Category Archives for "★★★★ Reviews"

Learning and Education: Has the Conversation Changed?

By Barb Terpstra | ★★★★ Reviews

Recently I came upon a transcription of a speech Dorothy Sayers gave to the Oxford University in 1947 entitled The Lost Tools of Learning.

Consider one of her opening statements:

Is not the great defect of our education today. . .that although we often succeed in teaching our pupils “subjects,” we fail lamentably on the whole in teaching them how to think: they learn everything, except the art of learning.

Wait a minute – did I say this speech was delivered in 1947? Yes I did. Is this conversation still relevant today? Sadly, yes. How is it, that the field of education is having the same conversation today that it was having 66 years ago?

I keep passing the Lost Tools of Learning along to people because I find it both interesting and troubling. I want to talk about it and see what others think. Consider this from Sayer’s speech:

For we let our young men and women go out unarmed, in a day when armor was never so necessary. By teaching them all to read, we have left them at the mercy of the printed word. By the invention of the film and the radio, we have made certain that no aversion to reading shall secure them from the incessant battery of words, words, words. They do not know what the words mean; they do not know how to ward them off or blunt their edge or fling them back; they are a prey to words in their emotions instead of being the masters of them in their intellects

Consider. . . are we sending our students out into the world unarmed? If, in 1947, we were bombarded with words, words, words, how much more so today?

Immersion programs attract students to our schools. Sayers states that Latin should be the language we teach at an early age. I must confess, I find this idea intriguing, and I think she makes a good case for it:

I will say at once, quite firmly, that the best grounding for education is the Latin grammar. I say this, not because Latin is traditional and medieval, but simply because even a rudimentary knowledge of Latin cuts down the labor and pains of learning almost any other subject by at least fifty percent. . .Latin should be begun as early as possible–at a time when inflected speech seems no more astonishing than any other phenomenon in an astonishing world; and when the chanting of “Amo, amas, amat” is as ritually agreeable to the feelings as the chanting of “eeny, meeny, miney, moe.”

Hmmmm. . . if this is true, it should bear careful consideration.

It’s impossible for me to cover all of Sayers thoughts on education. I would urge you to take a look at her speech yourself.  Is it true, as Sayers, says:

We have lost the tools of learning–the axe and the wedge, the hammer and the saw, the chisel and the plane– that were so adaptable to all tasks. Instead of them, we have merely a set of complicated jigs, each of which will do but one task and no more, and in using which eye and hand receive no training, so that no man ever sees the work as a whole or “looks to the end of the work.”

If true, what are we going to do about it? Are we going to talk about it for another 66 years, or get to work?

For the sole true end of education is simply this: to teach men how to learn for themselves; and whatever instruction fails to do this is effort spent in vain. (Dorothy Sayers)

What’s Your 20 and Stories

By Barb Terpstra | ★★★★ Reviews

So, I really want to talk to you about Jim Collins’ book “Great by Choice” (I’m particularly fascinated by “the 20 mile march” concept (what’s your 20?), but, I haven’t finished the book. Now I have another book to read (Maxwell’s newest The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth: Live Them and Reach Your Potential), and no time to read.

Those who know me are shocked by this statement – I’m always reading. . . but, I’ve been derailed by a home improvement project which I cannot wait to be completed!

I thought I’d introduce you to a book I read several years back. I learned about the book from the Festival of Faith and Writing booklist. (Calvin College hosts this festival bi-annually). The book in Question is: Tell Me a Story: The Life Shaping Power of Our Stories by Daniel Taylor.

I’m going to cheat and use the author’s words to pique your interest in his book:

“Stories tell me not only who I am but also who you are, and what we are together. In fact, without you and your story I cannot know myself and my story. no one’s story exists alone. Each is tangled up in countless others. Pull a thread in my story and feel the tremor half a world and two millennia away.”

“It is crucial . . . that we surround children, and ourselves, with healthy stories. These stories should be filled with mentors, models, and heroes who do the kinds of things, physically and spiritually, that we ourselves wish to do. If I cannot imagine myself doing something, I am unlikely even to attempt. Stories multiply our possibilities.”

