Teachers Protecting Students: Biases

What do you see first when you look at this image? This prompt gives you a hint that there is more than one answer – if there is a “first” perception then there must be future, different possibilities as well. Much of what we see depends on how it is framed. This in turn depends on how the image is presented and how we construct our reality.

Behavioral economists Daniel Kahnemann and Adam Tverskey did work in the early 1970s that culminated in the book “Thinking Fast and Slow”. Kahnemann was awarded a Nobel prize based on this work. When we teach, we have a certain “frame” that we bring to the experience. How we contextualize experiences for students can have an effect on their learning that cannot be underestimated

  1. The Learning Environment

As teachers we bring our attitudes and biases to our work every day. If we present our classrooms as the epitome of awesomeness our students will accept that frame. If we are ambivalent or even negative about our learning environment, again, students will accept this as well.

Recently we have had to rapidly, drastically, reconfigure our “classrooms”. How do you feel about your classroom now? I suspect that this experience has been awkward, unsettling, and intense. If these biases are conveyed to students and families, can you see the danger? As a teacher you have the power to “set the tone” for an experience. Let’s draw a parallel for a moment in another situation: “dating”.

2. The Date

You have met the person of your dreams, the person who you want to be your partner for life! It is love at first, second AND third site! Now you want them to go with you on a date. What would that be like if you walked up to them or called or texted that you would like to take them to dinner and a movie and promise an awkward, unsettling and intense time?!!! I hope you are laughing! I can imagine their answer as some form of the word “no”.

Let’s rewind and try this again. What would it be like to ask them if they wanted to go to dinner and a movie and promised that it would be a familiar, comfortable and relaxed experience?!! Do you think the result might be better??!!

This applies to educational environments as well. Now, our students do not come to see us physically and we have to invite them. We are inviting them on a date to a learning experience. Consider that. We are not inviting them to dinner, not a movie, not a video game, but a learning experience. If we invite them and give them the vibe it will be awkward, unsettling and intense, how are we framing this for them? How does this affect their pre-existing cognitive biases?

3. Overcoming Your Biases First

I was an ed tech early adopter. In the late 1980s I was a high school teacher working with Gallaudette College on what a temperature sensor might look like and how it might work. Imagine doing this with an abacus albeit a high tech abacus and you get the picture. I wanted to bring that tech to my students to their benefit. It was awkard, unsettling and intense to use. I will add “frustrating” to this description. However, as a physics teacher, success depends on converting the frame of the student to one of curiosity, wonder, and adaptability. I set the tone as such and the students responded accordingly.

I want to encourage you to think about remote learning the same way. I fully understand how jarring teaching has been since March. However, if you frame this as an adventure, or as a “real world” experience, and infuse a sense of curiosity, wonder, flexibility, adabtability and relaxation into it, you will be framing an amazing learning experience. Most of all, you will find students responding positively because of their unconscious, cognitive biases.

If you want to dive into this more deeply I recommend Kahnemann’s book and the TEDTalk embedded below. What is your frame for your learning experiences that you drive? Can that be adjusted to make learning better? Is it awesome? If it is, tell us about it!!! As a great friend of mine used to tell me and helped frame my day: “Make it a great day or not. The choice is yours!”

Three Keys to Protecting Remote Students

Most of my teaching was done in the 1980s and 1990s and remote learning as it is being attempted today was not possible. Computers were pricy, internet access was through dial-up, and phones were not mobile. While that sounds like the dark ages, one axiom that has not changed is that we do not teach content; we teach students.

During my first year, a minority student was in my Advanced Physics class. Our chemistry teacher and I both saw the drop off in his in class attentiveness. At the same time, we knew of his desire to go out of state to the Rochester Institute of Technology. We became more than teachers to this young genius: we were role models and protectors. James (not his real name) was working in his family’s Chinese restaurant and upon his parent taking ill, had to work 8 hour days, 7 days a week, for months. He was able to academically excel by doing his homework while making egg rolls and serving fried rice. As teachers, we saw to it that he was able to sit in back of our classrooms and move at his desired pace as long as he did not fall behind. He visited us during our lunch and usually took a nap. James was accepted to R. I. T. and four years later he graduated with a degree. Today he is the Head of Operations for a tech firm in Maryland. I was 23 years old and was role model and protector for a genius – in fact dozens since I was a physics teacher!

