Campfire Fun

Thank you to my year 9s for injecting a bit of fun at the start of today’s lesson AND giving me a huge nudge to blog. It’s been a month since the last post!

A few weeks ago, I introduced the archetypal learning spaces (Bianca Hewes makes an appearance here yet again as a source of inspiration). Since then, we used campfire, waterhole and cave on a regular basis. To my surprise today, my year 9s decided to voluntarily form a campfire because apparently, “it’s tradition” and “it’s fun”…like, checking in with each other (not quite the definition, I know, but still….). Also, one of the students used her tablet to display a roaring fire. We soon realised that this was indeed fun and a photo opportunity…..smartphones galore…mine included.


This class is shaping up to be a real community of learners, happy to be in the classroom and almost reluctant to leave even for recess or lunch. Go figure! They have become comfortable with the self-directed approach and regarding each other as resources for learning AND me as NOT a font of all knowledge…more like the font of questions! Subsequent iterations of Medals and Missions (mentioned in this post, Making Progress) are better with me being less austere with the medals (haha). I don’t even have to prompt them to do their missions…they just get done.

No deep post here; rather, a celebration. A good reminder that sometimes, things work and when they do, life’s good.


Life’s good. ūüôā

My problem with “best”

As I’ve gotten older, I’m getting more irked by the idea of “personal best” (PB) or saying “do your best”. This is an issue as many parents and teachers (and schools) I know promote the idea….I’m going against the grain.

What gives?

I have 2 main reasons.

One is the problem of definition, i.e. that we never know what best really is. There is always the possibility for more or better. I know I’m not alone in thinking this, e.g.¬†Professor John Hattie (Visible Learning) and Mark Pesce (the Next Billion Seconds: Framework)¬†– that we can be more, especially as connected beings.

If we can’t know it, how do we know we’re doing it? Even if one is to argue about its temporal and contextual nature, I cannot be convinced that it serves any merit.

Another reason is the problem of practicality, i.e. that any one ever really does their best on everything they do. What of passion then where people supposedly give 110% (leaving the rest in the negative void)? Percentages aside, it makes sense that most people would pour much of themselves into areas of personal interest and less so on other things. This does not mean shirking responsibilities but I think it is unrealistic to demand top effort on everything all of the time.

If we always do our best on everything, are we at a higher risk of burn-out?

What then?

I have 2 suggestions.

One is to ask “Can you do better?” Corollary to that is “Will you choose to do better?” I think this approach is far more empowering, as against a consolation “it’s okay, you’ve done your best”.

Another is to allow focus choice – pursuit of passion, if that’s more your language – and chill out a little on the other things. I think this is values-based such that important matters/people are given higher priority and top effort to make good.

So what?

This is only my opinion, of course, which informs how I parent my kids or teach my students or even live my life. I am much less stressed now that I have learned to chill out and not “do my best” on everything.¬†This approach has made me think a lot about my priorities.¬†I am happy knowing that though I can sometimes do things better, I can choose not to because I have more important matters to attend to.

So now you see my problem with best and how I’m getting around it. ūüôā

What makes people tick?

In a social world, real and virtual, it is likely that we’ve been baffled by how people behave or what motivates them. ¬†As a teacher, one of the biggest challenges I find is to understand what motivates students. ¬†Ditto figuring out colleagues. ¬†And if I’m truly honest, it is something I wonder as a wife, mother, friend and generally, as a citizen.

When I recently chanced on a TV show that teased “people are irrational beings and we should be surprised when they act in a rational way“, I was hooked. ¬†The show was¬†a talk by Hugh Mackay at the Sydney University on his book, What makes people tick? ¬†The Ten Desires That Drive Us (show/broadcast¬†also available on the internet; as well, there is a transcript of a similar talk but tailored for business which only mentions 7 of the 10). ¬†Mackay is a psychologist, social researcher and author.

The 10 desires that drive people:

  1. to be taken seriously
  2. for ‘my place’
  3. for something to believe in
  4. to connect
  5. to be useful
  6. to belong
  7. for control
  8. for more
  9. for things to happen
  10. to love and be loved

The desire to be taken seriously

According to Mackay these desires are connected, complicated and sometimes in conflict (think dilemma).   He said that what we do is often a mix of the desires but that the one often present, and thus perhaps the most relevant to know, is the desire to be taken seriously.

¬†It [the desire to be taken seriously] is all about the desire to be acknowledged as the unique individual each of us knows ourselves to be ‚Äď the desire to be noticed, appreciated, valued, accepted … perhaps even remembered.