“Stories can . . . literally give us courage. The child who hears of another child outwitting a giant in a fairy tale is better equipped to conquer the equally fearsome giants in his or her own life. . . this is one of many reasons to reject the flippant response “It’s just a story”

“Storytellers should be aware that they are dealing with dangerous materials. Life and death flow to us through stories. Words have almost unlimited power to destroy and to heal. Nothing is more false than the implication of the phrase ‘words, words, words–nothing but words.’ More lives have been destroyed by words than by bullets, and more lives redeemed and made whole.”

I love how children compel schools to rethink the “story” of education, and I love how the children’s stories give us a picture into who they really are. Some of their stories are heartbreaking, and some heart-lifting. But we can’t get away from the fact that stories are what bring us together (or sometimes, force us apart).

The whole holiday season revolves around the story of a baby who changed the world–that in itself is an indicator of how important stories are. If you don’t have the time to read right now (like me), take a deep breath and take the time to enter another person’s story. Who knows what positive things might happen?





Shhhh. . . . Introvert at Work

By Barb Terpstra | ★★★★ Reviews

Product DetailsQuiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking was very interesting and thought-provoking, but it’s difficult to synthesize it down for you. I guess I’ll just start somewhere, and see where it takes me. I’ve gone way over my 500 word limit!

Cain begins with some history. In young America: “the ideal self was serious, disciplined, and honorable”. In the 18th century however, things changed. Isn’t it interesting that: “the word personality didn’t exist until the eighteenth century, and the idea of “having a good personality” was not widespread until the twentieth”.

Fast forward to today. Charismatic speakers like Tony Robbins in the secular world and Rick Warren in the religious world are influencing people all over the globe. Has charisma trumped character in our world today? In some respects it seems that it has.

Where does the introverted person fall in a world that admires the take charge extroversion so admired in public persona? Research proves that the introverted person is often more thoughtful and deliberate about decisions in their personal and work lives. In fact, the author states: “We perceive talkers as smarter than quiet types–even though grade-point averages and SAT and intelligence test scores reveal this perception to be inaccurate.” The author further states “Contrary to the Harvard Business School model of vocal leadership, the ranks of effective CEOs turn out to be filled with introverts”. The mid-section of “Quiet” is filled with research and stories from those that have studied successful corporations, all pointing to introversion being a key to leadership.

Why does this matter? It matters because business and education cater to the extroverts among us. Consider the open office concept and student classrooms. Each of those arenas is set up for people to study and work in a group setting. Research supports that all people, but especially introverts, need alone time, quiet time to reflect and study and think deeply about what they’ve learned. This is where the most powerful and creative ideas come from.

Companies and education also value “groupthink.” In small group settings (and large ones) extroverts are very comfortable and quick to share their thoughts and opinions. Introverts may be shy about speaking up. When they do speak, they don’t speak with the force and authority of an extrovert and their opinions and ideas are often ignored. Introverts, as well, are better listeners than an extrovert. Listening is an important skill, but in our world, the quick decision makers are seen as more desirable than the thoughtful listener. In fact, some of the research shows that people are quick to follow decisions made by extroverts, even though they know it is a bad decision! The introverts who do speak up for caution in such decisions are ignored, and sometimes ridiculed.

Some fascinating tidbits:

  • “Social media has made new forms of leadership possible for scores of people who don’t fit the Harvard Business School mold” of extroversion. Often introverts are shy and this non-threatening environment has given some of them a new “voice”
  • “Open-plan offices have been found to reduce productivity and impair memory. . . they make people sick, hostile, unmotivated and insecure”
  • “Group brainstorming doesn’t actually work”. This is from research back in 1963! “Studies have shown that performance gets worse as group size increases: groups of nine generate fewer and poor ideas compared to groups of six, which do worse than groups of four.” Further, according to the author, organizational psychologist Adrian Furnham has written that “evidence from science suggests that business people must be insane to use brainstorming groups”. There is one exception to this, electronic or online brainstorming. In this arena, “the larger the group, the better it performs”

As the author gets deeper into her subject, she offers suggestions for the business world, the education world, and the personal and private world of introverts themselves to accept and honor themselves as they are. Introverts will most likely have to, on occasion, push themselves to be more extroverted than they really are, and to live alongside their “noisy” counterparts. They are encouraged to  find that “restorative niche” that they need to return to their “true selves.”