You probably have many stories like this! You understand that we, as teachers, provide much more than content. We protect our students and usually feel a deeply-seeded desire to see no harm come to them. But now, they are remote. Some are unreachable while others are available through only text, voice, or two dimensional screen. How do we protect and serve as role models when so remote?

“How Are You?” – The Priceless Question

I now collaborate with and lead adult professionals but still feel that protective instinct. My first question during any interaction has become: “How are you?” Tell me! I want to know! If we spend the first 15 minutes of a 15 minute conversation on just this then it was a successful chat. Students sometimes will need to vent, laugh, and cry. Ask them how they are and they will perk up or droop. My adult son and daughter both are like this. I am like this. Your students are like this. Upon empathetically and intensely listening to them, the familiar universe of knowing them at more than a surface level reopens. You are a caring adult and “How are you?” might be the most important three words they hear all day!

The Value of Perspective

Our students rarely have the agency that the adults in their homes practice. Agency requires good information to act successfully. Never before has there been so much information and so little value to each bit. Social networks are the “Wild West” of information and the largest news outlets are posting stories with stock imagery written by quarantined reporters. How can you help students sift through the noise?

Perspective can be communicated through hopeful messaging that is positive and therapeutic.

  • Telling students “We will get through this…” may be the most positive and valuable perspective.
  • If you have a historical perspective, having a few “…did you know that…” statements in your back pocket are golden! Of course, whatever you have experienced is a greater sample size than what your students have experienced.

While I am not well-versed in history, shows like “The Crown” and documentaries like “America in Color” are invaluable sources of tidbits to provide perspective.

Accomplish Meaningful Academics

Michael Jordan is arguably the greatest athlete of the 1990s and the best to ever play basketball. His personal trainer acted in a capacity similar to the teacher-student dynamic. As his “teacher” Tim Grover, talks about a tactic he used when Michael was mentally tired at the 13:30 mark of the video below. In short, when he sensed Michael was worn down mentally, he would give Michael a puzzle to solve or a problem to work through and focus on. Having to focus on a task or problem, especially if it is a “light” task, is especially helpful to students today because it relieves them of the barrage of messaging and reminders about COVID. Yes, in some ways, a great short story or math problem set that you discuss with them may be the most compassionate and effective act of teaching you can provide to help protect your student. In this case let’s broaden “protection” to include protecting their mental and emotional stability.

As usual I am including a video with my post. Tim Grover taught some difficult students in ever-changing conditions and was exceptional.

Have you tried any of these already? How did they work for you? I am interested to hear ideas you have about protecting your students in these unprecedented circumstances. As a former teacher, I want to say “thank you” for what you are doing and let you know that your efforts are noticed. Stay safe, be well, and keep protecting our students!

Disruption for Colleges and Universities was Coming But Will Now Come Faster

The COVID-19 pandemic will stimulate change but there are areas that were already being disrupted for which the outbreak will be like lighting a match to a powder keg. One such area is post-secondary education. Multiple large-scale factors were in place and the bulk of the education system was beginning to adapt to changes that were about to occur. Now, these changes may take place almost overnight!

The Hustle is a daily newsletter that studies market trends for which I have immeasurable admiration and thanks. One strength is its simplicity. See the chart here for example. It cleanly illustrates my first point: university is unaffordable to most. The easy money of student loans which is now in the $1.5 trillion range according to Forbes is causing economic stress. I leave it to you to find a comfortable metaphor for how much $1.5 trillion totals. My best is that a 1 million people earning $50 thousand a year would take 30 years to earn enough to pay off that debt! They would pay no taxes, buy no cars and eat nothing during that time – not even Ramen noodles!

The other side of the 4 year institution equation is value. Here we have the “match being lit” so to speak. Already, families were beginning to doubt the value of a 4-year degree because students were not finding employment in their field of study. Next, employers had all but given up on finding enough qualified employees for fields that were critical! A match made in hell! What could be worse? Ask the graduating class of 2020 who paid too much for degrees in low-demand fields. What are their job prospects? The Hustle provides two case studies in real world instances. Students who live on Ramen and Hope have had to pivot to survival mode. Their faith in the college dream is dashed – to them “4-years and a great job” is a myth.

