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Entries in education (4)



I read a lot of books about leadership and success. I also read a lot of "self help" books, geared mostly toward changing the way you think and behave. I read tons of biographies and case studies. I may or may not read more of these things that you, but I like my odds. 

The thing is, it's not like I started reading these over the weekend. I've spent years reading about ways to improve myself, in every avenue of life. And yet, for the longest time, even though I knew a lot about how to reshape my life into what I wanted it to be, I spent a great deal of my time doing and being the opposite of what I wanted.


There's a pretty simple answer to that, and it's one that makes me want to *head desk.* The fact is, reading tons of books about leadership and success and personal growth is a wonderful tool for getting your brain in gear and learning how to better yourself. But nothing you read is going to matter one bit until you DO SOMETHING.

The secret ingredient for success is action.

It took me a long time to get to that idea, even though I can specifically remember saying it, even as far back as my early 20s. I knew, even then, that knowing something wasn't enough. Acting on what you know is what gets you past ho-hum and into ho-boy!

Goal setting is another area where I've always fallen short. Every single book you read about leadership or sucess of personal growth tells you to write down your goals and revisit them often. I've written down goals over the years, but never really focused on them. I never revisited them. So what good were they? Until I'm ready to review those goals and take action on them, the answer is "not a lot."

As part of goal setting, I've read a lot about creating a "vision board." This is sort of a visual cue for your goals. You create a space where you can hang magazine clippings and photographs and small visual things that remind you of what you're trying to achieve in all areas of your life. Pictures of cars or houses you'd like to own, the physical fitness you'd like to achieve, careers you'd like to get into into. It seems strange, and the idea has been co-opted by some from the "new age" set, but the truth is vision boards are simple marketing in action.

I work in marketing. I know from experience that if you can get someone to identify with your product or service on a personal level, to connect to it through as many senses as possible, they are going to be far more likely to buy it. Ad campaigns use photos and video of happy people doing fun things, whether or not those have anything to do with the product itself, so that you can start to associate the product with "the good life." How often have you seen a commercial for a medication that never actually shows the medication? Instead you see happy, healthy people surfing and mountain climbing and playing in a park with friends and family. Message: "If you use this medication, your life will be as good as this one is." 

So having a vision board is like creating a marketing campaign for your own "product," your life. Set your goals, and then reinforce those goals by creating a vision board—your own "marketing campaign"—so that you are constantly giving yourself the message, "If I work toward my goals, I'll have the life I want."

The other side of this is adjusting as you go

Sometimes you think an action will lead to achieving your goal, but discover that things don't quite work the way you intended. Because life is inherently unpredictable, you have to be open to trying a new tactic when you don't get the result you want. Study what someone else is doing, through books and films, to get a result you'd like to have, and try it their way. If it doesn't work out the way you intended, study someone else, take what you learn, and try again. Measure what works and what doesn't, and adjust course until you get the result you want

The final bit is a piece of advice for getting where you want to go is something I actually fight with folks over. Seriouslythey see this as so profound, so revolutionary, so insane, they can't believe it would ever work in millions years. I hesitate even to give you this secret, for fear you'll scoff and never believe me again. But here goes. Deep breath ...

If you want something, ask for it.

See? Told you it was radical. Some people have been known to hear this advice and run, screaming "heretic!" all the way. 

But the truth is, most of the time we could easily have exactly what we want in our lives if we'd just take a chance and ask for it. I have seriously put this into effect in my own life. I ask for a better deal in stores. I ask if I can have something for free. I ask for a better position or a pay raise. 

The biggest barrier? Overcoming the sense that I'm somehow being offensive by asking for what I want. We are so accustomed to just taking what we get, accepting every price, accepting every offer as "the price, the offer," it actually offends our sensibilities when someone asks, out plain, for what they want! If you can get over that irrational fear, you'll find yourself getting more and more of what you want out of life. 

