Archive for August, 2010

Minority Report

Monday, August 30th, 2010

If you read my last post, you will know that we have been in the Netherlands. Whilst there we celebrated my daughter’s twentieth birthday during which we experienced a short – yet fascinating – example of social exclusion.

For her birthday we decided to go to a theme Park near where we were staying – Walibi World. You may have been there yourself. It used to be called Six Flags, but was then changed to Walibi World. Whilst the mascot for the Park is a Wallaby, the name is actually derived from the first two letters of three Belgian towns – Wavre, Limal and Bierges. Whilst you might justifiably ask “Why”, I’ll stop there as this has nothing to do with the rest of the tale.

We had been there for 3 or 4 hours and then a conversation started as to whether there we were getting more than our fair share of stares from other visitors. I hadn’t noticed it up to this point, but it was only a few minutes until I realised that the perception appeared accurate.  Working out why took a little longer, through a gradual process of elimination – but not too much longer. 

The fact my son and I were wearing shorts was quickly dispelled – there were a number of other people wearing shorts. His penchant for wearing odd socks was also considered and rejected – people weren’t really looking at his socks. It was my daughter. Or at least it was the fact that my daughter was wearing a dress.  We looked around for other people wearing dresses in the vicinity, but we couldn’t see anyone. In fact, we didn’t see anyone else in the next 2 hours wearing a dress – and we saw several hundred other female visitors.

We saw people nudge each other, point us out and talk about us. In fact, I had tried to illustrate to my children how this occurs within society a few years – I had walked around the Trafford Shopping Centre wearing very large plastic colourful earrings – but the effect here was far more noticeable than then.

 It was a very powerful example of how being slightly different can lead to sub-divisions within a group, and the absurd or innocuous reasons that this can occur. For anyone familiar with Gordon Allport’s Scale of Prejudice and Discrimination, we had reached the level of ‘Anti-locution’ very quickly.

Whilst I found the level of attention we were getting a little off-putting, once we understood why it was happening we found it amusing and it didn’t detract from our enjoyment of the day.

On one level , it amusingly reminded me of how unhelpful the term “smart casual” can be when inviting people to a learning event or similar – people like to be able to fit in with the rest of the group, and the subjective “smart casual” gives them virtually no help at all. Perhaps it is used by people unable or unwilling to make a helpful decision?

On another level, it also provided a stark reminder of how many people cannot just change their clothes and fit back in with everyone else, or the majority group. Such reminders are always helpful.


Your national embarrassment?

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

We are in the Netherlands at the moment – at a Center Parcs near Amsterdam. We went for a day out to Amsterdam on Sunday – what a lovely city with a really friendly feel to it. There was some sort of major regatta taking place and so the canals were heaving. The boats with parties on board gave the place a bit of a carnival feel.

We used the ‘canal buses’ to get around and whilst waiting at one stop an Italian and I started a conversation. He was in Amsterdam for a short break with his mother. He was probably in his late 40s, had lived in Brussels for the last 18 years, goes back to Italy twice a year and regularly has meetings in London, Paris and elsewhere.

Due to the travelling he undertook and the amount of time he has spent away from Italy, I was interested as to whether he still viewed himself as an Italian. He told me that he didn’t see himself as an Italian, more a European citizen. He also explained that as time went on he found he had more and more issues “with Italians”. We didn’t have any more time to explore this as our canal boat was pulling into the dock. He did however have a need to conclude the conversation with one last comment. He said, “Can I, on behalf of Italy, please apologise for Berlusconi. He is a national embarrassment”.  His apology appeared to be serious as it was said with both apparent embarrassment and feeling. I replied that I could understand where he was coming from; we got on the boat and went our separate ways.

This left me pondering these two questions:

1)      If I was to apologise to someone from another country for my ‘national embarrassment’, who would it be?

2)      As a trainer, which model or theory have I learned or shared with others, which, with hindsight, I should apologise for having shared – due to it not really being a very good model or theory.

So, who would be your ‘national embarrassment’, and which is the worst model or theory that you have learned or used?

I’d be very interested in your thoughts!


State of Education or Learning State?

Sunday, August 15th, 2010

I can recall 5 or so years ago sitting in a very boring meeting. I can actually remember attending a few, but we will focus on this one in particular for the moment. The energy level was as low as the land level in Death Valley. And I was due to present. What could I do? I looked around the room for some props. There was a fake fire in the room with some pieces of wood on it.  As I was introduced, I went and picked up two of the pieces of wood and tapped a beat with them on the side of the table. “Just say what you see”, I enthused, with a very poor impersonation of Roy Walker, the original host of Catchphrase.  Unfortunately, no-one ‘got it’. “Logarithms!” I enthused once more, and tapped the beat once more perhaps thinking I needed to do it again in order for people to ‘get it’. It did, however, change the mood of the meeting and, having rebuilt the fire, I delivered my presentation and achieved what I wanted to.