Another critical factor is what I will call “meeting the market need”. Simply, what do people need and/or want? We have already established that 2020 grads may be poorly matched to available jobs as we swoop out of the COVID-19 recession. They will need quickly retrained at no cost to students. Let’s add adults to this mix. A sharp spike in unemployment and company bankruptcies will lead to the same market pressure: adults will need retained, quickly and at no cost.

The opportunity that this will bring after a significant percentage of 4-year institutions pivot or fail is for community and technical college programs and even high schools. Over the past 15 years, career education (CTE) has retooled and modernized. Gone are the vo-techs of the past. They have been replaced with modern facilities that provide students with credentials that are meaningful to employers. That last sentence means there are jobs for these graduates. Immediately in many cases! These are mid to high wage jobs. Some are traditional programs like those in the business-related cluster. Many are in fields like cybersecurity, AI, and IoT (Internet of Things). Advance Manufacturing is now done in clean rooms with robot arms like that shown here. Agriculture now involves satellites and drones.

This megatrend will evolve quickly into disruption over the next 5 years. Do you agree, disagree or have something to add? What has you experience been – has it been like the girls in The Hustle article? What are some fields I have not mentioned that are in-demand and require a credential in lieu of a 4-year degree? Below I am embedding an “old” video on the new economy to illustrate the factors in place BEFORE the crisis. I hope you enjoy and are enriched!

Teaching in the Age of COVID-19: Tips to Increase Effectiveness

It is probable that you never imagined this professional scenario when you became an educator. Very few situations require the adaptability and flexibility that the COVID-19 pandemic has presented. When are you returning to your building if at all? What about graduation? What about the things you are anxious about that administrators are too busy with crisis management to attend to (AP courses and testing for example)? There are many unknowns! Given that I have spent my career in the classroom, in part, and being responsible for solutions whether for NASA, school districts, online products or multi-million dollar initiates, I have a few ideas that may help. Take them or leave them but I hope these are not ideas you have read elsewhere!

IDEA 1: A new definition of “success”

Many common, traditional and even ceremonial concerns now have to be adapted for this world. How will you be observed? Consider that evaluation of you as a professional will now be less about what is seen in person and is probably ill-defined at the moment. Since it is out of your control, why worry about it! This is testing and ceremony season coming. There will be few ceremonies this year and if you can, at bare minimum, pull one off using Zoom, Skype, tin cans and string, or any other technology, that is the “new”, temporary success. As for academic achievement, you did not prepare for this scenario. If you are fortunate and have an online classroom already set up, you may be far ahead of teachers who do not. Right now, doing the most with what you have is success.

IDEA 2: Focus on the new “can” not the old “can’t”

For decades classroom models have diminished the teacher’s activity as “lead lecturer” and embellished the role as “learning environment builder”. Still, teachers rely on lecture and favorite techniques for delivering content and assessing mastery. Remotely whether online or not, lecture is less effective. Additionally, content is available in a more polished, expert format from many places! So if not lecturing and responding traditionally, how can a teacher be more effective in this temporarily new world?

Two ideas: feedback and reflection. I was once presented with research that showed that feedback is among the highest impact activities a teacher can undertake with a student. If we think of coaching a sport or teaching the use of a musical instrument this becomes obvious. In remote settings, feedback is critical. Those who have worked remotely and effectively for years will attest to providing feedback via voice and video (if possible) as more effective than feedback by email or embedded comment. Hop into a Zoom room or Google Hangout or whatever works best for you! Additional five-star pro tip: pulling two or more students into a room and having them give each other feedback or work together is a reasearched-based practice that is even more effective!

I mentioned reflection and without droning on in text I will leave that as a tease for my next post. What are your thoughts about the ideas I shared above? Have you tried using web conferencing software for feedback and group work? How has that worked compared to other activity types? What questions have arisen from this practice for you? Usually I end these with a humorous video but in this case I am providing a deeper dive into Zoom as a tool.

For Administrators and Parents: Tips on How to Manage A Barrage of Sales Offers (Pt 1)

Monday, March 16, 2020. It was just two weeks ago and was the first work day that the nation woke up to the temporary upheaval caused by COVID-19. Plans of action were developed and intitiated as indeterminate directives were handed down by states and parents were in shock. At the core was the question: How do we make this work from now until (potentially) the end of the school year? As an acting CTE Director for one of my clients, I lived this with you. The result has been a flood of sales pitches and offers that may be 10 or more times what you normally experience. This post is about helping you manage the “noise”.

