Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Turn Left or Turn Right: Is it a bigger choice than we realize?

I went for a long run this morning. It was one of those absolutely stunning fall mornings where the birds are singing, there is that crisp freshness in the air, the water is blanketed in mist, and the sun illuminates the colours of the leaves creating an illusion like they're almost on fire. Definitely one of those mornings where I found myself humbled by the beauty of nature. Pensive, perhaps a little more than usual, I found inspiration along this run today to write. Today's topic being choice, all stemmed from a simple right instead of left.

When I run in the mornings, I usually run through the park. Down one side and up the other. Usually for the purpose of time, but also familiarity, I stick to this route pretty religiously. Some may think that's boring, why don't you mix it up?! Well, in fact, most of the time I like the routine. I like to outsource the decision making of where I'm going to my subconscious, and free up the mental space to internalize and think about life. Anyway, it was at the point when I hit the bottom of the park, where I usually make the turn to go left, that, given today was so gorgeous, I decided to go right. It was at that moment I got thinking about the little insignificant choices that we make in our day to day life that sometimes bring us to places we would have never expected.

The outcome of my choice, this time, was an even more inspirational run along a lakeshore path I have never taken before. While listening to Holocene on repeat, imagining myself as the child in the video, I felt like the map of my familiar territory had just been illuminated with new territory, and I was the explorer. A truly wonderful feeling. Interspersed in these thoughts, however, I thought a lot about my decision to turn right and about other decisions like these in our day to day lives. Choices like opting for an earlier flight simply for convenience, for example, seem insignificant at the time. However the choice becomes profound pretty quickly when you learn about a plane crash that evening which just happened to be the flight you were supposed to be on. Other split second choices, offer consequences that are not necessarily as profound, but are still memorable. Such as that moment you opt to take a walk on your lunch break "for a change" and you randomly encounter a group of people huddled around the back of a pickup truck, handing out free Dr. Peppers. Not a life altering experience, yes, but it adds a splash of colour to dullness of repetition. This leads me to discuss routine.

I remember reading once about routine, and its relationship to the notion of "time speeding up as we get older." The article claimed this phenomenon is not a result of aging, and time is not flawed. The problem, they explained, lies in the way we behave in time. As we get older, we steer towards routine and become more and more adhered to it. Although comfortable, however, routine has a way of leading us to desensitization. Things become so familiar that we render ourselves unconscious participants in our daily lives. This theory rings true, when we look back on typical day and feel like it has "flown by." Perhaps it is because we don't remember being a part of it. As such, the article recommended that to "slow down time" or "add some colour" we need to do one thing a day that is outside the routine. In many ways, I think this is a good suggestion. How about you? If you were asked to recall on the events of your day, what do you remember? Do you remember the drive to work? Or that moment after you became frustrated waiting in line waiting for your double tall vanilla soy latte, that you opted for that new coffee shop down the street to run into that friend you'd lost touch with.

In thinking further, the question that arises is where does this "colour" come from when we deviate from our routine. Is it extrinsic or intrinsic? Some would say "it's the universe, it's rewarding you" or "it's testing you." If you were to ask my brother, he'd probably say "You know, maybe it's fate... " The religious folks, would say, it's all in gods plan. And to others, these colours are merely a product of chaos, and the events that occur off the path have no greater implication or meaning than the ones that happen along the path. On the contrary, perhaps this "colour" comes from within. Perhaps the second we break from the mould we instantaneously awaken to simply see that which is always around us but we're just blinded from. Maybe the answer to this question depends on how you view the world, and where you lie on the spectrum of monochrome to full Technicolor. The answer is up to debate I guess.

Either way, it seems as though it is the little insignificant choices and minor interruptions, that make our lives richer, for better and for worse. And it is at this point, I'm reminded of advice I received in my youth from a nostalgic woman in her 80s. She said "You know, when I look back at my life, the choices that felt the biggest at the time, often ended up being the smallest choices. It was more the little choices that often ended up being the biggest ones." It's funny, but it's only in writing this article that I'm reminded of these words. And now that I reflect, I don't think she's that far from the truth (from my perspective that is). In many ways it seems like the big choices, often feeling debilitating at the time, have been relatively painless once the decision was made. And when I look at the little choices I've made, those have been the ones that have taken me to places I never anticipated. And, in many ways, it feels like it's that spontaneity of life, that unknown of "what the universe may hand you," that is the essence of life itself.