Sometimes, all it takes is to ask and you'll get it. Other times, you'll get a counter offer, which is equally as good. The guy at the store says, "You can't have it for the price you want, but if you bring in a coupon from online or come in next week you can get it on sale." Your boss says, "You can't have a raise, but if you give me a sales goal and meet or beat it in three months I'll raise your salary." Counter offers let you know the "rules" for getting what you want, and knowing those rules lets you map out the steps to acheiving your goal. See how that worked out? 

There's actually a Biblical grounding for asking for what you want:

Ask, and you will receive. Search, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened for you.Everyone who asks will receive. Everyone who searches will find. And the door will be opened for everyone who knocks. Would any of you give your hungry child a stone, if the child asked for some bread? 10 Would you give your child a snake if the child asked for a fish? 11 As bad as you are, you still know how to give good gifts to your children. But your heavenly Father is even more ready to give good things to people who ask.

Matthew 7:7-11

Ask, search, knock. Sounds like action steps to me. Success in any part of your life requires you to take action and go out and find it.

Everyone wants a formula for success. Turns out the Bible has had one all along. But it helps to have things broken down for us into easy, step-by-step chunks. So I've worked up a formula that may be helpful:

Goal setting + Education + Reinforcement + Ask For What You Want + Taking Action + Adjusting Course  = Get the outcome you want

I think this is pretty simple. And I'm seeing results from applying this formula in my own life. But here's a little extra bit, a multiplier, that will accelerate and even exponentially increase the results you get from the formula:

Get the outcome you want X Glorfiy God in all you do = Get more than you ever dreamt possible!

Success isn't really that hard to achieve. Yes, it can be hard work to get the exact result you want, but the process is simple and straight forward. God wants more for you than just success, though. He wants to multiply your success, and give you a life above and beyond your own intentions. God has an intended life for you that is levels and levels above what you intend for yourself. So take action, but take action that glorfies Him. You'll find your success multiplying daily. 

That's math even I like. 



Tonight I start a 9-week course called Financial Peace University. It's a program developed by Dave Ramsey, and it teaches you how to reshape your financial life. Not exactly a topic that has been in my bailiwick over the past four decades, but one I desperately need as part of my education.

So why now?

The more I study and learn about God's will for my life, the more I start to realize I have fallen short in few areas. My health, though not "bad," could be much improved if I'd lose the 70 or so extra pounds I've packed on. My marriage could be more peaceful and joyful if I spent more time focusing on the needs of my wife than focusing on what I want out of our every conversation or situation. My spiritual life could be improved if I'd focus more on studying and continually dwelling in God's Word, rather than giving my mind over to TV and books and films that do little or nothing to glorify God. And my financial life could be vastly improved if I had even a modicum of education in that direction.

It's not an easy thing for me. Money is one of those things that tenses me up every time the subject is broached. Whenever I think about sitting down with Kara to figure out a budget or discuss our finances, I feel sick inside. When I think about doing our taxes I want someone to hog tie me and beat me with a bar of soap in a sock. Money ... I haven't had a very good attitude toward money for most of my life.

And yet, I have always tried very hard to figure out ways to get more money. I need money, you see. We all do. There's some weird sort of notion being taught in schools and in churches and in homes, that money is somehow evil, and that those who have it or want it are just greedy and evil. But the truth is, even if we disdain the green stuff, it's a vital and necessary part of our lives. We need it (or what it stands for ... the value it represents) in order to achieve the things God wants for us in life. Prosperity is part of the promise of God.

But it's not like it's just going to fall out of the sky.

I mean, it might. "Manna from heaven," that's a thing. But look at what had to happen before manna fell to the Earth every morning, to sustain those wandering in the desert. First of all, they were in a DESERT. For FORTY YEARS. They were on the run from a very angry king. They were stranded, far from home, in a land that was harsh and difficult. They roamed, homeless, for forty years, because of disobedience. God sent manna to sustain them because He knew that eventually they'd come around. It was part of his promise to them. (Read Numbers and Exodus in the Old Testament of the Bible to see this whole story play out)

The point is, manna didn't fall from heaven just because the whole lot of them wanted a bite to eat. They probably would have preferred a nice roasted fish, maybe a bit of tartar sauce. Steak would be good. But instead, God sent them what they needed, when they needed it, nothing more. The rest was up to them. Their choice about obedience is what defined their journey. 