  1. Are they trying to solve the real problem you are having? In most cases the answer is “no”. Your problem is bridging an unforseen “Black Swan”. You are not sure what month this will end! It could be April, May, August, or last into 2021. With so little information to plan for, why should you buy programs that commit you to 3 year contracts? Why overspend on all-you-can-use offers of online courses or platforms? Many vendors are hoping for “panic buying”. Maybe you feel like Susan Enfield, Superintendent of the Highline School District near Seattle. In an Education Week interview dated March 24 the author summarized: “Enfield says her 20,000-student district will be out of session at least until the end of April. She’s wrestling with a variety of far-reaching challenges, including how her district will provide meals to disadvantaged students, what kind of child care it might be asked to provide, and how it will deliver academic lessons, remotely or in print.” Does this sound like you?
  2. Transaction or a relationship? Since the present and near-term future is so ill-defined, what are the traits of those who may be able to help? One is that you were hearing from them before the crisis and there is a glimmer of hope you will be hearing from them after the crisis. Strategic consulting was a service that used to be confined to organizations and individuals with lofty goals and money to burn. Today’s world is more complex and consultants are everywhere. (I can tell you first hand!) I am a consultant and by doctor’s or lawyer’s terms I am inexpnsive, especially for someone who has 3 decades of experience and has been in EdTech since 1986! Is the vendor offering to hold your hand through this? Does their contract mention the minimum service levels you can expect? Another question to ask is if they have hired more people to handle the extra business they expect during this crisis and if they expect to keep this extra help after it is over.
  3. Are they reputable and solvent? This is not something we think about when making a transaction. Our local supermarket may go out of business next week but we are there to buy avacados or kale and we will consume those foods if the market is in business or not. That is not true of online courses and platforms! Recently I have worked with a start-up, a group of charter schools that have been around for more than a decade, and a company that does outstanding work as they have built digital products for 15 years. I have recommended doing business with a company that is now 8 years old and just recieved $5 million in funding. I believe these are solid businesses that will ride out this storm. Ask questions of vendors about their financial stability. You run the risk of these companies going bankrupt, being bought, or using their energy on buying other companies. You need stable partners!

There is more to this and too much to write in one post. There is more to come this week but if you need help navigating these waters where most are sharks and some are well meaning, helpful dolphins, I am happy to answer your questions. In the end, there are not many products that can help you bridge this unique time because it is unprecendented! Below is a little video that might give you a much needed laugh in the midst of this termoil and chaos! If this sounds like anyone selling you something these days, run!

Why Games and Sims MUST Be Part of Your Online Strategy

In the midst of a pandemic, how could this possibly be a time for games?! Since college when I read a book called “Homo Ludens” (Huizinga, 1954 – linked to free copy from Internet Archives) I have been profoundly aware that games are more than entertaining distractions. Indeed, games are critical parts of our growth and maturity and more natural than many of the activities we have institutionally put in place. Let’s look at how games that can help you and/or your orgranization at all times but especially in a crisis.

I Have Students/Workers Online But Are They Really Engaged? How Can I Increase Engagement?

Games, where score is kept and a goal defines “winning” and simulations which are more open ended, are seen as superfluous (apologies for the long word there: read “fun, icing-on-the-cake, rewards, unnecessary”). They appear to be what we do to pass the time but are so magnetic that many times we watch each other play as much as we watch ourselves! Ironically, we also learn from the games we play. Clearly we learn less from a casual game of Bridge than from an intense, competitive tournament chess match. However, the classic parts of the learening cycle are built into most games and simulations. Consider that exposition of information, activities at appropriate levels, and feedback are typical game components. Also we are constantly being assessed by ourselves and others as we grow and compete. What makes games and simulations different is the incredibly deep engagement that is an integral part of the experience! Even casual games get wrapped up in playing trivial games on their mobile device! Why does this happen?

