Tag Archives: Challenging the Status Quo

Being an Other-fucused Person Can Contribute Greatly to the Common Good!

Change the World: How Ordinary People Can Accomplish Extraordinary Results by Robert E. Quinn (2000)

I like this book. I recommend it to people that are thinking about how a family, group, organization or big system (like a government) moves forward, backward or becomes stagnant. He makes the point that what seem unchangeable might, in fact, be changeable. Also like the book because it sets out the kind of tasks and paths that reasonable normal people might benefit from following to move a family, group, organization or big system toward the common good.

 

This book is ambitious and, as a result, paints a clear broad picture of what it takes to contribute to and impact groups or large systems. Complexity is embraced by the author and, therefore, his change method is not the norm. He explains and makes sense of the challenge to focus on the common good (What Quinn also called the ‘journey of collective fulfillment’) for organizations and groups of people.

 

Quinn makes the point that he feels that ordinary people can become profoundly affected as change agents.

 

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Probes and Questions Can be Valuable to Expand Learning

Change Your Questions Change Your Life by Marilee Adams

The title is straightforward and true, both from my experience and from watching others that are excellent at asking good questions. Not questions to ‘trip people up’ – but questions that help to further everyone’s understanding of the topic. On one level, this concept of ‘changing your questions will change your life’ sounds one dimensional and I am here to tell you that Marilee Adams’ message is complex and daunting. Daunting because just wanting to make this kind of change is just a beginning. It can be a challenging and very proactive journey. I recommend this book to folks who are intentional about self-growth. For anyone who wants to contribute to groups in positive ways and who wants grow and learn – this is a good read!Change_your_questions_change

This is a great read!!!!!

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Solacers: a memoir by Arion Golmakami

I really loved this book! Golmakami voice brings a captivating depth to his early life’s journey.

It is written with courage, honesty, love, and hope. The boy’s life story is unnervingly entrancing and depressing while also being dramatically fascinating due to his resolve to keep on keeping on. This memoir tells the story of an Iranian boy who becomes an abandoned child as a preschooler. This makes him an orphan. It is complicated because both of his parents are alive and have families they are raising, yet he is not a part of either of their families. Conditions get arranged from time to time to attempt to have him housed, yet he is absolutely abandoned emotionally, physically and financially.

You will want to read this book because this little boy is resourceful, observant and loving – even with the isolation and hardship he is facing. He is a boy with dreams: Dreams that most anyone would discount as impossibly unreasonable. Those dreams and some good fortune allowed him to survive. Yes, survive, there were many real threats to him that could have led to his end.

As you read, be prepared for hardship, disaster, pain, desperation and unfulfilled promise. And be willing to envelop yourself in this young boy’s journey. This memoir will allow you to witness an unimaginable passage through childhood. This child’s resilience is tangible.

It was a finalist for Best Nonfiction-Stanford University Libraries- William Saroyan International Prize for Writing in 2012. Golmakami published this memoir when he was 55 years old and it covers his early years through his 17 year.

Here quotes that I found powerful and want to share.

The author writes: “Why couldn’t I have a home like his (referring to his father) children and my mother’s children?”

“While I never stopped longing for a place to call home, after two years of wondering from place to place, I had come to accept my circumstances and it didn’t matter where I was being taken anymore. At that age (7 years old) I was like water that had been spilled from a fallen pitcher into the ground; all I could do was follow the gravity and hope for a depth large enough to hold me for a while, until such a time that I could grow into a stream of my own and carve my own path through life.”

His is a story of compassionate understanding and with his intentional will to survive. He writes: “There is a unique pleasure found in forgiveness that can never be found in revenge.”

As a ten-year-old,  on his own he explains: “Loneliness, constant hunger, and boredom made every hour of every day weigh a thousand tons.” “Only ten years old and without any money or permanent address to go to, I led the life of an alley cat.” Because of my pride, “I never begged for anything, refused to touch anyone’s food, and asked no one for help.”

