Archive for January, 2014

Stanford Report: Stanford’s Gardner Center partners with California schools on new reform plan

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

The January 29, 2014 Stanford Report carried an article titled “Stanford’s Gardner Center partners with California schools on new reform plan” by Brooke Donald. Mention of “social and emotional learning” in the by-line was the grab for me. I certainly agree that coaching social and emotional intelligence in school is a commendable thing to do. Whether this would lead to academic performance parity would seem uncertain but a place in an accountability system seems appropriate. Remember too that the education time-scale is finite as is the student attention span, so any shift in school-time use will cause something from the memorization end to fall out. It’s a law of conservation.

In light of my recent article on Teacher EQ, it seems a better and more productive place to start is to coach educators on developing their own EQ. The questions that I think need to be answered first is whether educators empathize with students and whether when they are introduced to a new class of students they have their EQ-expectation calibrated with the range of EQ among the students. An EQ-mismatch generally spells disconnect with the students and stress/strain.

The YCISL message is to equip educators with EQ-enhancement tools for personal development as well as classroom application. Adopt curriculum which support EQ-development (most textbooks are light on EQ; standardized tests too) and give educators a more intrinsically motivating teaching goal than test scores.

There’s no secret. If you’re in the classroom, your EQ needs to be developed just as much as the next person’s whether teacher, student or administrator. How do you do that? Try teaching or learning outside your comfort zone and daily routine – choose something that you feel you might be good at but may not have done in quite some time – ASL, Music, Drama, Woodworking, Customer Service… It’s like that experiment where company executives switch roles with front line personnel for a day (e.g., CEO<->receptionist). As a thought experiment for teachers and school administrators, insert into your schedule a quiz or test every couple of days for every one of your key functions. What does this do to your thought process and workflow? Also, memorize all the work you have to do the next day during the night before. If you have a meeting, memorize the agenda and any PowerPoint that will be shown. Do you think you will forget 90% of that total material after the meeting? Welcome to the student’s world. Feeling any EQ now?

To tie in a positive thinking note, students: be able to recognize teachers who demonstrate high EQ and show them respect for that. Know that high EQ teachers are worthy role models and that they can help you build, define and refine your EQ. This will give you the answer to why you are learning and what you will gain from it.

Thoughts: GREAT Teachers Have High EQ.

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

Do you recall the worst teacher or professor you ever had? I remember the worst professor I had as an undergraduate. He taught organic chemistry and obviously was not interested in teaching. He would write all the reactions on the board and mumble as he went along (he even used notes in his left hand while writing on the board with his right – basically transcribing) and never considered whether the material was being understood…and it wasn’t – means on mid-term and final exams were around 35%. This was a new assistant professor who had recently graduated from Stanford and I am quite sure was more focused on getting his research going so he could earn tenure. I have now come across a Biology teacher in my son’s high school who appears to similarly lack skill, talent, understanding and passion for teaching – lacking in both form and function. Thank goodness this teacher is the exception rather than the rule at this school.

Here is how my current experience is going. Teachers who test but don’t teach (sound familiar to you?) My son’s high school biology teacher (actually this department as a whole, but not the rest of the school) has a policy of not returning tests with the questions (this department also does not return quizzes or homework in a timely and useful manner). They simply recite in lecture and test without review, part of the education by single-exposure memorization clique. Oh, and memorize within a day or two a set of (teacher-centric talking point) PowerPoint, the textbook chapter and a study guide that does not get checked. Oblivious to effective teaching style and technique. Thwarting learning and a liking for the subject. Perhaps some teachers think this is defensible, but as a parent I am appalled at this disregard for teaching quality and wasteful attitude towards the opportunity and responsibility to support a student’s learning development. It’s a flaw in an otherwise fantastic school but it’s a painfully sore flaw. The philosophical dilemma is how to remedy this flaw? No, I don’t have an answer. I am hoping for sensibility to rise.

To have this flaw in high school is worse than in college. First, college professors in the US are allowed to choose their grading scheme: some apply a curve with standard deviation distributions and some look for observable cutoffs (I grade using the latter). The elementary and high school teachers I have known apply fixed cutoffs. Therefore, colleges have a way of taking this into account. In elementary and high school, BAD TEACHERS = BAD GRADES – although GOOD TEACHERS does not always nor necessarily correlate with GOOD GRADES. In college, a bad professor experience usually only lasts one quarter or semester. In elementary and high school, it’s usually a whole academic year. Also, college offers teaching assistants and other resources that may potentially make up for poor quality lectures. At Stanford, instructors are reviewed for their teaching ability by the students; I have not seen student reviews conducted in secondary schools (they should but I suspect they are worried what they might discover).

With the gaussian distribution outlook that I usually view things with, BAD TEACHERS are rare (although not non-existent) but so are great teachers. Most teachers are likely one standard deviation within average – there are several possible reasons for this: (a) the teacher is new and gaining experience that will make them better in the future, (b) the teacher gets administrative responsibilities on top of their teaching load and is distracted, (c) there is satisfaction being average (complacency), and (d) the teacher is cruising to retirement and no longer is concerned about their own performance.

What should a parent do in situations like this? There is no easy solution. Sorry if you thought I had one.

Case in reality point for compare and contrast, my son presently has two GREAT TEACHERS, three AVERAGE TEACHERS and just the one BAD (Biology) TEACHER. My son’s Geometry teacher is outstanding and counts as one of the GREAT teachers. He periodically emails parents letting us know how the class is going overall and when to expect gear shifts. He returns corrected tests promptly and has students submit corrections. He also only grades homework for completion rather than correctness and provides access to the answer key after the homework was submitted. He responds to student and parent email quickly with thoughtful feedback. He is accessible for office hours. He offers extra credit work in terms of a challenging problem that students can collaborate on and completion of ALEKS math problems. He appears to be in tune with facilitating and promoting learning across a range of student abilities: group leadership skills and high emotional intelligence. This is a teacher who has passion for his subject as well as teaching for learning. This is college prep.