So back to the financial education bit. 

If you're going to live a life of prosperity, however you may define it, having a financial education is essential. Required, really. If you're plan is to free yourself from 9-to-5, to improve your lifestyle and achieve the freedom you need in order to accomplish your goals and your dreams, you have to know how money really works. You have to know how to make money work for you, instead of you working for money. 

Wealth ... that's a loaded term. It has all sorts of connotations, good and bad. For me, true wealth is the ability to choose how, when, and where I do the work God has ignited in me. Wealth means I have the means to glorify God with what I do, and to increase the reach of what I produce. It means I'm free to experience the world the way God intended.

Hard times? They'll still come. Stress and worry will always be a part of the equation. Wealth isn't a force field—it doesn't block difficulty from getting in. What it does is give us a tool we can use. And as with all tools—from screwdrivers to laptops to diesel-powered tractors—knowing the right way to use them makes all the difference in their effectiveness.

So I'm on a journey to learn more, and grow, and improve, and build wealth. I want to understand money, and I want to apply what I know about innovation and strategy and marketing and life, and use money as a tool to glorify God and accomplish my dreams and goals. And I want to drag you along with me. 'Cuz I loves ya. So I'll let you know what I learn over the next nine weeks, and how you can apply it to YOUR journey, too.



60 brilliant people

Of all the things I do, I think teaching Developmental Writing is the most fun.

That's a bizarre statement to see on the screen, primarily because I would never have thought I'd say (or write) anything like that. First of all, back in 2003 when I was laid off from a high school teaching position, I swore I'd never go back to teaching. The heartache of investing so much of myself in the students and the school, only to be let go because of budget concerns, kind of put a bad taste in my mouth. Plus, I wasn't a fan of the miles of red tape and the ever-shifting politics inherent in the public school system.

Second, of all the classes I ever thought I *might* enjoy teaching, "Developmental Writing" was never on the list. Creative Writing, sure. Survey of 21st Century Literature, OK. Graphic Design or Advertising Essentials, absolutely. But Developmental writing ... no way.

All of that changed after the first time I stepped into the classroom.

I took the gig because it was a way to get a bit more classroom time, and to try out some of the things I have learned and discovered about the way humans learn. It would be my learning laboratory, as it were. I could experiment, compare traditional teaching techniques to some of my fancy new theories. I've mentioned before, I have an interest in education, but I also have an interest in human potential. So I was trying to answer the question, "Can I take even the most basic subject and use it to improve the lives of my students?"

The answer is "Hell yes."

In my Developmental Writing course, I'm going over all those fundamentals you would think were firmly embedded in every kid at around fourth grade. You'd think that, but you'd be wrong. I can draw up a roster of about 60 young adults over a one-year period who would be willing to confirm for you that they did not, in fact, get the essentials of writing early in their academic careers. Forget the complicated stuff, like when or where to use a semicolon (hell, even I have trouble with that one), or whether or not it is OK to end a sentence with a preposition. These folks couldn't define "preposition" to save their lives. In fact, they didn't even have a working definition of "sentence."

Now I'm being a little harsh here, I think. First of all, most people don't have a definition for "sentence" at the ready. We know what a sentence is, when we see it, but if we had to describe it there would be a bit of stumbling as we came up with the right words. Try it. Do you have a definition of your own? Probably not. And if you do, kudos.

But for the purposes of my course, here is the definition I give them:

A sentence is a group of words that expresses a complete thought.

That's it. Simple, right? Elegant, even.

