Emerging From The Chrysalis

Emerging From The Chrysalis

I have been cocooning. My personal life has been in transition along with my professional life. Today, I decided it was time to write a post.  The topic – Learner Support.

Emerging from the crysalis
Emerging from the chrysalis

Just prior to putting finger tips to keyboard, I pulled up my blog and realized that it has been one year and 2 days since my last post! Am I a butterfly emerging from the chrysalis? If I was beautiful before, I am a new creature today! I have a new position at Vancouver Island University (VIU) – Student Success Coach. I have completed my Foundations Course at the Institute for Life Coach Training (ILCT), an accredited coach training program through the International Coach Federation (ICF) and am part way through course work that will make me a certified Life Coach through ILCT. I hope to be a certified Life Coach by March 2016. I applied for and have been awarded a six month PD leave to pursue my Professional Certified Coach designation through the ICF, which I will commence in January 2017. And if you know me at all, I love a challenge and it is a rather ambitious goal. So, I am working hard to gain that level of competence as we speak.  Learner support!  It applies to practicing professionals as well as students, not yet employed in their future fields!  The learner support I receive from my employer is substantial and much appreciated!

Since my last post I re-entered the classroom and had such fun in my Inclusive Recreation and Sport class with some truly lovely people. Next month I will take an intensive 2-day workshop in Team Based Learning (TBL) through CIEL – the Center for Innovation and Excellence in Learning. I LOVE to learn with the good folks in that department. I will redesign my curriculum for that particular course in the workshop.  This is another example of learner support!

In the spring of 2015 I traveled to Belize on a field school with a mix of students ranging from Recreation, Tourism, Baking, Culinary students to Instructors in Business and Culinary Arts. As each of the student’s goals and reasons for participating in the school-kids-belizecacao-plantationmakingchocolatefield school were so different we took an individualized approach and borrowed from Future Mapping as a way for each student to set their individual learning goals for their experience in Belize. I learned Future Mapping as a technique from Michele Brookhaus from Beyond Well and applied this method to my own goals and taught the method to students going on this Field School. We did, however, all learn about the cacao bean and how it is processed into chocolate. Mmmmm… it was a delicious experience.

My own future map concerned setting up coaching for students at VIU on behalf of Student Affairs. My title is now Success Coach and Success Coaching is part of Student Success Services at Vancouver Island University along with Peer Coaching, which I oversee. We have just completed the revamp of the new website: Student Success Services. Notice that students can access a learning strategist, a peer coach or a success coach through this new learner support service at VIU.

Much has changed since I last posted.  I have been rather circumspect in some aspects of my life, but I love to learn and grow and be challenged in many spheres of my life and for that I am really grateful! I am also grateful for the learner support that VIU extends to not only its students, but also its employees. I continue to be challenged and grow in my practice – as a paid employee and as a human being. Moreover, my strong belief that education is a trans-formative experience continues to stand. My new vocation as a life coach is a wonderful, new extension of all my previous experiences and education. I am really looking forward to this year drawing to a close and entering the new year!  I hope and pray I will persist in my live, love, and laugh attitude and my love of life long learning!

What Kind of “12th man” Am I?

sharon-football-smallIt’s Super Bowl Sunday, and the “de boys” in the house are watching the game.  The Seahawks pull ahead and the fans at the hometown stadium wildly cheer their boys on. I am not at the stadium urging them on.  I am not even in front of the t.v. shouting and cheering.  I do not whisper one word of encouragement.

Not being a huge football fan, I soon find myself watching a movie about football instead of the big game. Arguably one of the best sports movies of all time, I decide to watch Rudy.  It’s not really a football movie though; it has football in it, but the movie is more about dreams and passion and grit.  In one reviewer’s words, this movie is about “an undersized young man who overcame major challenges to play football for the University of Notre Dame.”

Rudy is a dreamer… but one who has commitment and perseverance in the face of obstacles, disappointment and failure.  These important factors are what allow him to ultimately be victorious and realize his dream of playing football for Notre Dame.

After the movie, being the curious type that I am, I look to see what I can find out about Rudy in real life.  Turns out he spent time as an inspirational speaker, has a foundation, a website and has published at least one book.

On his website, you can find his “game plans for winning in life”: www.rudyintl.com/inspirational.cfm. He presents 10 insights for success.  One of them is to “visualize your dream and make a commitment”.  Another one is “find mentors who encourage you”.

In the movie and in reviewing his website and story, he seems to have had at least 3 key people who encouraged him and helped instill a “can do” attitude and the will to work towards his dream despite seemingly insurmountable odds. At least one of them was a teacher at the college he was at prior to getting accepted at Notre Dame.

