Sunday, November 03, 2013

Strive Less. Share More.

I was asked by Jane Wilde:

Would you be willing to give us a brief response to any one of the following questions. I know each is potentially big, and we don't want to impose. So maybe you could answer with the first thing that comes to mind. 
  1. What is one skill/attitude/habit of mind that will benefit educators as they strive to be effective and relevant to today's learners (and why)? 
  2. What skill(s)/attitude(s)/habit(s) of mind can we (educators) help foster in our students so that they can become connected learners? 
  3. What strategies do you recommend to an educator who wants to become a connected learner? 
Actually the same answer applies to all three questions.

> 1. What is one skill/attitude/habit of mind that will benefit educators as they strive to be effective and relevant to today's learners (and why)?

In a word, sharing. Or generosity. Or giving without thought of reward.

I once read a piece of advice to seminar and plenary speakers which said, in effect, "love your audience." It's attributed to Luciano Pavarotti. "Some singers want the audience to love them. I love the audience."  The idea here is that the secret to successful performance is to give without reservation. I talk about the same concept here  in a summary of a talk by Michael Wesch. "...Diana Degarmo. She was talented, but inexperienced. She was horrible for the first three weeks, and then became a rock star and went almost to the end. They asked what happened. She said, her hairdresser said, "Love your audience and they'll love you back." Instead of focusing on self, she focused on the beauty of the audience and the whole event."

The idea of giving yourself over to the performance of whatever you are doing without reservation is actually very old. It can be found, for example, in the Buddhist concept of mindfulness.  As the Wikipedia article (accurately) summarizes, "Enlightenment (bodhi) is a state of being in which greed, hatred and delusion (Pali: moha) have been overcome, abandoned and are absent from the mind." And it is reflected in Taoist tradition. "Therefore the sages place themselves last but end up in front, are outside of themselves and yet survive. Is it not due to their selflessness? That is how they can achieve their own goals." Tao Te Ching, ch. 7  Even Leviticus (19:17): "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

We see the concept a lot in the literature and lore of performance in the idea of gioving yourself over completely to your performance, without worrying about making a fool of yourself.  Cynthia Heimel says, "When in doubt, make a fool of yourself. There is a microscopically thin line between being brilliantly creative and acting like the most gigantic idiot on earth. So what the hell, leap."  The best performances come when people think least about what they will earn for themselves, when they feel they have nothing to lose, when they commit themselves fully to what they are doing. The same applies in athletics, and in work. Devoting yourself completely to helping the other succeed is what builds success in yourself.

From the perspective of education, the same principle applies. And yet it's so hard to find in the literature. This page has '30 tips for storytelling'  and not one of them talks about actually giving yourself over to the idea of delivering the maximum good to the listeners. It's full of "tips and tricks" but these so often serve (and fail) as substitutes for authentic caring about the outcome. When telling a story to children (or to anyone) the practice of completely immersing yourself in the story, becoming the voice of the characters, and listening to yourself with the children's ears, is paramount. It not merely improves your performance, it makes you care about whether the story is of any value at all, and to navigate the story, and yourself, toward that end. It's not about 'the moral of the story' - that's usually the message you want to pass on. It's about how best to serve the needs of this child in this moment.

In my own work, I seek (often imperfectly) to accomplish the same objective. It is not merely a sideline, but a priority, to share the work I do. This comment, for example, will be posted on my blog, where it will be read by people who will think it useful, people who will think it stupid, and people who will wonder why I would bother posting it at all. I can't care about what they will think of me for posting it. What I care about is that it is a full and honest expression of the work that I am doing - in this case, offering an answer to a small group of graduate students studying new media and educational practice. Look around, and the examples of great web practice you see are also examples of this principle - Randy Pausch's last lecture, for example, as a gift to his children. "If you lead your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself. The dreams will come to you."

Strive less. Share more. If you express this principle in your own life, it will be replicated many times in the lives of your students.

4 comments:

  1. Hear, hear, Mr. Downes, many thanks for these enlightened words... :-)

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  2. Stephen, Thank you very much for sharing about sharing. I am one of the students in Jane Wilde's class and speaking for our group, we appreciate very much your willingness to take the time to respond to Jane's questions. I needed to hear and read, "Strive less. Share more."

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  3. good advice for relationships too, especially marriage

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  4. Outstanding. One of your simplest, yet best posts.

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