On Motivation, V

And finally, let’s talk about wound and wonder. On to the “great motivator,” at least what so many of us in and outside of education call the great motivator: the grade. Ah, the grade. If I asked if the grade was motivation and motivating, most academics would shout, “Yes!!” We would acclaim and pronounced that the great motivators are achievement, recognition of achievement, and advancement, all of which are tied into “extrinsic” stuff. And, of course, the most extrinsic of extrinsic motitavors in academia is the grade.

Ain’t that simple. The grade reminds me of a dog bisquit. Wierd? Have you ever tried to entice or seduce or bribe your dog to move, to do what you want, by waving a bisquit in front of his nose with a “here poochie, poochie?” Did the dog ignore you in spite of your best efforts, and you walked away with an annoyed mumble, “dumb dog?” The grade also reminds me of a dog leash. Ever try to pull him on a leash and he dug in while you grunted an annoyed, “dumb dog?” The grade reminds me of a push or a prod. Ever get behind your dog and push its rump while it pushed back while your feet slipped and your face began to twist into a snarl as you curses, “dumb dog.” Bisquit or leash or push, you wanted the dog to do something. The dog didn’t want to do it. You didn’t know or cared what the dog wanted. You blamed the dog for not obeying. Sometimes its the same way with students. We use them to get students to do something we have already decided we want them to do. Nothing more, nothing less. And, like the biquit, they don’t necessarily work.

The grade also reminds me of a pay check. On the job, you trade hours on the right task for money. Like a businessperson, we trade hours on the right task for grades. We use classic economic theory of reward and punishment, promotion and dismissal, incentive, status, recognition. Instead of a pay raise or promotion, we give grades and bestow honors and grant scholarships. “Won’t grades, be they reward or threat, change behavior?” You ask. Sure–for now. “Won’t grades will make students do what I want. It will make them study for test and work on projects,” you ask. Sure–for now. Actually, if we were honest with ourselves, the sureity of that “sure” answer would be really a slow, hesitant “maybe.”

Whether you agree with that or not, if all these “extrinsic motivators,” as I am told grades are called, are such sure-fire motivators, why aren’t they lighting motivating fires under students. You say they are? Well, then, once again, if that is the case, why is there so much complaint about students not being motivated? It seems that grades are more like wet matches than flint sparks.

I have to admit that I am not exactly unbiased when it comes to these extrinsic motivators. I was once an ardent grade giver in my professoring decades using grades and test and papers as those briding bisquits and drag-along leashes. You know what I discovered–reluctantly. Well, maybe suddently a decade ago. These grades and other rewards/punishments only got the students to focus on getting the grades, but put long-term learning out of focus. It seemed that over the span of a term and beyond the grades had a demotivating impact. They dulled, deflated, dispirited, and ultimately both banished excitement and purpose. The result was lowered performance.

Grades. GPAs. Honors. Diplomas. we spend so much time trying to brain-wash students, and ourselves, into thinking they are important, that they are money in the bank that create a security for the future. They are supposedly a guarantee that they will make us healthier, wealthier, and wiser in the future. It can’t be that simple because as great motivators they obviously get a lousy grade as motivators.

It’s not that simple because nothing is simple, especially when it comes to human beings. It’s not that simple become nothing happens in a vaccuum. No grade or student or teacher is, to paraphrase John Donne, is an island; everything happens in relations with people: among professors and teachers; among students; between themselves; and between students and authority figures called professors and teachers. It is a combination, a recipe of various ingredient, and too often a conflict of yearning from within and day-to-day suppressing contact with surroundings. After reading journals, listening to those confidential letters, small talking, observing students in general, I’m arriving at the position where I sense that there is among most students a sense of meaningless, a sense that their talents are wasted, a sense that no one really gives a damn, a sense they are being ignored and devalued, a sense that the material is more important to us and are they, and a lot of sense of confusion. These senses are at best slowing yellow lights and usually halting red lights. These feelings silence, stifle, prevent, and paralyze. Unfairness, disinterest, distance, lonliness seem to arouse a sense of danger, a threat to safety. Whether it is dangerous or not, that is the reality for most students. The classroom appears to be to so many students an unreliable, unsafe, unpredicatble, alien, unenjoyable, unexciting, unsupportive place. And when the classroom is threatening and droll, students run for cover and cover up their abilities and cripple their “motivation.” We do the same thing. We tend to create slumbering conditions rather than awakening ones; keep the abilities in hibernation; freeze them into a state of dormancy. And those extrinsic motivators prove to be ulimately cattle prods without charges, useless sticks. They won’t improve long-term performance; they won’t promote self-directed action; they won’t develop values such has caring, honesty, respect, integrity; they won’t develop confidence and self-motivation.

You could easily see, feel, and hear all that if you intently and sincerely looked and listened. So many students find it just as difficult to see themselves. They are as often blinded as are we. They ae so groping for their own innate abilities, talents, direciton. There is so often such an emptiness, a fear, a frustration. And, they are so easily distracted by what they perceive to be so comforting. And so, they obey what I call the “laws of avoiding.” It’s not being lazy; it’s being smart; it has paid off in the past. They become learned at skimming, scanning, cutting corners, procrastinating, note-copying, fraternity file raiding, grade-getting, test taking, psyching out, silence, and even cheating. Their goal is to protect themselves, to protect their self-esteem and self-confidence. They’re in conflict between fear of failure and hope for success. There is a conflict and coincidence of the need to achieve, the need to be cared for, the need for relationships. And so, they are highly motivated to obey the unmotivating laws of avoiding. It’s easier to give in and give up, and give excuses. We teachers do it all the time with our defensive “I belive,” “I can’t” and “It’s not me.” It’s a self-con, a self-delusion, a defensive pessimism. It’s a fear of success, fear of failure, fear of chance, fear of choice, fear of decision. It’s a fear of being curious, imaginative, creative. It’s a fear of making a mistake, looking foolish, looking dumb. We all do it. It like standing on the edge of a pool, crouched over, arms waving back and forth: afraid of having to jump in, afraid to jump in, afraid of what would happen once having jumped in. So, you make believe you want to jump when you really don’t want to or see the point of having to. Better for others to believe you can’t swim than risk proving it. And so, they major in the study of “wound-ology” instead of a “wonder-ology.”

