Friday, June 22, 2018

Another reason why Croatia rocks

Yesterday I saw Croatia kick Argentina's ass.  (I'm talking about Russia 2018, for those of you who may be unaware of the truly important world events!) A very well-deserved win for Croatia. 

In the anticipation of the match, my Croatian friends and family had been surprised any time I expressed my genuine concern that Croatia would beat us. We all know that pretty much anything can happen in a World Championship, so I stayed open. Whatever I anticipated, I did not see a 3-0 coming. (Until the match was in progress, that is!)

Knowing that a defeat is a possibility doesn't make it less disappointing. For me, there was no way of losing, considering I am half Croatian and I live in Zagreb. But I rooted for Argentina, as any time we've faced Croatia in sports.

Back home, in Buenos Aires, the FIFA World Cup happens in winter. Here in Zagreb, the championship is an occasion for summer partying. Not that Croatians need a reason to go party.

I have been using the excuse of evening matches to get out of the house and gather with friends. Yesterday was no exception, but I confess I had apprehensions. I have seldom felt safe in a crowd of football fans who happen to also be drinking.

I don't know about the whole of Argentina, but I do know Buenos Aires well. Well enough to wonder if a dozen Croatian supporters in BA, would have felt as safe as we did yesterday evening. Including all the heart-warming messages I got before and during the match.

I went out in the street wearing my national colours an honouring Croatia with bright-red nail polish. Surrounded by a small bunch of friends wearing Argentine vests, we were anything but inconspicuous as we parted the waters of a checkered sea of Croatian fans.

We took our small corner, and those around us acknowledged us, asked some questions, made space for us and let me hang my handbag from their chair, place my beer on their table.

Croatia beat us. 3-0. They wiped us, actually. It was painful to watch, but it was beautiful to see our fellow Croatians cheer and be merry. Every time they celebrated a goal, the ones closest to us turned and showed genuine joy, of course. But it was accompanied by what felt like heart-felt compassion.

There was zero arrogance in their manner, and late into the night, walking through the spontaneous parties happening everywhere in the city, people would approach us and tease us a bit, but invariably in good spirit, and with a tone of camaraderie that you do not find in Argentina, even in friendly matches. 

Little do Croatians know that our way of celebrating sport rivalry is way more aggressive. I hate it. We often celebrate our rivals' defeat more than our own victories. Winning doesn't seem as important as seeing our rivals bite the dust, and it is not unusual for all of that "merrymaking" to get out of hand and turn into aggression.

Could a dozen Croatians have watched the match in BA surrounded by the same generous spirit? It's unlikely.

Croatia's happiness was contagious and it felt easy to feel happy for them. I will not go as far as saying that it got me to celebrate. I was  somewhat deflated. But the partying and celebration had everything to do with Croatia securing their spot in the next round, and playing pretty good football, and nothing to do with Argentina losing.

Svaka čast, Hrvatska! Proud to call you home.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Why Storytelling?

I've been wondering how come I've written so little about Storytelling, considering it is probably the invisible thread that connects my career and, more importantly, that I believe it to be humanity's pre-installed operating system.

But it is not that I haven't written about Storytelling. I have. Heaps. I have just not done much formal writing.

I am doing some serious e-decluttering and I am coming across a lot of stuff I have written for different purposes. Even a few journal entries I started at a moment when I thought that I might start typing instead of filling notebooks, but that's beside the point.

