All students will achieve their maximum potential by becoming responsible, productive citizens and life-long learners.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Character Challenge: Ambitious

This week’s character trait at Seekonk High School is Ambitious.

Unfortunately this is one of those terms that has two perceived meanings depending on your perspective…one good and one, well, not so good.  It may be because of this that it is difficult to instill in many people.  For my purpose here, I am addressing the ambition we all hope to have that affords us the ability to be successful without consequently diminishing the same opportunity of those around us.

Carol Dweck touches on the idea of ambition driven effort when discussing mindsets.  It seems not too far a stretch to infer that a person in a growth mindset finds ambition good while those in a fixed mindset tend to scoff at the effort required to maintain a healthy level of ambition.  In simpler terms, we all know examples of those who use ambition for good and those who wind up on the other side of that spectrum.  This post is driven by two factors.  First, the idea that we as adults, children, educators, students, parents, and the educational system need to be acutely aware of our impact on society.  All of us affect the future.  To accomplish this in a positive manner requires change and progress according to the ever changing needs of our world.  More detail on this larger topic must be saved for a future post.  The second factor may be summed up in the following quote by Oscar Wilde: “Our ambition should be to rule ourselves, the true kingdom for each one of us; and true progress is to know more, and be more, and to do more.”

Know More
Education is not the learning of facts and figures per se.  Understanding how everything fits together through application is still the medium range goal.  Education, in the end, for all of us involved is about opening the doors to future possibility.  It is no secret that students today are learning skills they will need to apply when working in jobs that will be radically different from today.  There are multiple reports that discuss the idea of students being prepared for jobs that do not yet exist.  What is not discussed is that such events will demand everyone to change; from educators to current employees in both the private and public sectors.  The only way for anyone to keep current with progress and this required change is to continually educate themselves.  This requires ambition.  As the times change, all of us must continue to “know more” if we are to successfully progress in our lives.

Be More
All the knowledge in the world would be useless without the ambition to succeed, but that ambition must not be blind less we diminish who we are as people.  Allowing that to happen, as some have, fosters the negative side of ambition or a “winning at all costs” attitude.  The default position for ambition should be the continual push for personal success as measured by the quality of impact a person has on not only their lives, but those who they impact as well.

Do More
Salvador Dali said; “Intelligence without ambition is a bird without wings.”  This is possibly the most important aspect of ambition; the courage to act.  It does not matter how much you know, want to help others, or better yourself if you do not act.  We like to talk about education in terms of reform and change to the point that we tend to overlook gradual progress in an effort to satisfy our ambitions for immediate improvement.  Often, one small act will not help you attain your ultimate goal, but it is a start and therefore, progress.  It is a combination of repeated small steps and leaps that eventually complete the journey.  Whether it is Merriam-Webster defining it as, “the process of improving or developing something over time or Tony Blair saying that it “has never been shaped by commentators, complainers or cynics;” progress is achieved by deliberate and consistent action.  To do that, requires a certain amount of grit, but above all the ambition to start.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Character Challenge: Gracious

This week’s character trait at Seekonk High School is Gracious.

Each week as new traits are announced, I cannot help but wonder three things.  First, is this working? Second, how can I get it to work better?  Finally, if all these traits are connected, am I approaching it the wrong way by singling them out?  As I was looking through material to jog my mind for this post, I thought about the relationships between traits along with the idea that I have been telling students to try small things.  I have promised that these in turn will become larger.  What I haven’t promised is that they are not alone in this endeavor and that affects their poise.  Audrey Hepburn said it best when she explained that walking “with the knowledge that you are never alone” builds poise.  So now I believe I must change my focus to one of togetherness if this challenge is to make the difference of which it is capable.  So, without further ado…

Vocabulary.com defines gracious as, "kind, courteous, and compassionate."  The site goes on to explain that “Gracious descends from the Latin word for good will.”  I find that the definition or etymology of this word is not the issue.  The problem lies in the application of this trait in a socially contextualized high school setting.

Mark Twain made an excellent point when he said; “Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”  When you are kind to anyone in a high school setting (or at any level for that matter) everyone sees it and in at least some small way, reacts to it.  It gives pause.  The greater the act, the greater the pause.  No matter if it is a smile or inward thought by an uninvolved witness or a comment/helping hand by someone who wishes to be more involved; people notice and therefore share a moment.  The person responsible could never be alone in such a situation.  So take the time to build community by creating that connection.  If you question whether or not it is a good time to act, pay heed to the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson.  He said; “You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.”

Being courteous is usually referred to as having manners; however that sometimes gets lost in translation.  Many of us instantly think of those “old-fashioned” formal shows of politeness.  What is more meaningful and capable of being adopted is the idea of thoughtfulness.  The sincerity found in a quick thank you that expresses a certain level of gratitude that sets the stage for a successful, interpersonal interaction both at that moment and in the future is one such display.  We can all exercise this trait if we regularly considerate and responsive to people’s current situations.  It is important to acknowledge that people exist in their own, personal experience that is no more or less important than ours based upon how we perceive them at that moment.  Once we treat someone with respect and dignity, we are instantaneously part of a larger interaction that has an unknown lasting effect.