You see, I don’t think it’s right to talk of good or bad students. That is too easy and self-exonerating. I much prefer to say that students can become better and better and better if the conditions are supportive, interesting, encouraging, caring; and they can become worse and worse if the conditions are less supporting, less encouraging, duller, and less caring. As I watch students engage in the various challenging and engaging and enjoying projects that are the hallmarks of our class, I have come to see that dull dulls and hurts, excitement excites and cures. The wounds have a better chance of healing into wonder. It’s not the projects per see. It’s the absence of threat and punishment and reward, and the prsence of a lot of love and faith and, support and encouragement. Care about students, and they will more likely care about themselves and care about what they do. That is also true about us. I have found that in a positive and possibility environment students tend to accept greater challenge, are more engaged, are more entusiastic. I have found that a way to recover the meaning of learning, the value of learning, the worthiness of learning is to recover the power of the experience of learning. It has been my experience that, contrary to academic rumor, most students don’t want it easy; they do want to believe; they do want to have faith; they do want to hope; they do want excitment and enthusiasm; they do want challange; they do want to accomplish. They do want to discover, uncover, and use hidden talent and ability. Talent and ability, self-confidence, self-esteem are all both now and later, drive and lure, actual and potential, a hunger and a meal. Students just want something that is meaningful, purposeful, and attractive to them personally.

And when all is said and done, I am being somewhat long winded about changing teaching and learning habits for both us and them. And as a reformed nail-biting addict, I remember that the first step is always a killer. I know every day is a killer. It’s a killer to stop. It’s a killer to start. It’s a killer to continue. That is true when you stop drinking, stop smoking, stop biting your nails, start exercising. It is no less true of motivating and getting motivated. For the students and for us teachers. Finished.

Make it a good day.


On Motivation, IV: “The Chair”

The class had already done two of the four theme setting exercises for everything we were going to do in the class over the course of the semester. They had done what we titled, “Never Forget The Story.” We had done the “It’s Communication, Stupid” exercise. Now came the one they had been waiting for. It is the one that I always had thought was frivolus and has been slow to seeing its true meaning. It is a simple exercise. It has profound impacts. It is the one that always proves to be the most powerful. It is the one that comes up time and time and time again, as it should. It is the one the students always throw at me, as they should and I as want and as I expect. It is the one that the students mention most in their confidential letters. It is called, “The Chair.” This is how it goes. This is how it went yesterday in one class.

The setting is simple. I ask that two communities join to form into seven clusters. The clusters sit around the edges of the room leaving a space in the center. Into that middle space of the classroom I slowly carry a chair, deliberately set it down, and catch their attention by saying, “Now we are at the third oeprating theme of the class. It is known as “The Chair.”

Then, as I slowly, very slowly, walk around the center of the room, I slowly, very slowly, lay down the rules, spacing periods of my practiced silence between each statement of the rules. “There are rules. There are always rules….”

Holding my index finger high above my head, I say: “Rule number one: a respresentative from each cluster, one at a time, will come out to the center of the room. After we finish a cycle, a different representative from each cluster will come out….With me?….”

With two emphasizing fingers held high, I continued, “Rule number two: that person will introduce him/herself….

Three fingers shoot to the ceiling, “Rule number three: that person will sit on the chair, butt touching….

Rule number four: no one can sit on the chair the same way anyone else has sat on it. I’ll repeat that. No one can sit on the chair the same way anyone else has sat on it.

Rule number five: since there are consequences to eveyrthing we do, there are always consequences, should anyone violate any of the just mentioned rules, his or her entire cluster must come to the center of the room, and sound and act vividly like a barnyard animal of our choice and to our satisfaction. Do you want me to repeat the rules…………..”

There is a buzz of laughter, giggles, whispers as I go through the rules and repeat them and repeat them again. The students are turning to each other and talking and pointing and moving their hands animating how they might sit on the chair in ways no one else before them would think of. The hands shoot up and the questions begin.

“Do we decide which cluster goes in what order?”

“You heard the rules.”

“Do we decide who is going to represent us each time?”

“You heard the rules.”

“Can we move the chair?”

“You heard the rules.”

“Do we have to follow the rules in the order you gave them?”

“You heard the rules.”

“Since you said ‘on’ the chair instead of ‘in’ the chair, can we sit on any part of the chair?”

“You heard the rules.”

“Can you repeat the rules?”

I repeat them still again. The exercise began in one class with a small-large miracle. Cowanna came out and started introducing herself as no one ever had in the years I have run this exercise. “I am Cowanna. I’m a freshman. I am from (her town) and I…..

“I didn’t ask for a biography. All I….” I laughingly interupted.

She turned with a smile and cut me off. “You said we had to introduce ouselves and this is how I want to introduce myself. So, let me finish.”

“Yes ma’am,” I answered with an apologetic tone, a saluting nod of my head, and a silent scream, “Yes!!” First miracle.

Then there was Gary. He came out. “My name is Gary.”

“Tell us more like Cowanna,” someone shouted.

“Nope. It’s my introduction. That is all I want to say.”

Gary picked up the chair, pulled it to his rear end, and walked around. “Chicken! Let’s have a chicken from you all,” a few voices called out.

“Heck no. I’m within the rules. He said, ‘sit on’ the chair. He didn’t say, ‘sit down’ on the chair. I decided to ‘sit on’ the chair while sitting ‘up.'”

And I issued another silent “YES!!” Second miracle.

And then there was Heather. She came up, sat on the chair in her own unique way, went back to her cluster, sat down, and as a credscendo of “you didn’t tell who you are,” “broke the rules,” “cow,” “let’s have some pigs,” “a goat” rose, she introduced herself. She defended herself successfully by saying, “He didn’t tell us the order we have to follow the rules or where I had to be when I introduced myself. Remember he told us earlier to listen to what the rules say and what they don’t say. I decided to be different and decided to introduce myself after you saw how I sat in the chair and while I was sitting with my cluster. I followed the rules.”

And, I screamed still another silent “YES!!!” Third miracle. And on and on went the exercise. The chair was moving. Students sat on it in all sorts of unique ways, too numberous to list. There was anticipation; there was applause; there was laughter; there was support of one cluster for another; there was excitement; there were smiles; there were shouts of approval; there was conferencing; there was encouragement. Well, you get the idea.

After everyone had had his or her turn, we debriefed. “Why do you think we did this exercise?” I asked.

And out from the proverbial mouths of babes came pearls of wisdom and meaning:

“We’re seeing the basic rules of how to do the projects.”

“We made the decisions on how to sit on the chair.”

“I never thought I would do what I did.”

“We made the choices, not you.”

“Challenge. And, it was okay to challenge you.”

