Tag: teaching

Self Exploration and Learning

“Take some time to get to know yourself. Figure out who you really are.”

A number of people have given me this advice in the past few weeks, which is curious to me, as I’m pretty sure I know exactly who I am. Further, I’m usually the one giving that advice to others!

On a recent trip, in the midst of listening to a TED talk, I had an epiphany. I haven’t been myself, not because I don’t know who I am, but because for nearly this entire year I’ve not been doing and surrounding myself with some of those things I’m incredibly passionate about- teaching, learning, being inspired by others, and having my mind opened to new perspectives and ideas. I haven’t sat in a classroom in nearly two years! I don’t even want to think about when the last time was that I actually read a book – and I love to read!

So these people with their advice… they’re not crazy. They’re absolutely right.

As a result of this epiphany, I’m starting Daily Brain Food. Something each day that will add to that grey matter in my skull. It may be a podcast, a video, a book, or an article. I probably won’t share them every day, but I’ll make sure to share the notable ones.

Today’s Brain Food: a TED Playlist entitled, “A Better You.” 9 talks that are inspirational, well-researched, and heartfelt – all aiming to help make you a better you! Enjoy!

Sir Ken Robinson

From TED.com, “Sir Ken Robinson makes an entertaining and profoundly moving case for creating an education system that nurtures (rather than undermines) creativity.”

This video helped to spark my teaching epiphany. I wonder what the rest of the world thinks about it…

Teaching Philosophy

I teach a class called Leadership and Organizational Behavior for Music and Entertainment Business students at an innovative and creative university in Central Florida. Our schedule is a little strange. Students take 2 classes at a time, and after 4 weeks they move onto 2 new classes, which means that I shove what could be an entire semester’s worth of material into 4 weeks.

That’s hurdle 1: Connecting with the students quickly so that they are willing to actually listen. If you don’t connect with them in the first week – in the first day even – they will leave not having learned anything.

Hurdle 2 is that my class isn’t normally the most anticipated class of their degree program. On the whole, most students are excited about the classes more directly related to their future careers- either record label development or artist management or music business marketing. More often than not, my students aren’t looking at their future class schedules going, “Oh, wow! Leadership and Organizational Behavior! I can’t wait for that – it’s going to be so exciting!!”

With those hurdles, however, I have several advantages.

1: I LOVE what I do. I love teaching, I love getting to know my students, I love being creative, I love the subjects I teach. I enter the classroom every day with positive energy, passion, and excitement. Even if my students aren’t necessarily excited about LOB, I’m excited about it, and that energy often spreads to them.

2: I’m a perpetual student. I was that kid who loved school. I was always excited for the first day of class. I loved reading, liked to study, and didn’t mind working hard if that meant I’d learn something and do well. Because I’ve always identified as a student, I think like a student. When I’m planning my class, my first thought is more “Would I like to do this? Would I learn something from it?” and less “How can I make them do this?” In fact, I sometimes completely forget that I have to assess the assignments I give. I’ll come up with this great idea for a project that’s going to be interesting, fun, challenging, and thought-provoking; then after spending hours designing the project, I suddenly remember that I have to grade this thing, and I panic a little bit about creating a rubric. But overall, the fact that I think like a student makes my material much more engaging and makes my teaching style much more comfortable and relate-able.

3: I’m an observer. This has benefited me as a business consultant, sales associate, marketing assistant, and mostly, as a teacher. I can watch human interaction and inherently know what’s working and what’s not. I’ve had my share of good and bad teachers, bosses, coworkers, and roommates, and I learned something from each interaction. Having these experiences, I think, makes me a better teacher because I focus on truly connecting with my students, and I know what works and what doesn’t.

4: Learning is for everyone. Everyone loves to learn. Think about as a kid when you went outside to explore in your backyard or your neighborhood. Or pretending to be a pirate searching for hidden treasure. I watched a Muppet Babies episode as a kid about paleontologists and wanted nothing more than to go to Egypt and dig up ancient civilizations and learn about how they lived. Everyone loves to discover something new – and yet school is often boring. Why? It’s because we forget Kindergarten.

Do you remember Kindergarten? When you’re in Kindergarten what do you do? You play, you build things and knock them over, you run around outside, you eat snacks, you nap, you have show-and-tell, you laugh, you fight, you sing songs and paint and play with instruments and have animal pets and you LEARN. Yep. In Kindergarten you’re doing a million other things and learning at the same time.

And then we go to first grade, when suddenly learning has to be a “job” (I’ll get into that topic at a later date), when we’re told to be quiet, sit still, and pay attention, because in order to learn we can’t be up running around, playing, and making noise.

What just happened? At 5 we can play, but at 6 we suddenly have to be professional? And why, exactly, is laughing and having fun not professional?

As we educate and get older, we are taught that having fun, running around, playing, taking naps, and eating snacks are all a hindrance to education – and I believe this is WRONG. Guess what. This philosophy is making learning difficult, and worst of all, boring.

Think about biology class. I can learn even MORE running around outside, looking at creatures and comparing them, their structure, what they eat, and how they interact, than I can reading about them in a book. And maybe while running around outside, we step in poop, or get dirt on our clothes, or, god forbid, laugh and run around and giggle, but we’re engaged. We’re allowed to be kids – to be humans – exploring and observing things for ourselves.

