  As I watched those students, everything in me wanted to freeze the moment, hang onto it, and squeeze the last drop of meaning and awareness for them.  It's not that the students weren't enjoying the moment; they were, with every fiber of their beings.  It's that they will soon be adults; their lives will accelerate, some will go to war (in fact, the only student I knew in the group is in the midst of ROTC interviews) and, in the words of T.S. Eliot, they may have "had the experience but missed the meaning."  And I was humbled thinking about the beauty of the teaching moment.

When Don Bailey took the stage to conduct 20 senior high school musicians in the All-Region Jazz Band, he brought his heart and soul--his passion--and electrified the students, the stage, and the entire high school auditorium.  His ability to ignite the passion of the students and fan the flames of the collective talent was magical and time stood still in that auditorium for me today.

Don has been teaching at his current location for 25 years, bringing 10 years of prior teaching experience with him.  When he calls roll at the beginning of the semester, Don says he asks students two things--their name and their passion.  And to the students who ask how to know their passion, Don's response is profoundly simple.  Your passion, he says, is what you must do...when asked why you do whatever it is, the only response you can make is "because I have to." 

It's important to have a marketable skill and to be productive members of society.  But far too often, I think, it comes at the cost of the passion that sustains us.  Though I didn't intend to spend part of my afternoon watching a senior high jazz band, it may be the most perfect moment I've witnessed lately.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Linking life, laughter, and learning

This morning, I've pondered writing the serious academic critique valued in the Academy.  And I'm not going to do it.  There are far too many (easy) opportunities to find fault with education in general, my academic institution in particular, and, while we're going there, anything and everything.  It always seems helpful and instructive to point out what could be better, which, in fact, is the rationalization of choice used by curmudgeons.  I'm not arguing whether the commentary of curmudgeons and critics on the human condition has value; I'm just not all that interested in seeing what's wrong today.

Finding the way(s) in which we resonate with our world, so that we can be productive, is one of the goals of education.  For many of us, joy and laughter (kin to optimism) are required for maximum productivity. From Norman Cousins' belief in the value of positive thoughts and behaviors on human healing, to the amazing Raspyni Brothers (whose 2002 Ted Talk is laugh-out-loud funny), to myriad poems, cartoons, puns, and ad libs, I need the occasional reminder that combining learning, life, and laughter creates a near-magical confluence of joy and creativity.   And therein is the source for taking the next step, forging the next river, climbing the next mountain....and writing the next blog.

Choosing to see the positive in my students, my colleagues, my university, and my life does not mean I am unaware of the ways those things fall short of some ideal.  It does means, though, that I believe we make choices about our focus.

Maybe better folks than I can focus on the things that need to be improved without feeling overwhelmed, as it's pretty strong medicine.  With that particular strong medicine, a little goes a long way.