“We laughed with each other.”

“We could be creative and imaginative.”

“There’s more than one way to do something.”

“There was a lot of support in this room.”

“We weren’t competing ‘to the death.'”

“When we asked you a question, we had to decide because all you said was ‘you heard the rules.”

“No way was right or wrong, just different.”

“All the ways were good. None was bad, just different.”

“It was fun and that made it easier to learn.”

“Curious to see what people would come up with.”

“I didn’t think I could be that imaginative.”

“Weren’t afraid to take a chance.”

“I wasn’t afraid of looking stupid.”

“As someone did something different it opened the way for the rest of us of play on that.”

“Cowanna caught you and you agreed she did.”

“What didn’t you see or hear?” I asked.

“You didn’t tell us to do it your way.”

“You didn’t crush Cowanna just because she did something you didn’t think about.”

“You were willing to learn from us.”

“I heard a lot of what you didn’t say, what the rules didn’t say we couldn’t do.”

“So,” I said. “when you do any of your projects or anything in this class, remember the chair. There is no right or wrong way as long as, Michelle?”

“….you’re within the rules.”

“There is no better or worse way as long as, Michelle?

“….you’re within the rules.”

“There is more than one way to do a project as long as, Michelle?

“…..you’re within the rules.”

“You can challenge me and do projects in the way I didn’t of doing as long as, Michelle?”

“….you’re within the rules.”

So, whenever you do a project, please don’t waste you time thinking about, dreaming about, or even asking each other, class?

“What does he want?”

“If you ask me, ‘Is this okay?’ I’m going to ask, Michelle?

“….is it within the rules?”

“If you ask me, ‘Doc, what do you want?” I’m going to answer, Michelle?

“Remember the Chair.”

“Look at ‘The words for the day,” as I pointed to the board: ‘No one puts limits on you but yourself.’ Now you know our third operating theme of the class: REMEMBER THE CHAIR!”

So I think after going back to my office after this class, I started thinking. This is what I think was going on in that class that is key to planning motivation. There must be two general, guiding principles: First, know our students for whom they each really are. Too many of us know, or, at least, think we know, a lot in general about them and very little in particular about each of them. That’s why I ask the students to journal daily and I read their entries weekly; that’s why we all complete the statement “I feel…..” on the blackboard as soon as we enter the classroom. Yesterday, words like: tired, sleepy, alive, excited, stressed, sad, energetic, blessed, unattractive, content, hungry, clean peppered the board. Second, like Escalante, we shouldn’t focus on controlling students, on trying to do something we can’t do in the first place. I have found that the more we tell students what to do, when to do it, and how to do it, the more they will mutter and resent. You’ll get more with sweetened whispers of persuasion and encourage and love than with soured shouts and threats of coercion or manipulation. Our challenge is to provide a balance of a general framework of rules and freedom, that is, freedom and choice within a boundary of rules. I always tell my students to listen to the rules, but listen more intently to what the rules don’t say. Freedom is a motivation when it is a “freedom to” rather than a “freedom from,” that is a positive movement toward achievement. An art major hands in her journal in the form of a one page image. She works on it each day and has it completed by the time the journals have to be handed in. She is engaged in visual journaling; she is within the rules.

So don’t focus on making students do something, focus on figuring how to get students to want to do something. I think were are seven criteria at work in “The Chair” and in the projects to come for doing this:

1. Students will do to the extent they think what they’re doing is important, purposeful, valuable, meaningful.

2. Students will do to the extent they feel that are involved, that the class is there for them, that they are involved in the decisions and choices.

3. Students will do when they feel they are moving forward; when what they are doing is challenging and has possibilities for success.

4. students will do when they feel safe, when they are safe from feeling embarassed, stupid, incompetent, unprepared, etc.

5. students will do when they feel they’re loved, valued, have a sense of belonging, listened to, sincerely listened to, included.

6. students will do when they feel enabled, when the classroom facilitates rather than hinders.

7. students will do when they no longer feel isolate, alone, strange; when they bond, form friendships with others.

Now, you ask, “what about grades, those ‘extrinsic motivators?” Tomorrow my thoughts on that.

Make it a good day.


On Motivation, III

Good morning. Still reflecting on this critical element of teaching and learning. As I was saying, I find that most of us in higher education don’t plan motivation. Why? I am sure there are as many answers as there are profs and teachers. It certainly isn’t because there is a dearth of resource material out there to which we can refer. It certainly isn’t because the host of hard-working teaching and learning centers are ignorant or ignore the issue. It certainly isn’t because we don’t know how to research a subject we want to research. Maybe far too many of us profs never thought of it; maybe we would have to think deep about ourselves; maybe we would have to focus on the people in the classroom instead of merely the subject; maybe we think that what is call “extrinsic motivators,” those cracked whips and tossed pieces of fish, are all we need; maybe it’s all of the above; maybe it’s none of the above.

On thing about motivation has become clear to me. We, the teachers must be motivated to motivate if we are to motivate. To motivate, you can’t, you won’t, just plan and act. You can just go through the motions. You must first dream and believe. You have to be sincere. You have to have that fire in your soul, that burning in your belly, that heart throb to pursue it. That is critical because you can’t work against your own beliefs, feelings, and thoughts. Now, I am not talking about being turned on by your subject. I have found the greatest skill needed for successful teaching is not the bank of information; it is the ability and desire to get along with, establish a relationship with, and connect with students. It impacts every aspect of your teaching. Your relationships with students make or break your teaching. And, what you believe, truly believe, deeply believe about students–and yourself–will influence what you think is the problem and what the solution may be. What you are is what you do. Your efforts are mirrored into your genuine thoughts. When you see only the unmotivated in students, for example, you run the danger of becoming what you dislike. Classes will unfold as you expect. Your view of life in the classroom will be the way you live it. When you see the positive or negative possibilities in the classroom, they will occur for you.

With that said and done, I do have to say, from both what I have studied and from my own personal and professional experience, I’m not sure a person can motivate another person. I’m not sure a person can truly motivate anyone other than him/herself. I’m not all that convinced that one person can “tell” another person how to feel and act other than him/herself. I don’t think there are attitudinal Brother Dans floating around who, with a laying on of hands can proclaim, “Be Motivated,” and you will throw away the crutches proclaiming, “I AM MOTIVATED!” Motivation has nothing to do with what is done to people.