I conclude this article to say one thing: Turn right more often.

Monday, October 17, 2011

4 Tips For Successful Facilitation

I recently came across an article written by Walter C. Parker titled Public Discourses in Schools: Purposes, Problems, Possibilities which highlighted some key strategies for running effective discussions. As many of us facilitators out there are always looking on how to improve our facilitation skills, I thought I would summarize his work into 4 keys points for a successful facilitation.

1. Establish Your Objectives
Reveal the World or Change the world

In choosing the format for your discussion, it is important to identify the objectives of your discussion. Do you wish for your participants to learn about the world through discussion OR do you wish for them to learn about and change the world through discussion? To answer this question, Parker (2006) suggests two classroom discourse structures: seminar and deliberation. Seminars aim to build understanding through discussion. Deliberation also aims to foster learning but places the emphasis on decision making.

In both instances a topic and readings are selected, and participants will be presented with a central question.

If a seminar format is selected, dialogue could begin with “What does this mean?” or “what is happening?” and subject matter of the discussion will focus on ideas, issues, and values associated with the text. An example presented by Parker (2006) for this format could be a discussion on the Pledge of Allegiance prompting participants to question who are they pledging to.

If a deliberation format is selected, dialogue could begin with “what should we do?” or “what is the best alternative?” and subject matter of the discussion will focus on alternatives related to the problem. The example presented by Parker (2006) for this format could be a discussion on what the schools should be teaching about the Pledge of Allegiance.

When selecting a format for discussion, it is important to note the interplay between the two. Using the Pledge of Allegiance example provided by Parker (2006) for example, one could see that the question addressed in the seminar discussion had to be addressed in the deliberation discussion as a means to facilitate making a decision. Thus, when setting your objectives it may be valuable to establish if one format or a combination of the two will help you meet your objectives.

2. Avoid Recitation
Promote Diffusion Not Osmotic Discussion

When we think of the concept of discussion, we typically envision a balanced exchange of ideas between two or more parties. However, you might be surprised to hear that often times, discussion is confused with recitation. According to Parker (2006), teachers claiming to use discussion regularly are, in fact, leading recitations. Nystrand, Gamoran, and Carbonaro (2001), proved this claim in a study using 48 high school social studies classrooms. In a context where discussion should, in theory, be rampant, they found that approximately 90% of instruction involved zero discussion, and the remaining 10% lasted for an average of 31 seconds. Surprising? Most definitely! Discussion as recitation diminishes many of the educational benefits to facilitation, stripping participants from opportunity to learn from the opinions from others and develop their own ideas through debate. Thus, when planning facilitation, pre-establish the proportion of time you’d like to allocate to presentation versus the exchange of ideas. As an example, set a 50:50 rule. During the facilitation, try to stick to this ratio. Post facilitation, take the time to evaluate your participants on how closely you were able to stick to this ratio.

3. Ensure Effective Listening
Be Humble! Be Patient! Be Empathetic!

When we think of discussion, we often think about what we would like to say but rarely on what we would like to hear. As listening plays a role equally as important as speaking, it’s important to exercise effective learning skills to fully realize the benefits of discussion. As such, Parker (2006) provides three strategies to promote effective listening that can be exercised both by the facilitator and the participants:

Humility – Admit there is always more for me to learn; I am not the expert.

Caution – Take time in listening, reserve expressing thoughts to give speaker space to express their thoughts

Reciprocity – Adopt the perspective of the other by acknowledging they understand their social position better than I do.

4. Establish a Purpose
The Lefts and Rights Both Have Good Points

It may be surprising to hear that debate exists over the value of discussion. The critics from the cultural Right perceive discussion to be a waste of time explaining that discussion takes time away from curriculum coverage. The critics on the cultural Left perceive discussion to be a charade explaining that it is just another form of domination where discourses that typically emerge from discussion often reinforce the problem. Perhaps you may not agree with these arguments, but maybe you can gain insight from them.  At the end of the day students need knowledge, the your role as a facilitator is to identify which knowledge they need. Thus, in response to the opinion of the Right, avoid discussion that detracts from the larger objectives of the subject matter. Use this argument to ensure rigor and mind the subject matter; do not let discussion overpower the subject matter itself. In response to the opinion of the Left, its apparent that omitting discussion is not an option as it simply compounds the problem, and just marginalizes citizens further. Noting the essence of this argument however, it is fundamental that a facilitator ensures an equal exchange between all participants for a successful facilitation.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Perfect Buzz: An Analogy of Falling in Love