That is the only time in my life I can recall having made use of my Third Year (now Year 9) Maths input on Logarithms. I do accept the link is tenuous, but it really is the closest I have got to using that information. But what was the point of them (and the same goes for cosines, too)?

I was reminded of this experience when I read an answer to a parent’s question by Chris Woodhead in The Times (25 July 2010). As you may well be aware, Mr Woodhead used to be the Chief Inspector of Schools here in England (and possibly other parts of the UK).  He is currently the chairman of a private schools group. Mr Woodhead was making the point that – regarding English Literature classes – “The aim should not be to develop ‘critical thinking skills’”, and added that children, “should not be encouraged to express their opinions on the texts. Who cares what they think or feel?’” Well, actually, I do – and I suspect others do, too.

We need to be valuing and developing these skills from an early age – and others such as rapport building, empathy, effective communication, emotional intelligence … I could go on. From a holistic perspective it would create a far more mature society, and from a practical perspective perhaps we wouldn’t need to have the likes of “This drink may be hot“ written on the side of a take-out cup of coffee.

I have been in Wakefield today – taking, waiting for and collecting my 17-year old son from a Football Refereeing Course. As someone interested in learning, I have been impressed with the content of the Course. It has a good balance of theory and practice, and it has an obvious practical application. He has now passed the theoretical aspects and needs to pass the practical aspects by refereeing some matches. Having discussed the Course with him, it is apparent that he has fared well so far. He has fared well because he has been able to demonstrate skills such as critical thinking, effective communication and conflict management to name just three.  These skills have been developed in part at school but more so at home.

And this is where, in my humble opinion, our schooling system is failing society. The development or achievement of such skills in school is difficult to measure, and so they are unlikely to find any prominence in ‘League Tables’. But what gets measured generally happens. So exam results prevail. And our children will therefore continue to be measured on how well they understand Cosines and Logarithms.

The lead article in the News Review of today’s (15 August 2010) Sunday Times is an article about how the actress Imogen Stubbs and husband – film director Trevor Nunn – tried to help their daughter with her AS level in Theatre Studies. They discovered that they were more of a hindrance than a help.  Ms Stubbs continuing investigation of the matter showed her that the course work and study aids were aimed at enabling her daughter to get an ‘A’ grade by following the required “tick-box culture”, rather than thinking about the literature itself. Many pupils told her that they never actually read the texts – they just used study aids and the internet.

Over the next couple of weeks the annual national GCSE and A Level analysis and frenzy will take place. We will be informed how this year’s pass rate compares to other years, and individuals will find out whether they have achieved their coveted places at Universities. Again in today’s Sunday Times there is a report that leading companies such as Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Price Waterhouse Coopers are running non-graduate trainee schemes for promising people who do not achieve a place at University or who do not want to saddle themselves with student debt. These companies are telling applicants that they, “can end up in similar jobs with similar salaries to graduates”.

Perhaps this will bring about a different perspective on education and learning. Perhaps it will help shape an approach that involves both theoretical and practical learning for all qualifications. And perhaps then we can move away – once and for all – from Mr. Woodhead’s view that a child, during the foundation stage of their life of learning, should not be taught how to critically think, should not express their opinions and should not have their feelings valued.


The Affective Domain – a little more detail

Friday, August 13th, 2010

Since blogging a couple of times about matters connected to the Affective Domain of Learning, I have had a discussion with one trainer who informed me that it was not covered at all in their course – I find that concerning.

I believe that a trainer is missing a vital tool if they do not understand and use the Affective Domain. In my blog of 26 July I gave an example of how it could be used in a learning event.

So, what exactly is it? Well, the Affective Domain (together with the Cognitive and Psychomotor Domains) came about as a result of work by Benjamin Bloom and other colleagues

There are five levels to the Domain, and these are:

  1. Receiving
  2. Responding
  3. Valuing
  4. Organisation
  5. Characterisation

As it is a Taxonomy (an ordered list), a person can only progress to a level as a result of having ‘passed through’ the lower levels. Let me give you an example.

Let’s say you are watching an appeal programme on TV such as Children in Need or Comic Relief. For anyone who hasn’t seen any such programmes, they tend to be several hours in duration and comprise a combination of celebrity appearances, films showing the suffering of various sections of the world’s population, the presentation of cheques towards these causes and details of how the viewer can also financially contribute.