For someone who has not written much about storytelling, I have written enough. The favourite bit of what I've come across so far is this, which I wrote in an abstract a couple of years ago:

Storytelling is the most natural way of provoking thought and reflection, communicating ideas, and sharing emotions and knowledge with one another. There is reason to believe that people have told stories to one another, for as long as humanity has had speech.   Sharing stories helps enhance virtues such as empathy and compassion, heals emotional wounds, fosters human contact, provokes thought and reflection, promotes global mindedness, makes us care for others and our environment. Research shows that children who know their family history have stronger self-esteem than those who don’t.   Storytelling also complements the school curriculum by improving literacy and communication skills. It is also beneficial for language learning/acquisition and a convenient resource for differentiated education. It is to be hoped that as they recognize its  invaluable benefits, schools and parents will engage more in storytelling and reclaim the essence of human relationships. (April 28, 2016)

That's pretty much my creed.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

About Home and School Relationships

The relationship between home and school is one that occupies my mind a lot. Parents and teachers, who represent the  partnership that will be the most influential in a child's upbringing, often establish relationships of competition instead of collaboration.

My method of observation is informal, but my universe is quite ample. Workshop attendees (parents and teachers!), school leaders, siblings, friends, and occasionally strangers. Argentina, Croatia, China, Emirates. Public and private schools.

Parents feel judged by teachers, and teachers feel judged by parents. Everybody seems to have different ideas about what job is whose, and very few seem to establish relationships of mutual support.

I do not intend to assign blame. That's philosophising backwards in time, and I don't see the point right now. However engaging that exploration might be, it would not be constructive.

While I am not pointing fingers at either "party", I do assign responsibility. Isn't it undeniable that there is only one side of this pair that comprises people who are professional educators? Isn't it part of the school's job to teach parents to consider the teacher as an essential partner in their child's education?

Schools seldom train their teachers in effective parent-teacher communication, and they are certainly deficient in providing education for the parents. How many schools have their teachers do lectures for parents? How many schools have an open-door policy? Are parents bringing their professional and personal strengths into school activities? Or are they only invited to watch performances that show little of what the children do day to day?

Are schools effectively communicating their mission, and the why they do things the way they do them? Wouldn't we all be better off if schools were working hard on a daily basis to communicate their mission and realise it on a daily basis?

School is often the first experience of the world beyond the family circle, both for the children and their parents. The effort to build a relationship of trust and mutual respect, and the agreement of acting always in the child's best interest should be a basic pact, and it is the school's responsibility to initiate it and create the community culture that will promote strong home-school ties.

So while I will "defend" teachers with might and main, here is something where  positive action is mainly in their hands. Go talk to parents about the illusions that make your eyes spark. Bring them on to your vision and make it happen!

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Here's an idea! 💡

I am drafting a manifesto for an awesome project I am involved in, and seeking inspiration I returned to Iceland's Core Manifesto.

I urge you to read it. It is a faith boost. For a sneak peek, here's the very first bit:

We wish to build a community in which people both can and want to use their skills to the fullest. It is important to ensure stability in economics and to maintain trust in politics and the government’s institutions. We only engage in factual debates and contribute to decent polity with an emphasis on transparency and good morals.
Public interest instead of private interest. Each individual, home and company shall be treated equally.
Natural resources belong to the entire nation. They are to be used sensibly and paid for in quotation.
It goes on. Really awesome. It sparked one of my idealistic ideas. Tell me if you think it is implementable! I think it is a good draft :)

Citizens and residents pay taxes. In the best systems, they pay taxes in proportion to their wealth and income, so let's assume we are in one of those, or trying to get there.

Suppose that for each citizen we combined the following data:
  • taxes paid
  • positive impact of job (for example teachers, caregivers, health workers, public servants, etc, would rank higher than other occupations)
  • services rendered to the community (like volunteering, being a student, support of xx initiatives, etc)
  • you probably get my drift. 
The data would combine (algorithm?) and create a category or percentage number representing the value that an individual contributes, not exclusively through money, but through habits and occupation.

So every tax payer would be in a category of contribution that would translate into how much they are charged when using public resources. Why would a tax-paying teacher pay the same price than a foreign tourist to enter a National Park in their own country? Or use public transport, for that matter?

The benefit alone might encourage people to contribute responsibly, and be an incentive to go the extra mile to support and add value to their communities.