If I am right, then why am I bothering. What am I talking about? What responsibility to we teachers then have? What is all this stuff about planning motivation? Well, the aim is not or, at least, should not be to motivate students. The aim to is create relationships and to connect. People will want to grow when the surroundings are encouraging. People will shrivel when they are not. Motivation is what students generate inside themselves for themselves when they dare to be open to change and experience growth. Words and actions will stick to sticky souls, not ones with teflon coatings. And too many students sticky spirits have been coated with negative and restricting non-stick teflon. I plan motivation throughout the semester in the hope it will stimulate a student to begin an inner conversation with him/herself, in the hope that he or she will start scraping off that non-stick surface. That conversation is far more important than anything I can say, that scraping is more significant than anything I can do.

Remember James Escalante in “Stand and Deliver?” Get a video and closely watch that movie. Who was he and what did he do? He was a believer. He believed that everyone whom others saw as losers were winners. Those devils were to him angels. He treated everyone of those students as an angel even if they had come to believe the opposite. He relished what others saw as indigestible. He valued what others threw away. He refused to cede defeat even if the students themselves felt and acted defeated. He believed the students’ ladder was merely leaning on the wrong wall. That’s critical because you have to “be” inside before you can “do.” outside. He never had five great classes in a row. He had five days of great believing in a row. That faith, like love, however, could not be forced. He saw and appreciated the beautiful in what others criticized as ugly. He heard the music in what others condemned as noise. He refused to accept that their future was mired in the swamp of despair and fear. And so, he consciously did three things. First, as he thought, so he was. He worked hard to help the students work on their inner “be,” not merely on their outer math. He helped these supposed hapless students believe for themselves what they had dared not believe, that they weren’t dumb and could learn. He helped them see for themselves that they were smart and capable, and he challenged them to challenge themselves. He refused to mute the voices within. He didn’t deafen them with loud, thunderous “cannots.” Instead, he worked to help them evoke from within themselves a “this can be done.” Second, he created a supportive, encouraging, caring, positive, safe, secure, happy, environment. He valued them as something too precious to be tossed away. And finally, he was there with them, not as that distant sideline cheerleader, as an engaged on-the-field coach. He persuaded them that what he had to offer was important to them as human beings. He showed them that it really wasn’t about math. It wasn’t math that burned in their belly, it was their dignity. It wasn’t math that fired their soul, it was their self-respect. He helped them see that they could dream and that their dreams could come true; that they, who were condemned and believed they were losers, could be winners. He didn’t do three things. He didn’t dictate; he coerce; he didn’t manipulate. He did one thing: he persuaded. That one thing he did, slowly influenced the students to do their thing.

So, I think asking, “how can we motivate students” is asking the wrong question. Besides, we’ve tried and are still trying every trick in the book. We’ve cajoled, enticed, threatened, promised, praised, chastised, rewarded. We’re adding or deducting grades for attendance; we’re giving extra credit for extra work; we’re placing on Dean’s List or on probation; we’re recognizing or ignoring on Honors Day. We’re dropping lowest grade, doubling highest grade, curving all the grades, supposedly inflating grades. Does any of this whip cracking or fish tossing really work? If it did, why are so many of us loudly and constantly moaning about how unmotivated the students are?

The point is not to make students learn, but to catalyze them to stimulate their inner, natural drive to learn. You see, I don’t think students aren’t motivated. They are. They just aren’t turned on to what a lot of us are teaching them in the way we’re teaching them without apparent reason and purpose of teaching what and how we’re teaching.

Think I am wrong? Have you ever notice how what we would call unmotivated students, what one professor recently called “gazing zombies” are alive outside of class? Outside the buildings they mull around, laugh, smile, move, and talk. When they enter the buildings or classroom rooms it all gets turned off as if they’re heeding telepromters that are flashing “Don’t Smile.” “Don’t Talk.” “Don’t Move.” And, don’t think that among these walking dead aren’t some of our honors students, scholarship scholarships, award winners. Outside the classrooms, ah. The supposed catatonic students are enthusiastic, industrious, alert, intent, confident, patient, consciencous, faithful, loyal, friendly, cooperative, passionate; they focus, concentrate, work with others, have pride. They display all the ingredients not only of motivation, but of success. In the class they play small; outside of class they play large. In the class they don’t honor their core values or utilizing their gifts; outside the classroom they are accessing their abilities and power. They are experimental, adventurous, creative, imaginative. In the classroom they are motionless; outside the class they are in motion. They work sweat and strain and work their tails off in a sport, excitedly play a video game, crawl all over a sorority float, give after hours and even a weekend for a fraternity charity drive, play in the band, act on the stage, practice an instrument hours on end, play at night in gigs, avidly solve problems, work on cars. But, not in class. An exaggeration you say. Maybe. Nevertheless, why are so many of these supposedly unmotivated students in class so animated out there outside of class? Later my experience and take on that….

Make it a good day.


On Motivation, II

I’m back. Where was I? Ah yes, that multi-billion dollar motivational industry. Why does someone like Anthony Robbins command a seven figure pop for private consulation? Why are the likes of John Maxwell always at the top of the New York Times bestselling list? Why do people shell out four figure fees for a day or two motivational seminar? What are these people supposedly offering that others are desperately seeking. And finally, why are so few academics among this crowd and these speakers seen so rarely on our campuses?

Now my suggested answer to all these “whys” is simple. It’s simply because, contrary to the belief of so many academicians who are in their heads, everything we do, including what we teachers and students do inside the classroom, in and out of education, is in our hearts and soul and spirit. Everything we do, education included, rests on three “inside” essential elements,none of which have to do with the “outside” subject matter. The first is motivation; the second is motivation; and the third is motivation. Motivation is that desire, that thirst, that need, that inner the drive, that energy, that fuel. Call it attitude, if you wish. If I was to run a life-altering campaign, as my chief slogan I would paraphrase Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign slogan: “It’s attitude, stupid!” Attitudes, not aptitudes, determine how anyone will relate to others and approach day to day life–and teaching. And, it’s far more in our heads than most of us are willing to admit.