OK, we start there. And believe it or not, that's most of DAY 1 of this course. Defining what a sentence is, and getting that definition stuck in the heads of the students, is a full day's worth of work.

To be fair, I do go a little further than that definition. For example, I will add, "A sentence contains a subject, a verb, and a predicate." At which point, I will have to spend time defining "predicate." And, believe it or not, I will even have to spend some time defining "subject." For some reason, "verb" gives us no trouble.

From subject, verb, and predicate we typically move on to parts of speech. They known "noun," thank God. And, of course, "verb." I give them an "object" lesson, which more or less goes over well. And then we enter Adjective and Adverb country, and the whole thing goes to hell for a day or two.

In fact, by the time we manage our way into adjectives and adverbs, we are already into at least week two of the course. Somehow the mere act of describing nouns or describing adjectives, verbs, or other adverbs is so complex and intimidating, it can't be learned readily.

The first time I came across this roadblock, it really threw me. I couldn't understand what was happening. This was basic stuff, after all. Very basic. Like atomic structure compared to the complexity of the Universe basic. And yet, somehow, these guys not only missed it the first time around they treated it as unfathomable babbling.

I thought about this for a long time, talking it over with my wife, Kara, and some of my friends. And I think I've figured out at least part of the problem here: These people never learned how to learn.

Here's a funny historic note about our education system: It was originally designed by Plato. Well, more or less. Plato put together an education system that consisted of an elementary education, followed by a secondary, and completed with a university education. His position was that students would get the foundations of learning from their elementary education, and then dig deeper into specific subject matter on general subjects during their secondary education. At the university level, they would specialize more, and choose their particular fields of study, in which they would become experts and professionals (as the terms applied in those days). This setup may sound familiar, since it is the basic model of our current education system, and the most logical way to structure that system.

But somewhere along the way, things kind of fell apart.

Suddenly, elementary school became the place where facts were crammed into the brains of young people. Facts, but no system for connecting those facts to each other. Instead of giving students a foundation for later learning, they were suddenly expected to leave foundational schooling with an active and complete education. And then, in secondary school, the process would start all over again. They would get more facts shoved through their ears, nose, and other orifices, and then they were forced to regurgitate those facts (and ONLY those facts) on a test designed to measure how close they could come to the arbitrary "average." In this system, no real attention is paid to exactly how the student learns best. No attempt is made to connect new information to old information in a meaningful and useful way. And absolutely no attempt is made to teach the student how to make up for any gaps in their learning.

So, after 12 years of inadequate education, paid for by our tax dollars, those students with enough gaul and ambition to actually enter the university level will often do so with a woefully inefficient and inadequate educational foundation. They end up having to spend a great deal of money to learn those things that should have been built into their brains before they ever left elementary school.

And that's when I get them.

You're asking yourself, "When is he going to get to the 'life changing' part?"

When I first started teaching Developmental Writing, I figured it would be best if I stuck with the basics of writing. My goal was to get the students from choppy, poor sentences and paragraphs to semi-polished prose. When I discovered that I couldn't even start working with sentences and paragraphs, because the students had no concept of parts of speech much less a working definition of a sentence, I had to change tactics. I started giving them the foundation they were missing, from all those years ago.

And then I thought, "I have this wealth of knowledge about how people learn, and how to streamline learning. It's a shame I can't use that here."

Why not? Why couldn't I? After all, these guys were so far behind, they couldn't possibly be worse off if they left my class with more knowledge about how to learn than how to structure a paragraph, right?

But I felt too guilty about it. I couldn't focus on learning foundations when they had paid for Developmental Writing. They needed to know how to write a sentence, a paragraph, and an essay.

So why not combine Developmental Writing with Learning Foundations?

The class I teach is typically two to four hours in length. The two-hour classes are broken up over two days in the week. The four-hour classes happen on a single day. Both give me more than enough time to talk about the basics of writing, with room to spare. So, I broke each class up into two components. For the first half, I would teach Developmental Writing. For the second, Learning Foundations. And I would bridge the two by showing the students how to use the second half to better understand and remember the first.