Golmakami writes: “I believe those who have spiritually evolved – and by that I do not mean religiously – perceive the world and everyone in it as ‘us,’ as did Momon Bozorg, while the unenlightened souls view the world as ‘me’ and ‘not me,’ while in Momon Bozorg’s spiritually driven view, we were all water of the same ocean separated only by a physical bottle called body.”

Prescription for These Times: A Thousand Acts of Civility

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As a 67 year old guy, who has been in engaged public service for decades, I believe that much can be accomplished when ‘we’ choose to work ‘across differences’ in service to the common good. I have been part of such efforts. I have seen things occur when people have focused on the common good. It can happen!

And today, here in America, it seems that ‘commonality’ is not prized. From my perspective today’s politics are ripe with discord, dysfunction and degradation of others. I agree with Parker J. Palmer when he writes that the politics of today seem to be “intent on dividing us so deeply that there will be no more ‘we’ in ‘We the People’ — and thus no way for us to reach even a rough consensus on the common good to which we can hold our leaders accountable.” He sees hope if we can breathe in new life to ‘We the People’.

I choose to be hopeful. I believe that hope is bigger than fear, discouragement and weariness put together. I also believe that action is better than inaction. This is not a time to let frustration immobilize us – We the People! The ‘us’ I refer to is everyone. People who see things differently are willing to struggle toward a better future together.

Palmer has come to the conclusion that: “Though much of our political discourse is toxic, ‘politics’ is not a dirty word. It’s the ancient and honorable effort to come together across our differences and create a community in which the weak as well as the strong flourish, love and power collaborate, and justice and mercy have their day.   Yes, that’s a vision of politics that will never be fully achieved. But every time someone abandons that vision and turns to cynicism, democracy suffers one more wound in the death of a thousand cuts.   Just as democracy can die a death of a thousand cuts, it can be given new life by a thousand acts of civility.”

Take a minute to read his entire essay, Breathing New Life into “We the People” and begin your ‘thousand acts of civility’. Begin to re-frame the situations you encounter into opportunities. Opportunities build to relationships were we ‘turn from ire to inquiry’ and all benefit from creative, respectful engagement.

 

 

 

Bridging Gaps to the Future

Each of us matters in moving forward with intentionality

We all are people and people can grow, change and evolve

Progress starts with understanding the present

“What is . . . is”

And by having a clear vision of a preferred future . . . progress has direction

Then bridging the gaps between “what is” and “what might be” becomes the mission

The work

Movement towards a preferred future will likely require:

innovation

adaptation

collaboration

welcoming the unknown

motivation to learn

deep reflection

honest evaluation

Progress comes from embracing opportunity in the middle of uncertainty

We all must be willing to use our current knowledge and dispositions as fertile ground to grow more

more knowledge, and

more willingness and ability for:

innovation

adaptation

collaboration

welcoming the unknown

being sincerely motivated to learn

deep reflection

honest evaluation

    Jerry Jennings  March 3, 2015

Practice Does Matter!!!

We are works in progress: And we are products of our past. This is true of us as individuals and as a species. Sometimes we can find ourselves thinking that change, growth, improvement or progress gets stalled or stopped. We doubt that we, as individuals or as groups, can do much more than just become resigned to stagnation.

We doubt that we can get out the rut we are in. We are pretty sure that we are not going to reach our aspirations because the journey is taking too long and the path is “crazy” confusing and unclear. We are not sure what to try to “get better” at so we can achieve the desired progress.

I have enjoyed reading and thinking about the book: The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle. From my point of view Coyle makes the case that continuing to develop, change, grow, and improve is not just possible – it is how biology works.  It is not an accident when we get good at something.  In fact, we are hard wired to be able to adapt, change and evolve as individuals – and by extension as groups.  He also reinforces my belief that effort and intentionality make a difference.

Here are some of Coyle’s thoughts:

Nature/nurture has been a terrifically popular model because it’s clear and dramatic, and it speaks to a wide variety of phenomena in the natural world. But when it comes to explaining human talent, it has a slight problem: it’s vague to the point of meaninglessness. Thinking that talent comes from genes and environment is like thinking that cookies come from sugar, flour, and butter. It’s true enough, but not sufficiently detailed to be useful. To get beyond the outmoded nature/nurture model, we need to begin with a clear picture of how genes actually work.