The problem is that so many of us, along with millions of others, think motivation is one of those “all you have to do” numbers game: 7 surefire steps, 16 quick tips, 5 quick steps, 30 essential qualities, 17 indisputable laws, 21 fundamental rules, 3 basic principles, 10 key strategies, 24 critical things, 8 underlying themes, and a partridge in a pear tree. We’re handed on a platter “the secret to…,” “the insights….,” “the keys to….” The instructions are simple. Just open the packet, crack the kit, drink the Chicken Soup for whatever, and learn how to “change,” “modify,” “check,” “start,” “be inspired,” “move,” “get going,” “visualize,” “focus,” “reflect,” “dare,” “choose,” “challenge,” “remember,” “reprogram,” “set goals,” “plan,” “enjoy,” “dream,” “believe,” “hope,” “climb ropes,” “sky dive,” “rock climb,” “walk across hot coals,” “have fantasies,” “observe modelers,” “make it happen now,” “think positive,” “think possibility,” “read words,” “play games,” “take on roles,” “just do it,” and on and on it goes.

Doggone, if that is all anyone of us had to do, if it was all that natural, if it was that easy, if it took so little work, and if it was all that simple, we and students would be a bunch of houses on fire.

We not because it’s not simple. We’re talking about people, you and me, and people are complicated. It all sounds so easy when in fact it all is so hard to do. It takes more than a bunch of tapes, workshops, videos, books, speeches, and exercises. How well I know that it takes more than a scantily clad bunch of side line cheerleaders, waving pom-poms, chanting, “You can do it; you can do it; you can do it.” It takes lots of effort, a lot of courage, endless time, continual focus, a lot of soul searching, a lot of habit changing and breaking and getting, a lot of investigation, a lot of ridding of assumptions, a lot of perseverance, a lot of commitment, a lot of endurance, a lot of patience with yourself and others, ceaseless planning, constant work, boundless energy–and a burning desire.

Why do we find it hard to understand motivation? I am tempted to say that we have allowed certain powerful and influencing assumptions to cloud our judgement. I am tempted to say because we haven’t really tried. I’m tempted to say that too many of us lump it into that denigrated “touchy feely stuff.” I am tempted to say it’s simply because many say “it’s not my job.” I am tempted to say because so many of us simplify it. I’m tempted to say that we’re too focused on being understood by students and insufficiently focused on understanding each student much less ourselves. I’m tempted to say we’re too consumed with transmitting and insufficiently concerned with transforming. I’m tempted to say we’re too focused on relationship with our subject and too little on connecting with each student. I am tempted to say that motivation takes planning, more planning, and still more planning. And, it gets the least of our attention when we plan out our classes.

Let me give you an example. Most of us prepare lectures. We enter class and lecture. We talk to an audience. How many of us trained scholars, trained in researching for these mini-presentations, trained in preparing these mini-conference papers, are trained public speakers? How many of us concentrate on what we’re going to say and pay little attention to how we are going to say it? How many of us focus on ourselves and not on them. How many of us cultivate the medium of our message. I was listening to Susan Miller of Georgetown on the Diane Rehm show the other day. Do you realize that how we deliver our lecture will determine whether students will tune us in or tune us out? Do you realize that within a few seconds after you start your lecture or presentation your body language and your vocal tones will largely decide if they will listen. She talked about a study done sometime ago that revealed among the three factors influencing the interest of the listeners, the information, the words, ranked the lowest: 7%. Body language ranked the highest: 55%. Vocal tones ranked next: 38%. Students are bored or excited by only 7% of what you say which was in the high ninety percentile of what you worked on. And yet, how many of us blame the students for being bored, lazy, unmotivated, turned off, and tuned out when in fact it may be us who are boring? Don’t believe me or her? God, I can remember the endless times when I was in the audience at a conference session struggling to listen to a presenter whose voice never left first gear, whose cadence has all the grabbing excitement of a metronome, whose face I never saw since it was always pointed down toward his or her paper, whose body was in rigormortise, who may have looked up mechanically and never looked at you. Did I struggle to be interested. I fought a futile fight to stay turned on and tuned in. My eyes started to roam; my mind began to drift; my program started to look like the squiggles of a Dali drawing; I read the conference program and thought about the clock: “Do I have to sit through this?” “How much longer is this going to go on?” I agonized. I couldn’t wait to get out of there. Why would you think it would be different with students captured in a classroom? Something honestly to think about.

And so most of us plan out our classes. We read books, take copious notes, put together mini-speeches, discussions, draw up problems, design projects; we write syllabi, lay down the rules; we compose exams and tests and quizzes. What we don’t really plan is motivation. We take it for granted. We think it is spontaneous. We think it is an infectuous educational virus. We place all the onus on the students. We may dabble. We give it a passing shot. We’ll spend a few minutes of the first day of a term with an “ice breaker.” Some of us may devote an entire day to these introductions. But, we don’t stick with it. Like Little Jack Horners thinking what good teachers we are, we go on as usual. If the broken ice freezes over, as it usually does, it’s their fault. If the silence pervades, they had their chance and it’s their fault. If the wall remains, it’s their fault. If they don’t come to us, it’s their fault. We defend ourselves with disclaimers of not being councelors, friends, confidants, priests, therapists, parents. Across that wide chasm we never really see the rivets holding that separating iron wall together.

With all due respect, what most of us academicans need is a simplified “Motivating Students For Dummies.” I know I do. Later……..

Make it a good day.


On Motivation, I

First time out on the streets in month. “The boss” has grounded me since my walk Christmas day. That walk on that cold day, left me with a heavy cold. I knew I was going to get hit on the leg out. It has been holding on and on and on. I must have down bottles of liquid echinecea in the past month. Anyway, I went out today even if it was a tad misty and chilly on the promise of doing only a mile. It felt like twenty! While I was chugging along, huffing and puffing my lungs out without any house to blow in, I was asking myself why I was putting myself through this. No one was forcing me, especially my Susan. No one could force me. No was going to reward me. No one was enticing me. Why was I out here, bundled up like a rag bag, hoping I wouldn’t bump into a roaming bug. My answer was simple: I wanted to; I needed to; I had to. It’s that motivation thing.

The whole mysterious issue of motivation has been on my mind lately. And, after reading my eyeballs out, it is wrapped in mystery. It is not a new puzzlement to me, but lately I’ve been especially thinking about it. Too many of us academics think that the whole issue of motivation is simple. That is part of the difficulty when we talk about motivation. It simply is not simple. Want to talk about a can of worms? Talkd about motivation. It is filled with huge night-crawlers.