Greater Feedback and Efficiency

One factor we underestimate in learning environments is how grading and scoring affect student expectations: they “fail” until they reach a certain level of competence and then they “pass”. There is no level at which we pronounce a student “awesomesauce” – their reward is never having to see that content and perform those exercises again! That’s motviating right!? In contrast, games allow students to succeed and fail in environments where the consequnces and lables are less severe. How many more times would you try something if you could simply work at it until it is mastered? What if you could get a friend online to help you – would that make it better as well? Indeed, game environments are designed to be more appealing than most educational environments (textbooks among them). Also, if a consumable material is used up in real life it must be replaced at a cost thus reducing the practice opportunities but in a game, practice may recur as much as the player/student needs or wants. I collaborated with a wonderful company, Second Avenue Learning in Rochester, NY, years ago to build cutting edge virtual labs to be used by students as supplements and complements to their “hands-on” labs. Virtual labs were safer for hazardous labs and more cost effective for students who wanted to achieve mastery: the “awesomesauce” level. Yes, these were simulations, not games, but the level of engagement was significantly higher. This resulted in students spending a greater amount of time in the experience and enjoying greater satisfaction. While “engagement” is a fuzzy metric, time in experience, achievement, and satisfaction serves as adequate proxies.

Fortnite for Your Students?

Am I proposing we all have our students hop into Fortnight and spend hours on the couch shooting away using their favorite weapon? Of course I am not! But if you are wondering how to engage students that you are not seeing face-to-face then it is time to be creative and to innovate. Minecraft is a simulation environment that has been a compliment to every curricular area for over a decade. Looking forward, VR and AR experiences are just around the corner that provide amazing simulations of content like that for an OSHA 10 course! I am proposing that it is time to consider or double-down on games and simulations as part of your learning strategies, especially because they leverage online delivery and improve engagement. Who knows – YOU might have more fun as a teacher or administrator or parent schooling at home too!!!!

I would LOVE to hear about your successes with games and simulations. Also, if you have questions so does someone else – ask in the comments below. I am a gamer and educational consultant and may be able to provide some help. As usual I am leaving you with a video. This user-created video shows the power of a simulated environment as well as the type of product that can be created by an individual or group. Game on!

For Administrators: Shifting to Online Schooling

You’ve been told to shut your school down and shift your students, teachers, staff and curriculum online. Is that realistic? Here is some advice from someone who has been in education for 30+ years, built online products and implemented programs in large online schools.

The “Black Swan” crisis that is challenging how we do almost everything exposes weaknesses in operations and systems but also creates opportunities. I have a client that has been charged to accomplish the daunting task of shutting down their schools for an unknown amount of time but keeping the learning going. I’ve helped them meet this challenge but watched them struggle with basic issues like students and families who do not have internet and a lack of standardization across their schools of software stacks and curriculum. This challenging time will pass – what should they be thinking about to prepare for the next pandemic or other crisis?

Pockets of excellence, standardization and more. There will always be master teachers who are cherished gems in our schools. They create and represent the best in teaching but present a challenge because they are not easy to replicate! The outstanding is usually not average and the common is not outstanding. The most common way to create uniformity and scale it through standardizing. It is critical, in fact, to standardize what is taught, how it may be taught, and what tools are used for learning.

To standardize online learning requires tools that many districts have not fully implemented like online curricula, common learning systems (LMSs), student information systems (SiSs), and catalogs of aligned lessons (LORs, CMSs, other repositories). I could write ad nauseum about how standardization is the key to scaling your best results to the online environment. While standardizing is key, it is not the only critical factor. While being necessary, it is not sufficient.

Having an efficient, harmonious online school where robust learning occurs requires the software platforms used to fit together as precisely as your school buildings. Think of it in this way: what are the digital foundations for your experiences? For example, do grades seemlessly flow from a computer-graded quiz to the overall gradebook and grades update into a SiS? There is a graduate school-level word for this: interoperability. I could write the formal definition here but the concept is summarized by the following question: does your software, hardware, systems and other components of your experience work together efficiently and effectively? If you have online courses from different providers, multiple LMSs, an untidy or incomplete CMS and repositories, then you may have great standardization and still be suffering.