This really struck me as a wonderful articulation of the interdependence of the “I” and the “other”. ¬† As I was mulling over this, days after watching the show, blog posts from my PLN seemingly conspired to emphasise the point. ¬†They all came in seemingly rapid succession.

@mrsdkrebs wrote “My one word – Voice”, a manifesto for finding and sharing her voice as well as to help develop the voices of others.

@whatedsaid¬†wrote “A little empathy”, a story of an orderly who showed empathy to a distressed elderly patient at the hospital, when others failed to do so. ¬†This post was also a call for educators to teach empathy. (aside: How to teach empathy post is personal favourite).

@colekpharm wrote “Uninvited Gift”, a personal reflection on the dilemma of medical professionals to ‘see’ the patient, constantly reminded of the “fragility of life” and “humanity laid bare”. ¬† On one hand, it provides a flipside of @whatedsaid’s post. ¬†On the other hand, it calls for the same thing – more empathy.

@billgx wrote “Overcoming Techno-Distance”, a personal reflection that echoes most of the desires listed by Mackay, particularly the human desire to connect and love. ¬† Bill wrote about the death of teen Ashley Duncan whose suicide was voiced via social media. ¬†In this, Bill echoes my question of how can we better decode social media to help those crying for help.

All of these posts do confirm what Mackay has said about desires that drive people, particularly in the desire to be acknowledged.  Perhaps knowing this is one step to understanding people, improving relationships and helping individuals.   It helps me, too, to know that yes, this is one of my desires.  This comprises empathy, respect and appreciation.

The desire to be taken seriously….

We desire it. ¬†So does everyone around us. ¬†Let’s try to fill it for at least one person everyday and perhaps the world will be a better place. How? Be there. Listen. Ask. Hold the hand. Hug. Say nothing. Acknowledge something said. Really, whatever feels as necessary….even if it is irrational; after all, we are irrational beings. ¬†

A note to teachers

Students (and kids) express this in many ways. ¬†In a classroom, this may be tricky and perhaps impossible to do all the time. ¬†However, I think it is possible to address everyone’s desire to be taken seriously in the course of the day, week, year. ¬†It probably is good to discuss this primordial desire with them. ¬†I think it is easier to conceptualise than “Respect”. ¬†Besides, quite likely, they too are wondering what makes people tick.

Of hopes and dreams

Yesterday I read 2 dads blog about their daughters. ¬†@MrWejr said his world changed a year ago. @damonayoung¬†used Nietzsche’s view of happiness to frame his view of his 3-yr old (yes, Damon is a philosopher so that’s not so surprising. ¬†What surprised me personally is that I never would have used Nietzsche on the same line as happiness…which is why I’m not a philosopher). ¬†The love both dads have for their daughters are apparent, though expressed differently.

Beyond this articulated love, what also¬†struck me was that both said they’ve learned from their kids. Isn’t that awesome? ¬†Parenting is a 2-way learning street. ¬†I am happy for both dads as well as their daughters – they are loved!

I have 2 daughters and, for the first time and with much mulling over, I will introduce them with names – not bub1 and bub2 or Ms14 and Ms10 but as Vanessa and Megan. ¬†That’s who they are and I love them. ¬†I’m blessed to have them both and I’m very proud of them.

But this post isn’t just about expressing that love.

This is about hopes and dreams, shaped by what I have learned from them, so far.


Like Damon’s daughter, Vanessa was born with an “intense, interrogative gaze”; pensive even. ¬†She was very good with words ¬†and articulating her thoughts in a relatively clear way. ¬†We thought she would ace English as a subject….she finally got her first A in English in year 9. ¬†For years, she didn’t think she’s ¬†particularly good with words really. ¬†So what happened?

I don’t know how it is that she has literally found her voice on stage instead – singing and dancing. ¬†Perhaps it was her kindy teacher who picked her as the kindy soloist in the school Christmas concert. ¬†Perhaps it was her stint in the musical Annie playing Pepper (now the story behind that is a tale in itself). ¬†Perhaps it’s her growth to stardom in the Scouts Gang Show. ¬†Perhaps its her Year 8 Music teacher who told her she’s good and encouraged her to become part of the choir, take up singing lessons and study Music as an elective. Perhaps it’s all that and more.

Vanessa is not the best singer or dancer but she has stage presence. ¬†I am biased, yes; that’s a parent’s prerogative. ¬†However, many have told us – strangers in the audience really – who have validated such bias.