Passion and grit are required when the going gets tough.  Persistence in the face of challenge is a key feature of grittiness. Some students bring it.  It comes naturally to them it seems. Others doubt themselves more than others and in those inevitable low times of doubt we humans tend to experience at times, it is relatively easy to give up on one’s dreams.

As I ponder the role of the encourager, and as I hear reference to the role of the 12th man, yet again in the aftermath of discussion about the big game of this past Sunday, I can’t help but think that we educators just might be some students’ 12th man in their fight to realize their dreams.

But what kind of encouragement works best?  Interestingly, Carol Dweck demonstrated in yet another set of experiments that praising children for their intelligence could make them less likely to persist in the face of challenges.

Children praised for their effort only seemed to work harder when the challenges got tougher.  Praising children for their efforts, and likely university students for that matter, might be one key to bolster grit. I suppose it does not matter the exact words we choose; we all could use a little encouragement of some sort and at most times.

If indeed the Seahawk’s deciding advantage at the game was their crowd of encouraging fans cheering them on to victory, and if a small in stature player such as Rudy could actually pull off a successful tackle in a real NCAA football game amidst shouts of “Rudy, Rudy, Rudy” (his name was chanted in the movie version of the game), maybe, just maybe whispers of encouragement in the ears of my students could be the deciding factor in their fight to realize their academic dreams.

As I ponder these thoughts I can’t help but wonder, “what kind of “12th man” am I”?

Teaching Metacognition: Learning in Mutable

brain-exercisesI believe in people’s ability to grow, change and develop over time – it was something my mother taught me.  This great potential for growth is why I love working as an educator and why I also love the topic of metacognition.  The summary I appreciate regarding how to teach metacognition goes like this:  teach students that their ability to learn is mutable; teach goal setting and planning skills; teach students to monitor and adjust their learning strategies to better meet their learning goals (Lovett, M., 2008, Educause Learning Initiative). This first post in the 5x5x25 challenge will address the notion that learning is mutable.

Mindset

Several people’s work and ideas have influenced my own thoughts regarding the mutability of learning.  Carol Dweck, world-renowned researcher and author of the popular book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success has been the most recent as well as influential.  The idea, which she developed over several decades of research, is that people hold either a fixed or growth mindset and that holding a growth mindset can set a person up for higher levels of motivation, productivity and success. It is an influential idea regarding beliefs about learning.  Those with a growth mindset believe that their basic abilities can be developed through hard work and dedication.  Talent in any arena is just a starting place.  Moreover, talent can be developed through a love of learning and resilience in the face of setbacks. People with a growth mindset pay attention to feedback regarding their errors and how to improve or change strategy when not successful in order to figure out a better approach for next time.

Resource Videos

Here are 3 of my three favorite videos, which are good resources for learning more about the growth mindset:

Growth vs. Fixed Mindset: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o8JycfeoVzg&sns=em

The Power of Belief: Mindset and Success: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pN34FNbOKXc

This last one is not about the growth mindset per se, but I believe it showcases people who in my estimation must possess a growth mindset:

Life = Risk: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0yetHqWODp0  

Neuroplasticity

The burgeoning field of neuroplasticity also supports the idea that the ability to learn is mutable.  Exercise aerobically for instance, get our hearts pumping for the recommended 20 minutes, and our brains will produce brain-derived neurotropic factor, BDNF for short.  BDNF is like “Miracle Gro” for our brains and it encourages the growth of neurons. Then, when we challenge our brain with complex analysis or by simply memorizing new vocabulary or learning a new dance step, new neural pathways are established.  As John Ratey (2008) states in his book SPARK: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, “The evidence is incontrovertible: aerobic exercise physically remodels our brain for peak performance”. Indeed, in a 2007 study of humans, German researchers found that people learn vocabulary words 20% faster following exercise than they did before exercise, and that the rate of learning correlated directly with levels of BDNF  (Ratey, 2008, p. 45 in SPARK).

If we want to encourage brain growth, we can encourage students (or ourselves for that matter) to take breaks from study to run stairs, skip a rope, play squash and spawn new neurons (and relieve stress).  Then, the challenge of learning something new will help those new cells survive.  Caution: one cannot learn complex new material while exercising, but as soon as one stops, the blood flow shifts back to the brain and this is prime time to focus on a task that requires sharp thinking or complex analysis. Bottom line, there is a direct biological connection between movement and cognitive function.

Want to learn more from Dr. John Ratey?  Listen to a recording of him speaking at the Neuroplasticity and Education Conference in Vancouver (2013): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lRwMf7QVMvs#t=30

Teaching students that their ability to learn is mutable is the first important lesson in encouraging students to become self-regulated learners.