What are the successes you are experiencing as you tackle this challenging time and providing online experiences? What are areas for growth and opportunity? In my work I work with specific packages of tools and interoperability standards such as WCAG 2.1. If you have questions I would be happy to spend a free, 30 min session with you and your key professionals to understand your challenges and suggest a way forward. These next weeks will be interesting and challenge and will usher in the chance for education to evolve. I am here to help. I end most of my blogs with a video that is either interesting, humorous, or both. I hope you enjoy the video below and do not find that these are metaphors for your digital systems!

Working and Schooling From Home: Communication!

Two studies were conducted in 1967 and the results merged to communicate a result that was not fully accurate (Mehrabian & Wiener, 1967 and Mehrabian & Ferris, 1967). Nevertheless it has proven useful in teaching people how to communicate, especially in sales and politics. The result communicated: the effectiveness of communication relies 7% on the words used, 38% on the tonality of the voice, and 55% on body language. The ultimate irony is that this results of studies on communication were – MISCOMMUNICATED!

You may be home for another week of indefinite productivity and achievement while able to communicate withfew people face-to-face. I have worked remotely in different ways for 20 years and I have a few suggestions that I hope help.

  1. Do not allow yourself to become an overly isloated hermit! For some introverts this situation may feel like heaven and yet strong, healthy relationships are needed on personal and professional/school levels. In times of crisis or stress this is even more true. Without being a pest, touch base with as many people as possible each day. Not only do you need this but they may as well, especially if they live by themselves. A quick text, email or call with positive information or a mildly inspiring message can change the momentum of your day and theirs.
  2. If body language and vocal tone are important, what should you do about it? I recommend escalating how directly you communicate beyond what most people would consider “normal”. Why? Texts and emails are frequent sources of miscommunication. Emails can become long – too long to read in fact. Text only if you must. Usually texts are critical when there are quickly developing situations and that may still hold. Emails are effective when a few sentences. In both cases, reread what you have typed an extra time to be sure your communicating will be recieved accurately. The studies cited above may not have been accurate but tonality and body language is vital. If an email drones on, scrap it and make a quick phone call. Better yet, reach out via a web conferencing app like Zoom. Many conferencing tools are offering free use while the COVAD situation continues.
  3. Be crisp. A mentor once recommended the book “Revising Prose” by Richard A. Lanham. I have never been captivated by English or Writing classes but this was the most practical book I have read on how to be crisp and concise. I strongly recommend it. The book is available for free at The Internet Archive. Simple guidance is provided in a humorous and easily read format and will help portray your ideas the way you want them portrayed.

Communicating may be the most difficult skill to apply when working or schooling remotely. To recap, touch base with many people daily, lean heavily on phone calls and video conferencing, and if you are using text and email, be crisp. Whatever the percentages, body language and vocal tone are exceptionally important. Excellent communicators understand that using a “pause” or “pregnant pause” may take the place of whole sentences but the timed silence does not come through in written words. What are other pro tips that work well for you? What situations present challenges when communicating remotely? Let me know in the comments section even though they will be minus body language and vocal tone! As always, be well and be healthy! If you need a smile, please enjoy the video below.

Working or Schooling From Home: Staying Sane!

It’s the end of the week. Give yourself a pat on the back! You’ve made it through several days of unexpectedly working or schooling from home. How do you feel?

Very few of us feel comfortable suddenly spending so much time in a confined space. The time we are home might be a drastic change from past routines. Below are a few tips to help with your emotional well being and sanity.

  1. Routines: The “Commute” – Your commute is gone! However, not only are you not fighting traffic, tired and grumpy in your car – you also have lost time that is normally spent preparing or decompressing. Mental rehearsal of the day to come and emotional detachment at the end of a work day are important norms for many people. These routines are not built into the day any more. SOLUTION: Be mindful of the routine change and act. My solution is that I leave the house every morning to get a coffee and breakfast sandwich. The bread goes to the dog as a treat while I munch on bacon and egg. At the end of the day my wife and I take a ride to someplace close but interesting. While my “new routines” involve my car, yours may involve exercise, walking, reading, meditating or other activities you set time aside for and have a physical component.
  2. Routines: Exercise – Work and school from home can deteriorate into hours in a chair in front of a screen. After the work or school day is over, you might feel tired or overwhelmed and need a hug and a latte instead of a trip to the gym. SOLUTION: One habit is to work out at your desk every hour. Stretch or use a 5 pound or 10 pound kettle ball to lift “mini weights”. Walk around your apartment or house. Emerge onto the balcony and breath some fresh air. During meetings, stand and if possible, create a standing desk for yourself. Check you posture often. At the end of each day, look at these suggestions as a check list and if you cannot check all of the boxes tomorrow is always a chance to do better!
  3. PRO TIPS When using a “screen” use 2 if possible! In this case, the more the merrier and size matters. Larger screen sizes prevent headaches from squinting.