Call me naive, but I believe not much stands between our reality and a social pact like the proposed above. One of them is our reluctance to acknowledge that mediocrity is self-determined and starts with low aspirations; another one is that we lack a few more believers with the ambition to work for the public interest, rather than just for themselves.

Friday, April 27, 2018

About Efficiency in Education

There’s no denying that an enormous portion of everything that is wrong with formal education, is the consequence of greed. Of individuals, corporations and/or governments who knowingly or out of ignorance made a marketplace out of one of our basic human rights.

Perhaps more subtly, but with equally disastrous impact, another aspect of the rules of economy penetrated education with tragic consequences: the search for efficiency and scaling.

The most substantial aspects of education were never about getting from A to B using the minimum resources possible, for crying out loud!

Schools have a singular array of stakeholders (parents, children, teachers), imposed regulations, restricted budgets. It is beyond obvious that educational institutions need to be managed efficiently. A retired school principal would consider the challenges of running a small company a side job.

Efficiency, though, was never the objective of teaching and learning. It is precisely in the inevitable detours in the journey from A to B that the opportunity for learning is maximised. It it is the zigzags and the obstacles that reveal to us the juiciest information, if we care to learn. About ourselves, and others, and who we are together,  and the world.

Consider the 21-century skills: a set of abilities that, together with traditional skills like literacy or math, will ensure our kids' success in the 21-century: Communication, Collaboration, Creativity and Critical Thinking.

How on earth are we to model, nourish and foster those skills in our students? We invented a system to "distribute" education better, and it seems now we must serve the system before we serve the true purpose of education  and our students themselves.

Human skills cook slow. They are taught human-to-human, they take time and they are not easy to scale or benchmark. We can make lesson plans, but a part of the plan is to leave room for our students' voices to be heard and developed, and for reflection and goal setting. Home and school environment are crucial to healthy human development, we know.

Schools must reconnect with their essential purpose of equipping their students with the tools necessary for them to realise their life purpose. Teachers must reconnect with the dreams that brought them to the profession so that they can try to create in their classrooms, the world they aspire to build. Home and school must stop the competition and blame-laying,  and work in collaboration towards raising grounded children and building strong communities.

All of the above is a shortcut -if not the only path- to sustainability, and an increase of individual and collective wellbeing. The only starting point possible is individual effort, and the scaling will happen when enough members of my generation venture out of their comfort zones.

If all of us raised up to the challenge of being deliberate role models for our young ones and decided to live up to our ideals and dreams, we might be able to cause a true education revolution without even a hint of school reform.

Wouldn't that be efficient?

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Sunday ramblings

I am finally back home "for good" after about 6 months of mostly being away. I am grateful that I escaped a chunk of the harsh winter in Europe, got to be in Buenos Aires for 5 weeks, also in China x 2 and Emirates x 3.  Not weeks. Times. Three mindblowing storytelling friends. Anyway, I am grateful that what keeps me away  is meaningful and stimulating and all round awesome.

My work trips both stretch me and expand me. They trigger endless lists of conversations, ideas, new knowledge and friendships that I want to follow up on. (Incidentally, I admit that around this time, a lot falls through the cracks. Don't hesitate to give me a nudge so that I follow up on something if you feel this may be the case, please! I appreciate it.)

Anyway. I've been doing this long enough that my yearly calendar has a pattern. I plan all my long trips between October and April and then spend the bulk of my time in Croatia between April and September, including family and friends visiting.

While I am away, my rhythm is dictated by everything necessary to deliver what we've promised. It is full-on and awesome and 90% social, but there is little room for improvisation. "Home" is where most stuff that requires unscheduled time, improvised food, access to my books and notebooks, etc happens. Home is where I can allow plenty of room for the unplanned.

It's become very evident to me now that another pattern has emerged.  Last year I noticed it but I thought it might be related to the timing of TED. I hit the ground running in that direction. (One day I may write about how that TED process is one of the scariest and most growth-inducing things I've done.)