For the last couple of weeks, in all four first year American history class, neither I nor the students have gone near history. We have been busily engaged in forging classroom community. We have shared outselves with each other, introduced ourselves to everyone; interviewd each other. I have answered all their “what do you want to know about me” questions. They have read sealed, confidential letters about me and the class written by students from last semester to this semester’s students. They have shared those letters with each other. Some have read the letters out loud to the entire class. We have our clockmaster who has total authority to stop class at the exact minute class should end and prevent us from running over. They have the sixteen page syllabus, “All You Want TO Know About This Class and Was Afraid TO Ask,” and we have discussed it. They have created the individual communities along the three rules: all three members must be strangers to each other; the communities must be gender mixed to the extent the composition of the class allows; the communities must be racilly mixed to the extent the composition of the class allows. We have laid down the four inviolable classroom “rules of the road”: everyone has to indroduce him/herself before saying anything; everyone has to be looking at someone else; there are no negatives; everyone is accorded respect. We have engaged in a non-academic community exercise: each community had to create a name for itself that would be a reflection of its members; each had to find or create a community motto to which the members would be commited; each had to create a community image; each had to put all this on the face of their community portfolio; and each had to present its portfolio to the class. We daily talk briefly about my “words for the day.” We all complete the sentence on the black board, “I feel…” the first thing we do when we come into class each day. We small talk before and during class. I am moving around, often sitting here and there rather than standing in front. There is always movment; there is always sound. We close our eyes for about half a minute to start class by listening to music from my boombox. We have done exercises that has laid down the four working themes of the course: “Never Forget ‘The Story'”; “It’s Communication, Stupid”; “Remember ‘The Chair'”; “I Sang; I Can Kick Ass!” The rubber is about to hit the road as we put the history pedal to the metal. Stuff, transforming stuff, is already happening. For some, it is more than others; for some, it is in different ways than others. I can see it; I can feel it; I can hear it; I can read it.

What is going on, I know. It has been for many years. Why what is going on is on I suddenly have an urge to put into some kind of framework beyond the bits and pieces of a Random Thought here and there. I’m not sure why this desire swelled up at this very moment. Maybe, it’s the moment. Maybe when I engaged those neat teachers in West Texas some of their words and some of mine stuck to my soul. I wish I knew how to go beyond anecdotal experience, instinct, gut feelings even though all these are of what data is composed. I don’t pretend to be a psychologist or sociologist. I really wish I had the wherewithal and knowhow to do a scientific study.

I have been reading student journals from this semester and more than a few from past semesters. I remebered some of the confidential letters written by students to students that were shared publically. I find myself wanting to see, feel, listen, read more intently than usual. I once did a year-long, very unscientitic survey of why without an attendance policy, and eliminating sickness and “official university business” and personal emergency, about 98% of students were coming to class–even on workdays or those very few days I was out-of-town–when my colleagues were complaining about poor class attendance. I never did anything with it. In fact, I never read them. They were just a messy and dusty stack of papers lying hidden away on the floor in a dusty nook. I almost threw them out as I went on an office-cleaning binge at the end of last semester. Now, seven years later, I picked them up, dusted them off, and have been reading them. I almost feel like John Nash in that scene from A BEAUTIFUL MIND in the decyphering room. Words and phrases and sentences that I am hearing and reading are popping up as if they are part of some secret code.

So, to help me make some formal sense out of it all, I have been going to the sources. I’ve been reading until my eyeballs fell out. My god!!! Do you know how much is out there on motivation? Do you know some of the big bucks motivational speakers, consultants, advisors, leaders and god knows what else they’re called command? There’s even a person, a high paid person, who calls himself an “attitude masseuse!!” Now, what we need is an “emotional chiropractor.” Heck, Anthony Robbins is every doing his thing on the Home Shopping Network and making a fortune with people’s fortunes! Do you know how many websites, linear feet of book shelvings, and mountain ranges of tapes exist? It’s mind boggling. It’s not a cottage industry; it’s urban sprawl! Ever wonder why? I think I have an answer or two. At least, my answers.

And, as I start to answer that “why”, I feel a bunch of generalizations coming on. So, let me head this issue off at the pass before I go any farther. I understand that a generalization is just that: a generalization. It is a statement, position, observation, conclusion that is, like statistics, full of holes. It’s a simplification and as such something of a distortion and breaks down as it is applied in individual situations and to individuals. It won’t work every time, every place, in every way, with everyone. I know what works today with one person today may not work or work completely tomorrow. I know what works with one person today may not work with another on the same day. When it comes to people, and it is people that I am talking about, nothing does. For human being, there is never a that 100% solution. People are complex and complicated. And, to paraphrase, John Donne, no class is an island. There is a lot of outside stuff that comes inside to join in the mix. There is a lot of inside stuff that joins the mix with the outside stuff that comes in. No, generalizations are not truths. They are not absolutes. They are not “musts.” Like statistics, valid ones, they are nevertheless useful “let’s think about its.” They are a reference point, a consideration, an optional way of looking at this, a choice of doing something, a framework for evaluation. So, as I have often said, all I am asking is that you bear with me. Be skeptical if you wish. That’s okay. Please be open at the same time.

This is getting too long already. I warned you. More tomorrow, maybe. It’s the Sunday of the football championship games.

Make it a good day.


On Learning

I just told a virtual colleague that if she wanted to change students, she has to change her attitude toward students. She understood that I meant you can’t really do something to them; you can only act as a catalyst to help them do something to themselves. I should have added, however, that she needs to look also at her attitudes towards learning, motivation, and teaching. I am.

Her message came at a curious time. Sometimes I don’t ask. I’ve been going deep on these three critical areas of our profession more than usual in the last week or so. Last week I returned from giving a series of beginning-of-the-semester presentations to the faculties of four West Texas community colleges. I was supposed to be motivating and inspiring. Turns out that my interaction with some neat and highly dedicated teachers during give-and-take sessions proved to be unexpectedly motivating and inspiring and transforming to me. As soon as I got on the plane home, I started asking myself some questions about what is it I am doing, what it is I should be doing, how should I do what I should be doing, and I am driving me nuts. Let me share some unorganized thoughts. Some of you can surely help me. First, about learning.

“What is ‘learning,’ real learning, deep learning?” I asked myself. I honestly didn’t have a precise answer. I’m no psychologist although, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, I’ve read a lot of what a lot of people have written and argued a lot about learning. It is, to say the least, an important subject. It is the crux of education. So, what is this thing called learning. I, for one, am not sure what it is. It is one of those mysterious, non-descript, “oh, you know what I mean” words. What I do know is that it is easy to answer that question and say “learning is….” It is not easy to answer the follow-up question: “what do you mean?” Anyhow, with a heavy gulp, I think I’ll take a stab at it.