While compassion usually comes easy on the heels of kind and courteous behavior, it is not always automatic with students.  Based upon the idea of wanting to be part of a larger crowd and an inherent (developmentally speaking) uncertainty of who they are, students (according to Brene Brown) have difficulty practicing “compassion when they are struggling with their own authenticity.”  Therein lies the problem when it comes to consistently displaying compassion.  Karen Armstrong notes, “Compassion is a practically acquired knowledge….”  This part of the larger trait (gracious) may well be the most important and difficult.  For any of us to practice, it takes a moment of thought before responding in an attempt to assess the larger picture to determine how we may be a better version of ourselves; even if just for a moment.

Practically Speaking
This is all well and good theoretically speaking, but how do we begin?  Where do we start so that students:
·         notice they are not alone in attempting to improve the culture by working on their character;
·         understand that by recognizing other peoples perspectives they become to know themselves; and
·         start with small steps that truly make a difference?

To further develop the ability to be gracious, we should all try these:

  1. Put yourself in other peoples’ positions to help understand the foundations of their beliefs and actions.
  2. Do what you can to help others.  Everyone’s journey is different and we all need support from time to time.
  3. Do not make light or humor of other peoples misfortunes.
  4. Respond (do not react) to your own mistakes with humor.
Remember, it is usually difficult to be gracious.  It takes a certain level of comfort with oneself to consistently act in this manner.  That is why it is important to support and point out the act whenever we see it.  Students realizing that being gracious is the right way to act is only the first step.  Supporting it so that we all act in that manner should be the goal.  Even as adults we find it easier to act when in numbers, imagine the impact for students. 

Friday, November 1, 2013

Character Challenge: Self-Motivated

This week’s character trait at Seekonk High School is self-motivation.

The difficulty with motivation, especially intrinsic, is that it often resembles more of a rollercoaster ride than anything remotely constant.  We all have times we can remember being incredibly excited about that project, assignment, or responsibility.  Unfortunately we also remember those times (we often cannot seem to break free from) when we become overwhelmed, distracted, or lazy.  Therein lies the issue for everyone.  How do we motivate ourselves on a more continuous basis that leads to improved performance at either school or work?

Self-motivation boils down to three major factors: starting, attitude, and self-awareness.

No one has ever finished who did not start.  All too often we attempt to begin new endeavors with the idea that there will be huge gains immediately.  Think about it.  How else would the magic diet pill, bodybuilding supplement, online essay, or any other quick fix industry even exist?  The fact of the matter is that those who start any task with the manageable aspects enjoy small (usually easy to attain) victories.  This in turn boosts self-confidence while increasing the drive (or motivation) to continue. There may be many factors that motivate us to start, but it is the lasting mark of that which is generated within ourselves that get us to finish.

Negative obstacles are one of the major reasons continued self-motivation is so difficult.  How we handle them is the difference between success and failure.  If we motivate ourselves to accomplish something, we must prepare for the many obstacles that will block the path.  Personally, I call these distractions and excuses.  The good news is that they can all be overcome.  First, do not make excuses.  Find out the real reason you experienced a setback, confront it by admitting the problem, and fix it.  Then start again.  Do this by prioritizing.    All too often we get distracted from what we really want to accomplish and take an easier path.  With the right attitude (positive and determined) a person can ignore the distractions by focusing on what is important and understanding that long term success does not come easy.  Rather, it is the dogged determination of individuals who pull the advantages (positive) out of disadvantages (negative) that arise.

We need to know who we are, what we want, and why to increase the consistency of our motivation.  We will lose sight of what keeps us going without these understandings. Intrinsic motivation by definition comes from within.  Therefore, it is what is important to us that causes us to move in any direction.  Being mentally and emotionally invested in our goals provides powerful motivation.  Essentially, no one can force us to believe what is important.  We must come to that realization ourselves.  In the end it is about what is a priority for us.  This is not easy and the road to sustained motivation is fraught with negatives.  Only through an understanding of ourselves and what motivates us will we achieved sustained self-motivation and success.


Where do we start?

“If you have the courage to begin, you have the courage to succeed.” - David Viscott

·         Do not just identify, but begin by identifying with others who do what you want to do.
·         Complete as many homework assignments as possible each week.
·         Stay after for extra help one night this week.
·         Improve your study habits before your next test.

How to we sustain setbacks?

“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of Hell, a hell of Heaven.” - John Milton

·         Be and stay positive.
·         Do not make excuses. Address the real issue.
·         Be sure to know what is important and make choices accordingly.
·         Avoid distractions by staying focused.

Why are we doing this?

“One of the most courageous things you can do is identify yourself, know who you are, what you believe in and where you want to go.” - Sheila Murray Bethel

·         Know who you are and what you want.
·         Set goals you are invested in and work to achieve them.
·         Work to understand why you need to be self-motivated.

In the end, our success or failure largely depends on what we do for ourselves.  To succeed, we must be motivated and the most powerful form of that is intrinsic.  We are all students of life and just as those of us in education attempt to motivate students, we must identify and use that inner drive to truly be successful; no matter the field in which we work, play, or live.  In the words of Henry David Thoreau; “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.”