Most of what I have suggested so far is physical. I have heard it said that our physiology affects our psychology and working from home illustrates this. While working from home can be a great way to build work-life balance, it also may feel like imprisonment! Do you find this happening to you? What are the things you do to avoid feeling like you are “tied to your home work space”? Feel free to leave comments below – after all, I work from home too and your comments are a great way to connect when otherwise that would not be the case!

A classic! Listening to music keeps mind,
body and soul balanced while “grinding” away.

Working and Studenting at Home: Tips and Tricks

I’ve worked remotely for almost 20 years – primarily doing my work partly or completely from the same places I sleep and get mail: home. I have also taken online courses and even taught a couple. If you are tackling this for the first time, here are some thoughts and pitfalls that might help you avoid some of the minor pain I had at times. If you are a seasoned remote worker, maybe you will find humor below!

Lifestyle

Let’s toast the good life! No commute, no dress code unless you are on video conference calls, and unlimited time with the ones you love – right?

  1. Animals – “man’s (people’s) best friend” loves having you home all the time! The problem is that he does not realize you are not in “friend mode”. They will want to play, eat, or go for walks as long as they see you not doing anything important – and to them, you are never doing anything important! My favorite solution for this is to bring them closer to my work. In my office at home I make a space for our dogs by laying blankets and bring their crates or houses near me. I want them to be comfortable and able to enjoy their favorite activity: sleep. Cats are more complicated and in my early days as a “remoter” a cat I owned spilled water onto my computer destroying it. Lesson learned!
  2. Food and drinks – I am a constant “sip and snack” eater. Confession time: I often have water and coffee or water and a caffeinated soda on my desk. Sometimes I have all three! My first piece of advice comes from #1 above: keep food and drink on the side where a spill will not bring your work life to a halt! I have a small, old-time fold-out table I use only for this purpose. Try to get away from your desk if you are eating a true meal. It is too easy to eat breakfast while ramping up on emails or fielding calls. Manage that 15 min break into your schedule and even eat with your spouse, partner, kiddos or pets. The different conversation and scenery will help!
  3. The humans you live with – your family and/or roomates may not understand that you are physically there but not mentally or emotionally available during certain times. This can be heartwrenching if you are caring for younger children who like to crawl on you in random ways. Set expectations that are clear. Enforce them. You can be kind while doing that but even the act of setting and enforcing boundaries is a form of kindness. Reinforcing these boundaries are key. I set up a small desk and chair in my office so my wife feels free to come in and work with me any time. Below is a video that may resemble our worst nightmares:

Maybe the most important message is that everyone who works remotely understands it may occasionally be less smooth than working at “work”. Meetings have more interruptions because the technology may be inefficient. Even without that, working remotely means we are within talking distance of animals and people who may not know nor care about us as workers but who love us as people. Most others are tolerant of the minor glitches and circumstances you may be going through.

I could share many stories about my remote working experience but will save that for another blog. What about you – what are your stories or remote working bliss or horrors? Do you have a certain problem you find it difficult to solve? What are other tips – what works for you? Let’s hear from you in the comments below!

Schooling at Home Made Easy: Scheduling

You never planned to be a student doing your school work at home or a parent with at home schoolers and yet here you are! Consider this post and posts to come a lifeline. I am the parent of two young adults who both survived many years of schooling at home! I have also been in education as a teacher, product developer and product manager among other things for more than 3 decades. I am hoping I can help YOU:)!

5 pairs of hands making hearts.