I’m told that our entire educational system is dedicated to the nurturing of the human beings’ natural potential for learning. That is, it is supposed to promote our inbred curiosity, support our innate desire for discovery, endorse our inborn tendency to enlarge experience and knowledge, encourage us to become members of the crew of the starship, Enterprise, and search out new worlds and go where no man has gone before. Do we?

I know how easy it is to give this word, learning, a much too shallow meaning. Learning goes deeper than merely gathering information. At least, I think so. Stay with me as these ideas hit. I’m sort of brain-storming. I think learning is an involvement of the whole person, not just restricted to the “neck up” intellect. It involves the “neck down” emotion, spirit, soul as well. It involves the exercise of a freedom that is, as Victor Fraenkl might say, an inner attitude to decide who you are and to choose your own way. It involves moving in a direction directed by a sense of meaning and commitment to a purpose. Real learning infuences behavior. Real learning, I think, is not merely being informed; it is far more experiencing a transformation. Real learning is not static knowledge; it is far more a process of continual change. Real learning is not merely a degree with which you go out into the world to earn a living; it is far more a way of living in the world. The character of real learning is the development of character; the value of real learning is the appearance of a value base. The goal of learning is not just the fully informed person; it is far more the fully functioning person. The goal of learning is not just utilization of your intellect; it is far more a full utilization of all of you in relationship with yourself and others. Real learning is never-ending; it is difficult; it is serendipitous; it is unbalancing; it is challenging; it is uncomfortable; it can be painful. Real learning is forever taking you out of the proverbial box.

The paradox is that too many of us academics in the name of learning create a situation that is just the opposite of deep learning. We submit to and promote the shallow and myopic idea that if a student signs up for a course, does as he or she is told, reads a book, writes a paper, listens to those mini-conference papers we call lectures, takes notes, maybe participates in a discussion, passes a test, gets a good grade, he or she has now learned that subject and has attained what so many of us professors pronounce as “subject mastery.” Too many of us academics see ourselves too often as the active fillers of the pail, molders of the clay, forgers of the steel, etc. We give; they receive; we do to; they are done to. We actively profess; they quietly listen; we teach; they passively learn. We know; what do they know. It is a sterile programming of lifeless transcribing, lifeless inscribing, lifeless cramming, lifeless memorizing, lifeless assessing, and lively forgetting. It seduces students to reduce “important” to “being on the test.” It restricts learning to getting a grade, GPA, degree.

At the same time, the kind of information learning we so often promote in our educational systems is almost a study in obsolesence. Think about it. What happens to the information by the time a student completes his or her collegiate career and gets around to using the information? The science taught today will be outdated in a few years; the mode of sociology and psychology taught today will be most likely outmoded tomorrow. Management style taught today will be restyled if not go out of style. Finance and accounting techniques taught today soon will not count. Tomorrow will witness a loss of appetite for today’s artistic taste. The fashions learned will become unfashionable. And the pace of technological change? I won’t go there. Even in my own field of history, the “facts of history” will be out of date because those facts are really interpretations or opinions that are heavily influenced by the ever-changing temper and mood of the society. The one thing I am certain: statements placed on the firm ground today will find themselves on shifting sand; steadfast positions today will become unsteady; and, what is learned today will have to be unlearned during the tomorrows to come.

Look around and ask yourself, then, if our educational system does more than prepare students to pass a test, get a grade, receive a diploma, get a job. Ask yourself how many of our courses are really on course, if our educational system of reward and punishment encourages students to submissively ask “what do you want;” if it breeds followers instead of leaders; if it produces honor seekers, test-takers and grade-getters instead of learners; if it schools and trains instead of educates; if it creates copiers instead of creators; if it lifts students’ vision to see importance beyond what will be on the test; if it prepares flexible and adaptable people who feel comfortable in a world of unimaginable change and diversity; if it prepares them to listen to, understand, respect, and embrace others of different cultures, different religions, different skin colors; if it promotes a freedom to live his or her potential; if it acts as a catalyst for developing independent and roaring choice seekers, risk-takers, decision makers; if it produces visionaries, explorers, questioners, dreamers, adventurers, star-gazers.

What we will too often see is that we have a reward and punishing system designed more to train seals than allow free-thinking individuals to develop. It mutes roars into bleets. It herds, defaces, corrals, denames, depersonalizes, dehumanizes. It takes the essential joy and fun–and meaning–out of learning. It is too often boredom and torture personified. It is not a valuing process. I have seen time and time and time again that the overwhelming majority of students, who have been trained like those seals to look over their shoulder with a fearful “what do you want” hesitation, tend to yield, agree, copy, conform, submit. They feel like they are possessions, that they are in the unbreakable grip of someone else. They feel like Psalm 8:5-6 is violated. They stand around and wait to be told what to do and what is expected of them. They’re afraid of wobbling, of hitting blind alleys, of running into dead ends, of making mistakes. They fear unpredictability. They feel they have no choice. They become “first let’s see what happens” people. They are hesitant about being “oops-ers.” They want guarantees, tested and proven models, before they act. They don’t bring energy and passion and a positive attitude with them. They exude isolation, lonilness, abandonment, and weariness. They aren’t really happy or having fun or enjoying. They rarely are original or initiators. They rarely dare. They wilt. They certainly have little, if any, faith, belief and hope for themselves. I have found that they are shy. They are easily stressed. They tend to feel unappreciated, unworthy, devalued; they tend to believe they don’t belong and unwanted. They don’t think anyone cares about them. They grasp tightly their “don’t” and “can’ts” and “won’ts.” They’re boxed tightly into their box. They try to please. They tend to be inflexible. They find it difficult to adapt. They put the lid tightly on themselves. They tend to feel inadeqate and inferior. They are so rarely spontaneous. They don’t feel free. They don’t really bloom.

When it comes to learning, static information should not run our show. Why? Because nothing is static; everything is in the process of change. It’s that old chinese saying, “and this, too, shall pass.” The ability to face and deal with inevitable change requires the ability and willingness and daring and confidence to risk, choose, decide, and act. Learning, deep learning, meaninful learning, is about creating the future. It is means constant re-creation, that we re-create outselves as we create things around us. It means becoming someone who you weren’t before, being able to do something you never were able to do, perceiving the world as you never saw it, AND weaving your relationship to the world and others as you never knitted before. Through true learning we become part of a productive process So, when I talk about learning, I am talking about a “restlessness” and a “freedomness” and a “changingness,” about the ability to be flexible and adaptable. Call it growth, change, development. Call it anything but static. Maybe I am talking about being free. I am talking about the capacity to be continually curious, to always imagine, to constantly create, to incessantly ask, “why?”