I was having a conversation recently about the sense of feeling "guarded" in relationships, and that feeling of not *quite* being able to fall in love the way it seemed we could when we're younger. I think we've all been there... you know, that feeling of being completely vulnerable to someone else. Like you're driving 160 mph and they have the steering wheel. That state of feeling totally, helplessly, intensely in love to the point that you can't see a world outside your partner. I'm sure many of us idealize these feelings and, in many ways, long for them back. However, we often forget how uncomfortable we were in this state of love. In many ways, being a victim to an emotion so strong that we lose all sense of rationale thought, completely unable to be self and situationally aware, is far from ideal. Thus begs the question, what is the ideal balance of being in love. When we say we want to be "head over heals" are we aspiring for that familiar "head over heals" we can relate to from our youth? Or is there a "head over heals 2.0" that, like a fine wine, has improved with age?

Upon thinking through these questions, it came to me that in many ways falling in love is like becoming intoxicated. Consider my following analogy I call, The Perfect Buzz.

The Perfect Buzz
The process of falling in love is very much like the process of becoming intoxicated in that there is a progression of feeling not enough to feeling too much. Think about the following:

Drink 1
You start to feel good but you know you could feel better. You are completely in control. Nothing to lose. Totally yourself.

Drink 2
Now you're starting to feel it more but you know you could probably feel a little more buzzed. You still feel in complete control.

Drink 3
The buzz is setting in, and you're starting to feel great. You're feeling happier, more energetic... ambitious

Drink 4...5
Ok, now you feel really good... you've reached a state of "perfect drunk" where you realize you're enough in control that you're not out of control, but buzzing to the point you feel in the moment and you're loving it. You think to yourself, I wish I could be this person all the time. I'm so cool, so funny, I look great AND you love everyone else around you. The world is a beautiful place. You are careless. A hangover is likely, but impact will be mild.

Drink 6
Sooo... you have maybe gone a bit too far... you start to lose control a little bit.. you start saying things you wouldn't usually say... you start being someone you're not. At this point a hangover is guaranteed with a moderate impact.

Drink 7
This is the point where you become one of "those". "Oh, poor dear, she's had too much" they say. Everyone around you sees you've lost control, they stop relating to you like you are a human being and see you more as a liability.They support you, get entertainment from you, but want to help you out of this state. You lose awareness of your body, and self. Rationale thought is non existant. Hangover is guaranteed, and it will be severe.

In translating this progression, it's apparent that there are many similarities to falling in love. Reflecting back on this feeling of being "guarded," this sensation is very similar, in fact, to the lesson of knowing when you've had too much to drink. Although it feels great at the time to "have too much" we often forget about who we really are at the time, and how, not so great it is that we become someone other than who we are. We are out of control in a state that is unsustainable, with no rationale thought but plenty volatile emotions. The hangover, the moment when our world crashes in around us, is always one of the worst.

Consequently, perhaps falling in love is about finding the perfect balance, or "learning our limits." In many ways, many of us may settle for that 1st or 2nd drink buzz simply because we can remain completely self-aware and in control. It's safe. If there is a fallout, damage will be minimal. The hurt is mendable, and these feelings we had are quite accessible in another partner. Others, may still shoot for that 6th of 7th drink intoxication, simply because they thrive on volatility and intensity of emotion. Many of us, however, can admit although the lead up is fun, the 7th drink hangover is not to be desired. Therefore, it makes sense we would aspire for the 5th drink ideal. That state of being totally in love where we feeling alive and inspired by the person that penetrates our life, yet feeling as though we are in-control enough to support and attend to ourselves and others. It's a fine balance, and for some of us it may be the 4th drink and for others maybe the 6th, but what's important is that we shoot for that "perfect buzz" and live it with every sense of our being. The one thing that differentiates love from the magic of the 5th drink, is that if we strike the perfect balance of love, this state IS sustainable.

So Goldilocks, what's your "just right" ?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Foreshadow

Shared by a good friend.... I can already relate to some of these already... AND it's only been a month! Argh

Back and ready to start blogging!

Ok, so there has been little activity on this blog... probably because most of my activities have involved creating a new life here... but good news! I think I can NOW start to blog again!

For today, I'll keep this short... I created a Twitter account today, check me out, add me, read me...