Scheduling

This post is about how important setting up a daily schedule is. This is not only true for academics. It is true for life. Here are a few important pro tips:

  • Sleep in but wake up at the same time every day. Teens and young adults need more sleep than people in their 30s through 50s. Just watch them! In general, until people are age 25, their brain is still forming and the extra sleep is necessary for cognitive development, especially good judgement. Start your “school day” at 10 am if you must! Most important is a consistent start time. When I homeschooled my son, he was up at 9 and working by 10. In case you are wondering, he was usually in bed at 11 PM and managed to sleep a solid 10 hours a day!
  • Actual schooling only requires 4-6 hours! That’s right! Think about the typical school day. Time getting ready. TIme on the bus to and from school or in the car. Time for lunch. Change of class. Study hall. Get it? If a student has 6 classes, each 50 min long, they are really spending just 5 hours IN class. Much of that time is collaborating, practicing, and researching – not nose to the grindstone:) Our day was 10 AM – 4 PM with a one hour lunch break to play Madden. In case you are not familiar with online football games the name of the game might not be familiar but we had to eat lunch – why not make it fun!
  • Learn at Small Intervals (L@SI) aka “chucking” is always a good idea. The human brain can only hold so much information in its short term memory. Study for 15 min and you may have reached capacity! After 30 min – definitely! So working on something for hours straight is futile! I could go on about this as this is a cornerstone of my learning to learn coaching. Have your student work in intervals of 10 – 25 minutes. Good teachers break up their class rarely having an activity last more than 10 minutes. You might not be actually teaching of course but you can remind your student(s) to take a 5 min break. In fact the greatest help is reminding them to take a break, then helping them refocus.

In days to come I will try to post more to help you with these unique times. What do you think of these suggestions? Would you like me to dive more deeply into any of them? How are they working for you? What other areas are you finding difficult? Please leave a comment or email me – and remember we’ll all get through this – together.

A True (Reluctant) Super Hero

(This is a post I created originally on August 25, 2012 – enjoy!)

Armstrong

Neil Armstrong – Hero to at least one 6 yr old:)

…on the radio today, came the sad news that Neil Armstrong, the first human to walk the surface of a place not called Earth, had passed on. This of course is not the first time that something that Neil Armstrong did made me stop what I was doing and ponder.

I was almost seven years old when I was transfixed by an event that was truly history. Think for a moment about the great fortune involved! Television had been improved to the point where much of the Earth could see his first steps on the Moon. It was relatively new, at that time, seeing events that were both momentous and live. I recall having a front row seat near my grandfather’s television, to watch the Neil Armstrong’s actions, and hear Walter Cronkite narrate as if he was a long lost friend of the family. That event was witnessed live by more of the Earth than had ever witnessed anything simultaneously before. It makes reality TV look paultry in comparison. It was one of the greatest moments of the 20th century. (Here is a link to the youtube video of the event – it is 5-6 min in length)

Neil Armstrong was one of the most unlikely people to be in the center of that moment. He lacked what we see from most reality stars today: an unabashed desire for attention and fame. He was a test pilot and a darn good one. He wanted to be great at what he did. At the same time he was unassuming and modest. He wanted to explore and push the envelope. He was cut of the same cloth as Chuck Yeager and those who risked their lives in the Mercury and Gemini programs before Apollo.  For background, see the movie “The Right Stuff!”

A key here is that he wanted to explore. To find new things – new data was part of that exploration. I was treated to a lecture many years ago by Dr. Paul Lowman, a NASA scientist charged with making both Armstrong and his partner on the Moon, Buzz Aldren, lunar geologists. He blatently admitted that most assumptions about lunar geology were as far from what Armstrong discovered as if the Moon had been made of green cheese! While many smarter people watched on Earth, Armstrong was the first to encounter the dusty surface, covered in fine-grained particles that defied even the typical behavior of Earth dust.

What came of this was a spark to my interest in science. I wanted to be there, or rather, to go to the next place to explore. I wanted to take new data. I wanted to push the envelope and done what I saw Neil do that day. Unfortunately I was too tall! (I will save this side story for another day) However, an entire nation of scientists and engineers were spawned from seeing this event. Truly, it was a “giant leap” of inspiration.

I have two questions for you. First, if you were alive then, how did this event change your view of the world and your life? Second, alive then or not, when was the last time you expored the unexplored?! When was the last time you too a risk to find out information, see a place, or view a problem, differently than anyone before you? These stories provide inspiration to people like me, and others who are curious about the world(s) around them.

Neil Armstrong was not a “scientist” in the purest sense of the word. In any sense, he was and still is an under appreciated, private hero worth the significant place that he has taken in the history of our species.