But anyway, the thing is that last March/April, I was dreading TED and trying to distill big ideas and beliefs into a homeopathic dose that would be relevant for anyone who had to/cared to listen to me. Succeed or die trying. Or anything you can manage within that range. And that forced me to spend a lot of time with its numerous possibilities and a blank page. Or a hundred. And a lot happened, because many ideas were totally wrong for TED but totally right for me, so lots of purposeful inspiration and expanding ideas. 

Together with the grateful awareness of what my long absences from home do for me, I have also learnt to acknowledge that at the end of the stretch, I am feeling a bit uprooted and in need of replenishing, to say the least. I don't mean nourishment, of which I feel I have lots of all the time --at least in mind and heart. Worn out.

By the time the spring tour in China is over, though, I am looking forward to recovering my natural rhythm, which is quite the opposite of a routine, but has a delicious flow to me. It takes me weeks to get back there. I know exactly what to do to find my own cadence, really. But I've not managed to reach a grown-up level of self-regulation yet. (Not surprisingly, I've done more and better since accepting this flaw lovingly, and improving on it slowly, than when I was beating myself up for it.)

The ideal would be to get home, put the house in shape, including buying fresh groceries, getting everything administrative and/or tedious out of the way, tie all the knots of what I've just done and then, with a rub of my hands and a clean desk, start the new projects.

This above is always my intention. I swear. I write lists, and lists of lists. And I commit to be unpacked and half-way through the laundry and cleaning within 4 hours after crossing my door, which I recommend to anyone who travels frequently.

When I arrive I feel so wired that I do the unpacking, cleaning and laundry pretty quickly. Except when I unpack, I use my dining-room table to place smaller stuff, that takes longer to put away, and my toiletries remain in a ziploc and I unpack them on a need basis. 

I give myself a day, and the next morning I start with the urgent tasks and stick to my intention. Soon I also start ordering books, because I want them here by the time I'm ready for them. I obviously start catching up with people both socially and professionally, which is delightful but at the same time, the mother of all evils.

I don't hang out with people who do small talk. The people I love hanging out with, are capable of very present conversation.  Which inevitably leads to all those ideas I am "containing" to come to life. They just can't wait, and neither can I.

I arrived home twenty days ago and here's a sample inventory of stuff I've done or am in the process of doing: I have joined and expanded a team working on an ambitious project for Croatia about which I will write more soon. I've written some stuff that I actually approve of and I hope to one day be able to call "my book".  I've caught up with most of my main people and dogs. And I just got back from Osijek, where I did a workshop which in itself, deserves a separate post. It was a delight to be part of that for a bit!

In the meantime, the sample inventory of what lies on my dining-room table includes (and is not in the least limited to!) headphones, Chinese mobile, Chinese ATM cards, some yuan, my handbag (but that's obvious), mail, bills I need to archive, receipts for expense report, cables/chargers, among others.

I'm not apologising. Among the pleasures that I should have delayed but didn't,  I couldn't resist starting "Braving the Wilderness" the moment I got it. Early in the book, Brene Brown (one of my utmost heroines), explains this technique I had never thought of. Writing ourselves permission slips. Literally: "I give myself permission to xx" I've given myself permission to flow with what I consider the most important right now. And also to ask for help. Both work!

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Great news: Happiness is a Skill!

The founding of Positive Psychology 20 years ago (give or take, 1998) produced copious amounts of new scientific knowledge about what enables individuals to thrive.

Positive Psychology is no other than a deep, multidisciplinary dive into “what goes well” in life. And  according to its founder, Martin Seligman, “the goal of positive psychology in well-being theory is to measure and to build human flourishing[1].

There is general consensus that happiness is a construct, which means we make it.  It has a lot more to do with our perception of our circumstances than the “reality” of them. Our perception is an interpretation of our reality, filtered by our deepest (often unrevised) beliefs, the traps of our ego, the “traps” of our brain.