By watching the programme, you are ‘Receiving’ and so are willing to watch what is being shown. You are at the first level. You may then have a conversation with a person watching with you in relation to what is being shown, which would take you to the ‘Responding’ stage. If, during that conversation, you expressed a view such as, “That’s terrible, that shouldn’t happen to anyone”, you would have progressed to the ‘Valuing’ level. A short time later you add, “In fact that’s so bad, I’m going to ‘phone in and give £10”. At this point you have reached the forth level, that of ‘Organisation’.  When you wake up the following morning you add, “I was thinking about that film last night. I have decided that I’m going to give an amount each month so that I can help a little”. Later that day, you arrange to pay an amount each month – at which point you have arrived at ‘Characterisation’ as you have demonstrated this new value.

When watching such programmes, the celebrities are sometimes – and understandably – in tears or visibly upset when witnessing some of the suffering. Within the Affective Domain they are probably at ‘Valuing’ at that point. Whether they move to a deeper level will depend on whether they do anything with their new learning after the event. Does it change their value system, or, once they return to their home, do they put it to one side and do nothing else with it.

As trainers or training mangers, we need to ensure that what we deliver has the maximum possible effect, and the maximum potential to improve performance. The Affective Domain gives a great framework for planning a methodology that will improve the retention of learning by the affect upon the learner.


Deletions, Distortions and Generalisations from my schooldays

Sunday, August 8th, 2010

I went to a very enjoyable Reunion on Friday night for people who went to Northgate Grammar School, Ipswich and who celebrated their fiftieth birthdays this School year. I left the School in the long hot summer of 1976 having taken my ‘O’ levels, due to my parents moving north, and completed the remainder of my education in Yorkshire.

That was 34 years ago. And I had not had any contact with any of my ex-classmates since 1976, other than communication with 3 or 4 people via Friends Reunited and a few emails during the organisation of the event. 

It felt very strange prior to the event. I could remember so little about my time there or the people I was with, I felt like I was researching another person’s history rather than retracing my own steps. I didn’t recognise anyone at the event, although I did recognise names. The only person I was sure I knew – and was very enthusiastic in explaining to him how I remembered him – I didn’t actually know. I had got the wrong person!

It all fitted with aspects of some training I had been delivering within the NHS on the previous day. We were discussing motivating staff and dealing with people who may appear difficult. Specifically we were looking at the NLP work of Shelle Rose Charvet, and my experiences at the Reunion fitted very well with a foundation stone of NLP and Shelle Rose Charvet’s work – how we use our own personal filters to create our own reality of the world, unlike anyone else’s reality, through the Deletion, Distortion and Generalisation of information.

We delete things as we can only remember a certain number of pieces of information at any one time – best estimates suggest that it is around 7 pieces if information from an interaction or discussion.

We distort things – possibly why we have a Lock Ness Monster and large black panthers roaming the country. Closer to home, it explains how we suddenly see something possibly scary, and then realise it’s not quite what we thought it was.

And we generalise. People create a view of groups of people, or a personal norm (such as all car sales people are this, or all politicians are that), based on a few interactions or what they have heard from others.

And the whole of the Reunion evening – certainly for me – was based on Deletions, Distortions and Generalisations. When I left the Reunion, I think my one regret was that I didn’t have any notes or recollections that might have given me a fighting chance of having a personal reality reasonably close to someone else’s personal reality.

It emphasised to me the benefits of Reflective Practice and diary keeping. We forget far more than we ever learn, and in order to increase our potential to learn we can spend more time recording what we have achieved and how we have achieved it, and what we have not done well and why it didn’t go well.


Be clear about what you can actually manage

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

I was reading some posts on a Forum at the weekend relating to a person wanting some ideas for running a ‘Time Management Course’. I’m sure that you will have seen such events advertised. You may even have attended one yourself. The one thing that you will not have learned on the course is how to manage time.

Do sailors and mariners attend Tide Management courses? I don’t think so. I’m aware that King Canute piloted such a course back in the eleventh Century, but it turned out to be a bit of a non starter. He quickly realised that he was struggling to achieve the stated objectives and delegate feedback wouldn’t be good. There are certainly none that I can find on the internet. That’s probably because everyone knows that it’s not possible to manage the tide – you have to work within around High and Low tides.

I have been in cars many times when it has been getting dark and the driver – whether it has been me or someone else – has turned the lights on. As I turn the lights on, I don’t think to myself, “Oh, I’ll just manage the sunset”, I think (something like), “Oh, it’s getting dark”.

As a slight aside to that, who thought it would be a good idea to teach children about the sun rising and the sun setting? And then just when they understand that – or they think they understand it – teach  them that actually the sun stays exactly where it is – it’s us that moves …

Anyway, back to time management … So why do we talk about time management?

Not only is it an impossible task, it actually detracts from what anyone attending such a learning event is probably intending to address. If the event was called something like “Effective Task Management”, then this would more accurately summarise what the event is all about. And – more importantly – it would keep the learner focused on what they should really be seeking to achieve.  

The clearer we are with communication, the more we can achieve.