I started with memory techniques. I taught them about "location memory," and helped them to learn and use "memory palaces" to remember long lists of things in order. I also taught them how to encode abstract information so it would be easier to store. All of this came in handy for remembering terms and definitions that they would need in order to move beyond the developmental level.

I taught them basic logic and reasoning skills for problem analysis and problem solving. I started with basic concepts, such as "If all subjects are nouns, and all adjectives describe nouns, then what do we call these terms that are describing our subject?" It sounds rudimentary, right? That's because it is. It was also completely lacking for these guys up until now.

Slowly but surely, my students were starting to get the hang of these things. I taught them how the brain works when it stores information. I talked to them about working memory versus long-term memory. I taught them about synapses and the physical connections formed in the brain during learning. I taught them about the power of visualization to help you encode and remember facts. And in the end, all of these things led to some pretty interesting results.

There are three types of questions I will ask any given student at any random time. These three questions are based on the memory exercises and the definitions that we have worked on together. For the first memory exercise, I gave them a list of 20 random items that included terms like "goal post" or "cigarettes" or even "voting booth", and taught them to recall all 20 in order (or even out of sequence) even weeks after they first saw the list. For the second memory exercise, I taught them how to remember a list of 10 random items on a "shopping" list (which could include items such as "gorilla fingers" or "flesh-colored body suit," as well as "peanut butter" or "banana peppers"). And finally, I taught them the vocabulary of developmental writing, with terms such as "adjective," "adverb," and "predicate, as well as their definitions.

Then, at random times during class I might ask questions like the following:

"What is number six?" (The answer is "gun")

"What is on the couch?" ("gorilla fingers")

"What describes a noun?" ("adjective")

And the funny thing is, this group of students who couldn't get into English 1301 because of their placement test scores can quote back to me, word for word and in order, every single term, item, and definition without once referring to their notes or their books. They can also tell me how the various parts of speech interact in a sentence, and that a sentence should always be "simple and clear." They can tell me how to determine something as abstract as the "main idea" of a sentence or paragraph. They can reason out that a sentence is logically incorrect, and the best way to fix it.

For many of these students, this is the first time they've been able to do something that made them feel "smart." And I praise the hell out of them for doing it. They feel so accomplished, so brilliant, that when they leave my class they go and use these same techniques in their other classes. They are quoting from memory the bones of the body and the list of U.S. Presidents. They are figuring out how to determine whether X is equal to Y. They are relating new facts to what they already know, and making them memorable through visualization. They are, essentially, building on their foundation.

It's such a small thing. It's a semester's worth of teaching, for four hours per week. And yet, I honestly believe it will take them places in their lives that they might never have suspected they could go.

So, I admit it. This is a fun experience. I may not teach this course forever, but I am really glad I did have the chance to teach it. I learned as much from it as they've learned, I believe. And maybe I can take what I've learned and help shape how our education system works. Or maybe not. Who can really say? The whole thing is a mess. But at least I can be sure of one thing:

There are 60 brilliant people who are preparing to start moving about in the world.


Be an educator: How to fix our education system

So I have this interest in education.

I admit, most of my interest is self-focused. I like to learn how the brain works, and how learning can be enhanced, so that I can apply these things to my own personal growth. You know … my personal growth toward becoming a super genius with a tendency toward plans for world domination. Your standard personal growth story.

But I admit, sometimes my self-centered nature gives just a tiny fraction, and I open my mind to the possibility of helping to improve education for everyone. It’s one of the reasons I studied to achieve a Master of Education degree, and why I’ve taken to teaching developmental writing classes as an adjunct professor. It was the reason I got into instructional design as one of the services I offer to clients. Ultimately, human performance, human education, and human thinking are huge areas of interest for me. I read about them, study them, and create new ways to enhance them.