We thought she would love to pursue a career on stage but really, Vanessa wants to be a primary school teacher. ¬†She dreams of building a school in *insert a 3rd world country* and for her school to spread widely so all kids can be educated. ¬†Oh, she indicated she intends to sing to her students. ūüôā


Megan was a happy baby.  She hardly cried and settled easily.  She loved playing with and in boxes. She loved to draw.  If words escaped her Рoften Рshe would tell her story while drawing.   She was also shy.

Coming 4 1/2 years behind her big sister, she was exposed to the same things. Dance. Netball. School band. Her teachers have been known to call her Vanessa. (Truth is, though they looked alike as babies, they don’t really past the age of 3). Anyway…

We tell her she’s good at art and we’ve got tons of her artwork. ¬†Her teachers tell her she’s good at drawing; someone even told her, I’m lucky to have known you before you’re famous and that’s when Megan was in year 1! ¬†Her year 4 teacher now believed in her and challenged her to work and think harder than she’s ever had; Megan loves to cruise.

She’s given up dance in lieu of Tae-Kwon-Do. She’s also given up band which I’m a lot less happy about. ¬†What she did pick up is #massivelyminecraft. ¬†She’s a gamer! Who knew? Here she can build in digital boxes and tell her story as a 3D drawing, so-to-speak. ¬†She is learning to ask for help because it’s a good way to learn (“if you don’t learn, you die”). ¬†She is always keen to help. ¬†She is showing some ambition (she wants to be a mod). ¬†She is better at Skype than me. ¬†She can tell us stories after stories about her adventures without having to draw it for us. ¬†She has friends and mentors there. ¬†It is her world and in there she is well and truly herself. ¬†¬†Megan is less shy now. ¬†For this, I thank @vormamim and @jokay; they’re vision, dedication and skill are inspirational.

Meagn is only 10 and a little young to consider career choices.  At the moment, she is saying she wants to be an architect (yep, building!).

A note to parents

Many parents will say that all they want for their kids is to be happy. ¬†I used to say that, too. ¬†I’ve changed that now to …. all I want for my kids is to find their voice and be confident enough to express it. ¬† “Happy” is vague. “Find and use your voice” is concrete; it’s practical and achievable. ¬†It leads to happiness, in my opinion. ¬† My kids are on the their way. ¬†I am happy about that.

We expose our kids to many experiences in the hope that one of those will spark an interest, a burgeoning passion, a platform for self-expression. ¬† Let’s not get caught up in the busy-ness of all that ferrying from one activity to the next. Let’s pay attention to what is really happening and give things a chance to grow and blossom.

Help kids find and use their voices. Listen.

A note to teachers

Never underestimate your (our) influence on children. ¬†Really see them – where they’re at and where they want to be. ¬†¬†Know that most parents have hopes and dreams for their kids (quite likely to be happy, but you know ¬†better now right?). ¬†Know that some kids don’t have such parents.

Kids may look alike (there is a reason I used the photos I did), but they are not. ¬†Kids are individuals. ¬† It’s not about ‘being special’. It’s about holding one’s own – an individual in a sea of commonality.

Give kids a voice. Listen. 

To my kids’ inspirational teachers….THANK YOU!

Learn to “enjoy the process”

Chatting with a friend today, I admitted that I’m not often enjoying the present, as in the ‘here and now’. Often, my mind drifts off to what needs to be done (next) on a long list of things to do. This means, I often get things done and that’s the good part. The bad part is, it always feels a mad rush from start to finish and I struggle to truly relax.

Serendipitously, I read from the Happiness Project a tip that ties in rather well, i.e. ‘Enjoy the process‘. It is serendipitous given that I hardly visit the given website which I spotted from a friend’s blogroll.

Is this technically something I learned today? Well, not in the strictest sense. But it is a timely reminder for me as it is a lesson I have been taught – over the years from experience and from people I’ve known – YET obviously haven’t really learned. There is definitely a teaching-learning disconnect.

Life is full of processes, living included. From a morbid point-of-view, the final destination is death (notwithstanding any religious beliefs) and so it is imperative that one enjoys the processes one finds oneself in. Truthfully, there are onerous processes like cleaning toilets. Still, there are processes I do enjoy and these typically involve creativity. I like travelling, too, including the journey themselves Рmet many interesting people this way. So, there is hope for me yet.

Enjoy the process. Enjoy the journey.