Tuesday, July 5, 2011

What Happens When You Close the Windows?

When I close all those browser windows, those tabs of mass distraction on my computer, I am left with me. Just me. Just the random, rambling thoughts and the deep down recurring whispers reminding me that I am supposed to do something meaningful.

Do what?  It’s summer time, and I’m supposed to be recovering, rejuvenating, learning, planning for back to school, right? Something inside me shouts, "yes," and then, in a split second, "not so fast!"  For years I have been brewing thoughts about the important intersection between positive psychology and education. I've written posts about these ideas here and here. Thanks to my husband, who shares my love for psychology, we have collected, read and discussed books from inspiring writers and researchers like Tal Ben-Shahar, Barbara Fredrickson, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Ed Diener, Ellen Langer , and countless others. Many Saturday mornings have been spent evaluating the ideas of a “meaningful life” “optimal brain functioning and learning” and what it all means to us.

And all of this brings me to a question. Maybe not one you think about..or do you?


Why can’t we learn from psychology mavericks like Martin Seligman, who went from studying what’s wrong with people to what’s right with them? How can we apply this process of “strength and passion finding” to our floundering field of education?  I say,“our field” because I am a teacher. I walk into a classroom each day with a grand hope: to instill a love for learning, a passion for self-discovery among my students. In my heart though, perhaps I am still a psychologist. I suppose I can be both, right?

I was never licensed as a therapist, though I finished my M.A. in Clinical Psych and earned my hours doing therapy and social work, for nearly 7 years. I worked in the trenches, got burned out in foster care, as I donned my superhero cape each day, trying to save foster care placements, pleading with families to give the kids another chance. I was almost ready to take the California MFT licensing exam when I decided that I could impact more kids in a deeper way by being with them in the classroom each day. I thought I was throwing in my superhero cape..but wow, I was wrong.

And now, I often feel in the same role as an educator: convincing parents not to give up on their own kids, or reminding other teachers that we need to change our lens:  it’s often not what’s wrong with a student but what’s “right with them” that’s in need of discovery. Why is it so hard for others to grasp that the way to get a student interested and excited about learning is through tapping into their strengths and passions?

In this drawn out ramble, there’s a message for me, and perhaps an invitation for you.  I need to get some of these ideas down, revisit the numerous notebooks and sketchpads where I have exposed my inner thoughts, and begin to weave together the message and stories I want to share.  I need to let go of the perfectionist fears that stifle this creative expression each time the ideas bubble to the surface. What’s the worst thing that can happen if I share my ideas, stories, plans? Do I have to please anyone? Intellectually, I know the answer to that question. 

What is that key message I want to share? That what we believe and what we do every day with kids matters, whether our role is teacher, administrator, parent, counselor, or advocate. Yes it matters that we  teach them what the curriculum requires, but more importantly, we teach them how to learn about themselves. Creating a belief, " I can do anything I set my mind to,” and facilitating the skills of how to reach out and ask for help are critical.  That’s what I want for all kids: self-efficacy, self-regulation, and the social skills that will allow them to follow a path of passion.  

Now that I’ve shared mine…what’s your inner voice saying? What is it that calls to you each day when you dare to close those windows and be quiet with your own thoughts?


Tom Altepeter said...

I'm growing so weary of all the white noise - see http://thompsonblogs.org/altepeter/2011/03/05/white-noise/ - out there. I get cynical about it, and I know it's not the right response. So, I plow ahead, yearning to challenge my thinking and the thinking of others. It may not make an impact unless I spell it out with the kind of directness that attempts to answer all questions and leave others with the feeling of fullness instead of hunger. But, that's just not going to happen. Thanks for encouraging me with your self reflection. I'll be doing the same.

Joan Young (aka Mancini) said...

You are so right on many points, Tom. People don't always respond when we leave them "hungry" but actually, isn't that all we can really do? We have to encourage and inspire each other to slow down and ask the important questions, decide if we are all on our own "best paths." Thanks for commenting. And now, I have action on my mind more than ever.

Tracy Watanabe said...

Hi Joan,

I continuously am reflecting, and have been known to wake in the middle of the night with an "ah-ha" to something and quickly write a memo to self on my iPhone so I can get back to sleep.

I remember another post you wrote about those moments when you are doing a mundane task and those "ah-has" start flowing. =)

I know that I go through spurts of growth then plateaus. If I don't take a moment to level out, I might experience overload and can't really move on until I make sense of it all and then plan my next route/action. So, in my moments of listening to my inner voice, I also have to recognize where I am (growth vs plateau).

Thanks so much for this post to help me think through the different stages of reflection based on where I am in my growing.

Kind regards,