As for the YCISL interpretation of all this, we realize there is a designed difference between YCISL coaching and the mainstream/mainline education. Through YCISL, we want to raise everyone’s learning ability, skill and confidence – not just the most harmonic. We focus on building an appreciation for EQ in both self and social regards. We hope this leads to personal success and happiness.

This will make a fascinating and revealing case study discussion in the YCISL workshop. Maybe we could also do a BAD TEACHER-GOOD TEACHER EMPATHY SKIT EXERCISE? It will be interesting to see whether the students can identify any bad teachers or good teachers to impersonate.

Thoughts: The Feeling of Stress and Strain

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

In my previous post, I developed thoughts using chemistry terms. In this post, I will use terms I learned in geology. “Stressor” is also a term used in environmental toxicology and some terms from this area will also be used.

Adults often talk about their stress. Stress from work especially but there’s also major stress from money (all the way from lack of to an abundance of), relationships, etc. How can we define stress? (1/27/14) defines stress as “A force acting upon or within a mass or rock, expressed in terms of unit weight per surface area such as tons per square inch.” So the thing to remember is that stress is an external entity to the object being stressed (i.e., you) and that maximum stress occurs when the force is perpendicular to your surface. Another thing to remember is that stress is typically a field meaning other objects in proximity are feeling the same or similar stress. Stress can be sudden (acute) or chronic. Would you like to be stress-free? What do you think of products that promise to be “stress-free”?

Then there’s strain. We commonly hear about muscle strain, mental strain and eyesight strain (I’m sure you have other strains you are personally familiar with). (1/27/14) defines strain as “A change in the volume or shape of a rock mass in response to stress.” For our YCISL discussion, strain is the feeling we experience of change due to external stressors, and sometimes it may be well-intentioned but misplaced or misguided stress. In one case, strain results in a multitude of deformities – in people, it can be psychological as well as physical and physiological. But understand that not all stress results in strain and deformity. We usually have stress thresholds below which there is no change (or at least noticeable change).

In terms of personal development and heightened emotional intelligence/awareness, we could think of stress and strain in terms of our own susceptibility, resilience and recoverability (borrowed from the terminology use in environmental toxicology).

1. Susceptibility describes the relative amount stressor required to cause an effect. Have you ever used a magnet and see an object move only within a certain distance? That’s magnetic susceptibility; the magnetic field had to be within a certain threshold distance to cause a magnetic effect. How close do you need to be to someone who sneezes to catch their flu germs? How close do you need to be to a fire to be bothered by the smoke? At what temperature do you feel cold/hot? Odd thing though is that the answers vary – even with the magnet. Therefore, it is good to know one’s own susceptibility to the various stressors that we each experience – and to deal with it with that knowledge.

2. Resiliency describes the quickness with which we can “bounce back” from being strained. Often, we would like to return to our initial state as quickly as possible but factors such as age might affect our resiliency. If we are already weakened by some other strain, resiliency towards another strain might also be less. If you’re a teenager, how long does it take to get over an ankle sprain? How long does it take for an adult?

3. Recoverability describes whether we have the means or mechanisms to even return to the original state. If these recovery paths are not present, then the effects of the strain will continue.

In order to get these concepts understood, I have framed stress and strain in their usual negative sense. We deal with it – usually youth do better at it than adults (just one of the YCISL program’s premises). But at the present time, I am thinking of stress being that of school education and how it is a stress field over numerous objects (students). This stress field is extremely complex as numerous nodes are contributing to the field strength and pattern (it might help to think of having a handful of magnets over a cupful of ball bearings). Are students helpless in this stress field? What if you lie in a shear plane – the interface of two dissimilar, possibly opposing, stress fields? What should or could be done about optimizing the stress field (after all, the aim is to educate)?

This is just as much a message for parents and teachers as it is for students. Share your thoughts with each other about the stresses being imposed and experienced. Understand the susceptibility of the student to strain and measure your imposition of stress accordingly (yes, stress can often be necessary to make progress). Discuss how positive thinking is the best stance with which to cope with stress and strain. Identify recovery paths and keep them at your disposal. In the infamous words of Douglas Adams from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, “DON’T PANIC!”


Thoughts: The Relationship Between Parent, Student and Teacher in Molecular Terms

Sunday, January 26th, 2014

With the view of developing YCISL-derived toolkits to help a student interact better with parent and teacher in order to maintain optimum support from these two resources, I have been reflecting on the structure of the relationship involving student (child), parent and teacher. I feel it meaningful to me that I put it in molecular structure terms which depict arrangement, bonds and interactions.

The three structures applied are (1) linear, (2) angular and (3) cyclic. Imagine these structures with translational as well as vibrational motion. The field or medium in which this structure exists will also influence behavior. One thing we can be sure about is that this is not within a vacuum.

So I offer three figures, each with a few notes. The question for the student, parent and teacher is “Which structure applies to you and does it work well?” With these structures, I hope that all stakeholders can appreciate the stress and strain that is felt (more on this later) by the student. For the toolkits, I will attempt to develop exercises that make preferred and optimum structures more stable and resilient. For those who identify themselves as being in a linear structure, does angular or cyclic seem preferred? If so, would you be able to put energy into it?

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