Genes are not cosmic playing cards. They are evolution tested instruction books that build the immensely complicated machines that are us. They contain the blueprints, literally written in nucleotides, to construct our minds and bodies in the smallest detail. The task of design and construction is hugely complex but essentially straightforward: the genes instruct the cells to make the eyelash like this, the toenail like that.

When it comes to behavior, however, genes are forced to deal with a unique design challenge. Human beings move around through a big, varied world. They encounter all sorts of dangers, opportunities, and novel experiences. Things happen quickly, which means that behavior—skills—need to change quickly. The challenge is, how do you write an instruction book for behavior? How do our genes, sitting quietly inside our cells, help us adapt to an ever-changing, ever-dangerous world?

To help address this problem, our genes have evolved to do a sensible thing: they contain instructions to build our circuitry with preset urges, proclivities, and instincts. Genes construct our brains so that when we encounter certain stimuli— a tasty meal, rotting meat, a stalking tiger, or a potential mate—a factory-loaded neural program kicks into gear, using emotions to guide our behavior in a useful direction. We feel hunger when we smell a meal, disgust when we smell rotten meat, fear when we see a tiger, desire when we see a potential mate. Guided by these preset neural programs, we navigate toward a solution.

That strategy works well for creating behaviors to deal with rotten meat and potential mates. After all, writing instructions to build an urge-circuit is relatively simple: if X,then Y. But what about creating complex higher behaviors, like playing the saxophone or Scrabble? As we’ve seen, higher skills are made of million-neuron chains working together with exquisite millisecond timing. The question of acquiring higher skills is really a question of design strategy. What’s the
best strategy for writing instructions to build a machine that can learn immensely complicated skills?

One obvious design strategy would be for the genes to prewire for the skill. The genes would provide detailed step-by-step instructions to build the precise circuits needed to perform the desired skill: to play music, or juggle, or do calculus.

When the right stimulus came along, all the prebuilt wiring would connect up and start firing away, and the talent would appear: Babe Ruth starts whacking homers, Beethoven starts composing symphonies. This design strategy would seem to make sense (after all, what could be more straightforward?), but in fact it has two big problems. First, it’s expensive, biologically speaking. Building those elaborate circuits takes resources and time, which have to come at the expense of some other design feature. Second, it’s a gamble with fate. Prewiring to create a genius software programmer doesn’t help if it’s 1850; and prewiring for a genius blacksmith would be useless today. In the space of a generation, or a few hundred miles, certain higher skills flip from being crucial to being trivial and vice versa.

To put it simply, prewiring a million-wire circuit for a complex higher skill is a stupid and expensive bet for genes to make. Our genes, however, having survived the gauntlet of the past few million years, aren’t in the business of making stupid and expensive bets. (Other genes might have been, but they’re long gone by now, along with the lineages that carried them.)*

Now let’s consider a different design strategy. Instead of prewiring for specific skills, what if the genes dealt with the skill issue by building millions of tiny broadband installers and distributing them throughout the circuits of the brain? The broadband installers wouldn’t be particularly complicated—in fact, they’d all be identical, wrapping wires with insulation to make the circuits work faster and smoother. They would work according to a single rule: whatever circuits are fired most and most urgently, are the ones where the installers will go. Skill circuits that are fired often will receive more broadband; skills that are fired less often, with less urgency, will receive less broadband. Pages 69 – 71

In this multifaceted world where forward progress often seems slow or stagnated: Where change often appears to be minimal or retro – There is a reasonable path toward developing and becoming more able to contribute in these complex times.

These are ‘our times’. We, if we want to be contributors, need to be willing to grow and develop ourselves. That means we have to be willing to “do things” poorly at first – so over time – we might do those same things with more elegance, grace and effectiveness.