Recently I watched a TED presentation by Sir Ken Robinson (in fact, I watched a couple of Robinson’s talks, and this animated one is a personal favorite). The topic was, “Does education kill creativity?” And I found Robinson’s ideas on the topic to be both inspirational and alarming.

Inspirational because Robinson so thoroughly gets it. His position is that Western education focuses entirely on educating just the left-most portion of a child’s brain. Our education system is heavy on math and science, a little thick on language arts and reading, and pretty thin and watery when it comes to music, visual arts, and dance. He believes that if aliens were to study our education system, the only conclusion they could come to is that the point is to generate university professors.

Alarming because, yeah, education certainly does seem to be killing creativity and innovation in our schools.

President Obama is currently pushing for changes and fixes to No Child Left Behind. That’s a good idea, but judging from what he’s saying on the topic I can only imagine the horrendous mess that’s going to come out of it. The focus is forever on testing, and rewarding or punishing both teachers and students based on assessment scores. After decades of trying to improve our education system in this way, shouldn’t we have concluded by now that this isn’t going to work?

In a letter that I wrote to Obama (answered by a somewhat appropriate form letter), I proposed that he link his “innovation” and “education” platforms (as detailed in his State of the Union). If the idea is to foster greater innovation and creativity in our nation’s industries, then the first step must be to encourage and develop innovation and creativity skills in our students. To that end, why not draw on the experts?

Why not call on guys like Tom Kelley, the author of “Ten Faces of Innovation” and General Manager of IDEO? Or perhaps author Malcom Gladwell? Or Seth Godin? Or Sir Ken Robinson? Why not ask these guys to sit in a room together and brainstorm 100 ways to improve our education system? Hell, make it challenging: “100 Ways to Improve Our Education System for $200 or Less.”

Actually, that begs the question: How much is each American child worth?

Scratch that. The real question is, “How much is it worth to nurture the next Einstein, Edison, or Ford?”

Our current education system stamps out the creativity of our young people by instilling in them a fear of being wrong. Trust me … it’s true. I recently gave a mid-term exam to one of my writing classes, and asked the students to write only a 3-5 paragraph essay on how writing could help them in their career. One student absolutely refused to write the essay. When I cornered him after class and asked why, his response was, “I don’t know how I could use writing in computer science. I didn’t want to write the wrong thing and fail, so I just left it blank.”

He was so afraid of failing, he wouldn’t even try. I had even told him, when he turned in his paper, “Write anything! At the very least, I’ll give you partial credit. You never know!” And still he refused, out of fear of failure.

If we want our nation to be on the leading edge of technology, to be known for its innovation and invention, to be the top producer of great minds in the world, then we have to overcome this fear of failure in our schools. We have to teach these students to try, to be creative, to take a chance, to build on failure rather than fear it, and to think in new and innovative ways. Without that, we have no shot. Instead of inventing the automobile, our next Ford will walk away, afraid that he would build the car all wrong.

So here is what I propose:

Start by educating yourself. Read books about innovation and creativity. Read books by some of the authors I’ve mentioned here. Read about the historic figures I’ve talked about.

Take what you learn from this reading, and find a child. Any child will do. Yours, or the neighbor’s, or just the kid who mows your yard.

Talk to that kid about what you’ve learned. Ask them what they think. Ask if they find it interesting. Ask what they would invent, if they could invent anything. Ask them how they could turn a failure into a success.

Do this, and do it on your own. Don’t wait for the education system to catch up. Because, I’m sorry to say, it isn’t going to. The only chance our kids and our nation have is for individuals to become teachers in everyday situations.

Remember “plant a tree for your tomorrow?” Read a book and educate a child for your tomorrow. “Be the light you want to see in the world?” Be the educator you want to see in your schools.

That’s your call to action. That’s what being an educator in the future is going to mean. Forget “No Child Left Behind.” That’s a broken system with faulty wiring. The key to reinventing and reinvigorating our education system is to do it from the inside out, and that means starting with yourself and spreading it around.

Go to it.