According to Seligman, well-being has five measurable elements that contribute to it, and are referred to with the acronym PERMA. They are:

Positive emotion (happiness and life satisfaction)

Positive Psychology is offering us invaluable information. Like the ideal ratio positive:negative emotion (Barbara Fredickson) or the isolation of 24 universal character strengths that can be improved by deliberate practice (check out the VIA Character Institute!), as well as very specific actions we can take to improve our lives. We now have the whys and the hows of our own thriving on hand!

If happiness is an “exercisable” skill, then we can learn it, develop it and pass it on from generation to generation. The mere existence of this knowledge obliges us to modify our teaching and parenting to ensure that the people in our care will be able to enjoy real success. 

I am convinced that educators who devote time and effort to their own personal growth and happiness are better teachers and parents than those who don’t. And I don’t mean “better” in a judgmental tone. I mean more effective in ensuring that their children, and possibly everybody around them, can also acquire the skills necessary for their own well-being and success[2].

Why? Because when someone works deliberately to become the person they want to be and live the life they want to be in, they inevitably enable others to do the same for themselves. We start seeing differently, acting differently, feeling differently.

21st century skills[3] have less to do with mastering the use of technology and more with being the masters of our own selves[4]. In order to succeed in a rapidly changing world, the awareness and skills necessary to ensure our own well-being are crucial.

Do we know what gives meaning to our lives? When are we most engaged? What turns us on? How can we increase our emotional intelligence? What is our individual and unique purpose? What are our strongest character strengths? Are they being well used so that we accomplish our goals? Are we practicing mindfulness? And interspersed in those questions, we should be wondering about the big ones too! What is life for? What is most important to me? What constitutes success? What is the purpose of schools?

I notice (and celebrate) a “collective” shift of consciousness. More of us are doing more to improve the relationship with ourselves and raise our self-awareness. We can attribute this shift solely to the existence of the internet and the rapid spreading –often viralisation- of new content that resonates with people. However, I think that there are grounds to believe that evolution plays an important part in this, but that’s beside the point.

21st century skills require that we are more self-aware. Working in teams repeatedly, does not guarantee that we become better at collaborating. We can be creative even when we are not artsy. How can we possibly be critical thinkers, if we are not aware of how our brains work? Can we detect the traps of the ego when communication and collaboration are required? Can we be critical without being judgemental?

So this newish science is giving us a framework to success

The more in touch we are with our authentic selves (that place within each of us that is pure and unconditional love) the less the ego gets in the way of our ultimate goal of happiness for ourselves and others.

Kindness takes over. Compassion and forgiveness start to become a habit of mind and heart. Failure dissolves, as it is accepted as part of every process. With the extinction of failure and the assumption of our guaranteed imperfection, we become more daring, and thus more creative.  

While I believe that Positive Psychology is a gain for humanity in general, there is no doubt in my mind that educators need to jump at any and every opportunity to deepen their knowledge of it. More importantly: apply the knowledge to themselves and create learning environments that advance it in their classrooms and homes.

In her book Intelligent Virtue, Julia Annas writes: “Education for well-being involves preparing children for a life of autonomous, whole-hearted and successful engagement in worthwhile activities and relationships.”[5]

Who doesn’t want that?

I dedicate this brief article to Gordana Coric, who pushed me to produce a written follow-up for content discussed in our IMPACT teaching sessions!

[1] Seligman, M. E. P. (2012). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being. New York: Atria.
[2] I understand success as being who you want to be in the life you want to live. It requires that we think and act in alignment with our authentic selves.
[3] Also known as the 4 Cs: Collaboration, Creativity, Communication and Critical thinking
[4] I go deeper into this notion in an 11-minute TED talk I did in Zagreb in May 2017.
[5] Annas, Julia (2011) Intelligent Virtue. Oxford: Oxford University Press.