Our aim should be to offer the most challenging curriculum students can face: freedom to become themselves, freedom to bloom, freedom to search, freedom to explore, freedom to tap their unique potential, and freedom to arrive at their unique selves. Our mission must be to help people be free to help themselves, to commit themselves, to become the people whoever they are capable of becoming. Our purpose must be help them help themselves release themselves, trust themselves, respect themselves, be fluid, flow freely, dance lively between the known now and the unknown later, believe in themselve, have donfidence in themselves, have faith in themselves, have hope for themselves. Our mission is to help people help themsevles to become people who aren’t boxed in a box, who ask what I call “beautiful questions,” who have a good understanding of themselves, who have a sense of freedom within themselves, who are open to experiences, who are a triumph of enthusiasm, who wiggle and ponder and wonder, who thirst for those magnificantly magical days of discovery, who catch the energy and release the potential and create memorable moments, who are a never-ending story in progress, who are social and embraces others who are different, who are not likely to be controlled by his or her surroundings or by others, who are choice selectors, risk-takers, decision makers, who are orginators and initiators, who relish what I call a “glorious messiness,” and who are what I call the free, courageous, delicious, “darers,” “misbehaviorers” and “disruptors.”


Make it a good day.


Changing Students

Just received an e-mail from a professor asking me how she can change students. I told that she couldn’t change students. She could decide to change her attitude towards students.

Make it a good day.


Individualism and Surprise

An early bird good morning. No walking. Have had a cold since Christmas morning and the “master sergeant” of the house has since ordered me grounded. It’s too cold outside. Cold? Remeber when just a few weeks ago I said how hot it was down here in South Georgie? Well, just a few days ago everyone was singing, “Dashing through the snow in a one…..,” as it briefly, very briefly, “snowed.” Actually, it was just a few minutes of “aflurryin’.” Well, not really. It wasn’t even that. It was, as I facetiously told a few people, more like occasional squirrel dandruff. Anyway, it was a surprise to many and everyone was throwing snowflakes at each other.

And, talking about surprises–how’s that for a lead-in–someone just e-mailed me asking me why I thought so many academics are surprised at things that happen or don’t happen in the classroom. It’s an interesting question that comes at an interesting time. I have been thinking about that very same issue since this is the first day of class and there is an inclination to ask yourself, “what surprises are going to greet me today?” I am also beginning to mediatate for a convocation keynote address I’m calling “Great Expectations” which I am to present at the end this week in West Texas.

I really don’t have THE answer. I do have an answer, my answer. Maybe it is more of a suggestion. Last week my good friend, Dale Fitzgibbons at Illinois State, shared with me a small piece by Chuck Salter. It’s titled, “16 WAYS TO BE A SMARTER TEACHER.” In it he says, among other things, that far too many academics think it’s all about them and the material, and don’t bother to study and learn about the students. How true. Far too many academic walk around taking their pulse, but not that of any students. They are in the class as if they were at a cocktail party and don’t know anyone there, not even the hostess. And, in some of the more drastic cases, not as rare as many of us would believe, they enter the class after asking their reflection, “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who….”

Most academics are surprised at what goes on in class because their eyes are on the wrong prize. I have found that far too many academics practice far too much of what I heard someone call “individualism.” Now, I don’t mean indviduality. I am not talking about uniqueness, self-awareness, self-confidence, self-esteem, self-worth, or self-respect. Individualism in many cases is just the opposite. When I talk of individualism, I am talking about a fundamental attitude of far too many academics believing that they are the sole center of the gravity in the classroom–or on campus.

When a great, but arrogant actress was once asked how she always know where center was without losing her concentration, she answered, “Darling, center stage is wherever I am!” That what I am talking about. When I talk of individualism, I am talking about many academics’ “hey, it’s me ” belief they are that crucial, indispensable, critcal sage on stage. I am talking about an “it’s all about me” attitude. I am talking about the wearing of a “know it all” costume. I am talking about a “I have the answers, all the answers, THE answers” posture. I am talking about a conviction that only they matter. I am talking about a belief that the class doesn’t light up until they’re present. I’m talking about a feeling that the students would flounder without them and that the entire class revolves around them. It’s a “Here I am” proclamation. It’s a “what’s in it for me” position. I’m talking about an individualism that exudes with distance, disconnection, ignornace. It creates a fog that leave them in such a thick mist that they miss what is going on.

The problem with individualism, as I am defining it, is that if you think you’re the most important person in that classroom, your eyes and ears will be on you, and you won’t really learn what going on or why what is going on is going on. You lose sight of the individuality and humanity of each imperfect student as you think you are practicing perfection. And, when a student is so far in the distance, just an insignificant speck on the horizon, it is so easy to separate yourself from him or her, so easy to ignore him or her, so easy to dismiss him or her, so easy not to care about him or her, so easy to disrespect him or her, so easy to denigrate him or her. You emotionally, intellectually, psychologically lapidify, petrify, and ossify. You turn each seat in the classroom into an uncomfortable, painful, distracting, threatening bed of nails. You really can’t be conduits for others or can give yourself to others. Teaching is a matter of human relationships. It’s a soul to soul touching. Transformation doesn’t come from a book or a subject or a speech called a lecture. It comes from warm, comforting, supportive, encouraging, embracing, respectful, trusting, sincere, and honoring human contact. Such academics won’t, can’t, take the necessary effort and make the necessary time to inspire and motivated. Seeing no need to reach out for and reach into the soul of another, they won’t, can’t, take the extraordinary and courageous journey, as Yeats described, to dig deep into their own soul to where they are and see who they are. And so, contrary to what they believe, they won’t, can’t, truly move anyone to move the world.

Maybe this is why so many academics are surprised by what goes on or doesn’t go on in the classroom. Surprise is the result of ignorance. It is a product of unpreparedness. They haven’t scoped out the lay of the land. Not having done any surveying, they really don’t know very much, if anything, about the inner landscape of each student. And so, they are blind-sided, surprised.

The conceit of far too many academics is that while they put the spotlight on themselves, while they are taking their own pulse, while they are thinking about what they are doing, and while they are leaving the unseen students hidden in the dark shadows, they feel they know all there is to know about what is going on in the classroom and know all about the students and know what to expect. They probably don’t, but that is what most of them feel. And, then, they wonder why surprising things happen. It’s not surprising.

Make it a good day.