What kinds of “things” might we want to get better at? That is a good question for each of us to sort out and answer. Here is my vision of what “things” we should consider being willing to “do” enough to improve our practice.

Engaging – reaching out and truly interacting with- others across differences.
Listening deeply to others by truly ‘seeking to understand, as Covey encouraged.
Collaborating with others to reach outcomes embraced by all.
Seeking the common good, as opposed to seeking to ‘win’ while others ‘lose”.

As Coyle suggestioned in The Talent Code: ”Whatever circuits are fired most and most urgently, are the ones where the installers will go. Skill circuits that are fired often will receive more broadband; skills that are fired less often, with less urgency, will receive less broadband.” So, the circuits that will help us, as a species, to get better at the four dispositions and behaviors I just mentioned are the ones we need to be “firing frequently”. Practice does matter!!!

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Leading Schools and Even Districts Where All Students Learn to Read and Write Requires Challenging the Status Quo and it Requires Leaders from All Ranks

Schools_that_WorksWhen it comes to specific variables that lead to Schools That Work: Where All Children Read and Write (2007) Allington and Cunningham (pages 44-45) report that ten features emerged that enhanced the academic achievement (e.g., thoughtful literacy) of students. Their comprehensive review of the research on school change shows that schools can make a difference. Allington and Cunningham have also reviewed the research on classrooms and have concluded that teachers, as they follow the research at the classroom level, make the difference for students in developing early literacy. By clicking in this link you can see the features of classrooms where all learn to read and write.

Classrooms can be highly productive and schools can be highly productive in insuring that all students learn to read and write.

Here are the ten features that lead to schools that work:

  • School staff committed to the idea that all children could learn to read and write, and they worked to produce that outcome.
  • Substantial investments were made in professional development – primarily investments to enhance teachers’ instructional skills and to create teaching and learning environments that support high-quality instruction.
  • Planning was reorganized so that classroom teachers were more heavily involved in school decision making. In some schools, parents and community members also joined the school site-based management teams.
  • To implement new instructional approaches, the schools invested in classroom libraries, big books, magazine subscriptions, and student anthologies. Putting books in classrooms and in school libraries makes it more likely that children will have books in their hands.
  • The schools allocated larger amounts of classroom instructional time to actual reading and writing activities while using multiple approaches to literacy instruction. Integration of reading and writing activities and integration of reading and writing with social studies and science lessons are common.
  • Special instructional programs were reorganized. Extra effort was made to connect special-program teachers with classroom instruction and classroom teachers.
  • Expanding instructional time by extending the normal school day for some children is another feature of many of the successful efforts.
  • The assessments of children’s literacy development are tied more heavily to everyday reading and writing than to end-of-year standardized testing.
  • Successful schools worked to involve families.
  • In most of the successful school reform efforts, change started small, not with a wholesale restructuring of the school. It was not unusual to find a multi-year plan for changing current practice. Long-term plans call for long-term commitments to continuous improvement – commitments from the professional staff and from the district leaders who provide the resources that support the change effort.

School districts can change. They can improve. Outcomes for students can improve.

And – don’t expect a “quick fix” or “small tweaks” or “a hidden secret you just have to uncover” to bring about these kinds of improved outcomes. Life in today’s school districts is complex and leadership matters! Allington and Cunningham have gathered the research to shine a light on the direction for that leadership to focus.  They have found that sometimes the needed leadership comes from the staff and sometimes it comes from the administration. Either way, for a whole school to become a place where each and every student can become literate – it takes leadership.

Leadership with a clear vision,

Leadership to navigate change.

Leadership to build and nurture a community with a shared mission.

Leadership to empower teachers to others to learn, grow and influence beyond their classroom.

And leadership that supports all as they explore possibilities, adapt existing practice when appropriate, adopt new paths to serve each and every student and being willing to focus on achieving positive outcomes for each and every student.

We will not have schools or districts where all students learn to read and write if we try to get there by following the path of the status quo. Change must happen. For change to be rooted into the future, it requires leadership.

It is time to consider helping to lead this important change.