I try to incorporate these ideas in my class. While I can’t take my students outside to look at bugs (and potentially step in poop), I try to make my class interactive and engaging. We have group discussions. We have special guests. We look at the way businesses work and affect us as individuals. We talk about our own past experiences and what we felt about them. We watch videos and read blogs and talk about the news. And sometimes we don’t talk about anything I’d planned for the day. But every day we learn.

Not just them, I learn to. I’m not here to shove information down their throats. I’m here to guide them on an exploration of topics. An exploration where I will be their tour guide, but we will all discover new things throughout the tour.

My teaching philosophy, in a nutshell, is this:

  • Learning is fun. If your students aren’t having fun, you’re doing it wrong.
  • Teaching is fun. If you aren’t having fun, you’re doing it wrong.
  • Learning is multi-faceted. We learn by reading, talking, listening, watching, doing, teaching others, demonstrating, and dancing. Yep. Dancing.
  • Learning can happen anywhere. Share those sudden moments of epiphany with your students.
  • Be passionate. If you aren’t excited about what you’re teaching, your students aren’t going to get excited for you. They will reciprocate the energy you give them.
  • Be genuine. They’re students, not robots. If you aren’t genuine – if you’re just blowing hot air or spewing BS – they will notice and they’re not going to listen to a single word you say. This means not pretending you know everything and admitting when you don’t know or when you’re wrong.
  • Listen. If you truly want to make your class useful and interesting to your students, then listen to them. Don’t balk at them. Don’t tell them to be quiet. Ask them what they mean. Tell them to explain. Get them to talk more. And listen to what they’re saying.

In addition to this, sometimes teaching means taking risks. My next post is going to be about an epiphany I had as a teacher, and the risk I was willing to take by giving my students complete autonomy.

a post on failure

I wanted to share one of my class lectures from last week. My class is Leadership & Organizational Behavior, and we always talk about what goes into making leaders and organizations successful, but I had a sudden thought one afternoon and decided the next class we’d be discussing failure. I asked my students to think of one goal they had – maybe a job they wanted after graduation or a business they want to start. Then I told them to list all the ways they could fail to attain that goal. They all looked a little hesitant, but soon everyone was thinking of hundreds of ways they could fail to achieve their goals.

Then one of my students remarked “Well, this is depressing…” and I said “It is! But, it’s also useful. Why do you think we should talk about failure?”

We decided that failure is a constant. Everyone fears failure. No one wants to fail, and so often our strategy to prevent failure is to ignore it, pretend like it doesn’t exist. Instead of being successful, more often than not, the “it doesn’t exist” strategy causes us to pull the wool over our own eyes and blindly, suddenly fall into mistakes that ultimately can cause failure.

Instead, talking about failure can help us to prevent mistakes, overcome obstacles, and even learn something when we inevitably make mistakes. We read John Maxwell’s 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership in my course, and in The Law of Navigation, Maxwell explains that we need to be very detailed in our planning – plotting out each small success in the path to achieving our ultimate goal – but we also have to think about all the obstacles in our path. If we forget to plan for mistakes, problems, and obstacles, then even a small problem can throw our jouney off course.

The other thing about failure is that it’s not always a bad thing. Failure often teaches us more than we could have learned if we had been successful. Failure generates new ideas and encourages innovation.

Think of the coyote and the road runner. The coyote failed over and over again, and every time he recovered, learned from his mistake, and developed a new strategy, one that he could not have imagined before the previous failed strategy. NASA has a saying “We never punish error. We only punish the concealment of error.” That simple phrase says volumes. Mistakes will be made. To be human is to err. But we must learn from those mistakes in order to grow.

I’ve found several resources – blogs, articles, and videos – talking about failure and its benefits:

The Harvard Business Review interviewed several OB experts asking them what they think are the biggest mistakes of leaders (http://blogs.hbr.org/video/2010/08/the-biggest-mistake-a-leader-c.html). What is the benefit of this? Well if we know how leaders fail, then we as leaders can avoid those mistakes.

Sean Silverthorne adds his 2 cents, saying that leaders fail by losing their humility and forgetting their values (http://www.bnet.com/blog/harvard/the-surprising-reason-leaders-fail/8182?tag=drawer-container%3Bload-section-river).


Mitch Ditkoff of Blogging Innovation explains that there is no innovation without failure (so true!), and several individuals who would be considered influential leaders agree with him (http://www.business-strategy-innovation.com/wordpress/2010/09/rethinking-failure/).

JK Rowling talks about failure in her commencement speech to the Harvard graduating class of 2008. In this speech, she talks about how failure can strip you to your core, make what’s really important stand out, and cause you realize who you really are (http://harvardmagazine.com/commencement/the-fringe-benefits-failure-the-importance-imagination).

Ken Robinson, talking about schools and creativity, dabbles into the failure topic by explaining that kids are unafraid of failure, and we tend to teach that fearlessness out of people (http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html). If we are constantly afraid of failing, then we’re never going to try, which ultimately means that we’ll never do anything great.

So in summation: failure is not to be feared! Sure, your goal should not be to fail, but it’s inevitable in many ways, and when it happens, it should be embraced as an opportunity to learn more and be greater.

I realize some of these videos are long and that you are all very busy, but I think each of them are worth your time, so whenever you get a chance, give them a look!  :)