As a person who works in the education field, I think this book offers much to consider for those non-extroverted students. Are we creating a place for them in the classroom where they can be their true self? Where they can work independently? Where they are listened to when they speak? There is a whole chapter on education that could lend itself to valuable discussion.

The last chapter in the book shows the author’s passion for the world to hold the introvert in higher regard. This is probably my favorite chapter, because the passion comes through so clearly. There is a wonderful quote by Anais Nin:

“Our culture made a virtue of living only as extroverts. We discouraged the inner journey, the quest for a center. So we lost our center and have to find it again.”

I really wish I could quote the entire chapter, but of course that would make this long post even longer. So instead, I’ll end with this quote from the author, about what may be your introverted child:

“If your children are quiet, help them make peace with new situations and new people, but otherwise let them be themselves. Delight in the originality of their minds.”

And for teachers:

“. . . enjoy your gregarious and participatory students. But don’t forget to cultivate the shy, the gentle, the autonomous, the ones with single-minded enthusiasms for chemistry sets or parrot taxonomy or nineteenth-century art. They are the artists, engineers, and thinkers of tomorrow”.

Soap Operas, Guinea Worms and Influencers – Oh My!

By Barb Terpstra | ★★★★ Reviews

I am re-reading a fascinating book titled Influencer: The Power to Change Anything. There Product Detailsare so many wonderful stories in this book I hardly know where to start (and yes, a story is a powerful strategy to influence change).

Did you know that a soap opera can be very deliberately used to create a vicarious experience to influence listeners? What could happen when a soap opera’s characters struggle with low reading and writing skills and decide to visit their country’s adult education center for free adult literacy materials? In Mexico City a quarter of a million people poured into the streets to get their own literacy books. This blew me away–a soap opera, something I would consider a waste of time, changed lives.

Another great story is about the elimination of the Guinea worm in Africa and Asia. Here the strategy of positive deviance was used to a good effect.

“…first dive into the center of the actual community, family or organization you want to change. Second, discover and share settings where the problem should exist but doesn’t. Third identify the unique behavior of the group that succeeds.”

The Guinea worm larvae lives in the water supply of villagers–when they drink the water the larvae begins to live and grow in their bodies. Researchers found a village with very few instances of Guinea worm disease (positive deviance). The difference? The women strained the water through their skirts before drinking the water. The fix was really quite simple, but how to influence the change? In some instances, villagers were influenced through the power of story.

“When they’re transported into a story, people don’t merely sympathize with the characters–having an intellectual appreciation for the others’ plight–they empathize with the characters. . . Stories can create touching moments that help people view the world in new ways. We can tell stories at work, we can share them with our children, and we can use them whenever and wherever we choose.”

Schools are full of stories. The influence to change the public’s perception of education is literally in our grasp every single day. Low test scores or high dropout  issues? Look for the positive deviance schools, districts or classrooms that show success in these areas. Are we providing vicarious experiences for people outside the education system so they can empathize with our challenges and successes? What about our legislative body? What stories or vicarious experiences are we providing them so that the change they influence is the change that will empower our young people?

If you want to learn how “to share the principles and skills routinely employed by a handful of brilliant and powerful change agents so that readers (that’s you!) can expand their set of influence tools and bring about important changes in their personal lives, their families, their companies, and even their communities.” then I highly recommend this readable, challenging and informative book.



Dreaming before Breakfast

By Barb Terpstra | ★★★★ Reviews

I woke up this morning with thoughts from Seth Godin’s manifesto “Stop Stealing Dreams (What Is School For)” on my mind. A random comment about dreamers and schools made me want to revisit the manifesto (a highly recommended read which will invite a reaction on your part). I was so excited about this manifesto when I first read it that I brought it to our Superintendent, saying “you have to read this right now!” Although folks most likely won’t agree with everything that Godin has to say, it could be a great conversation starter with educators and non-educators alike. For example:

Regarding libraries: “They (students) need a librarian more than ever (to figure out creative ways to find and use data). They need a library not at all.”

Regarding dreamers: “Dreamers in school are dangerous. Dreamers can be impatient, unwilling to become well-rounded, and most of all, hard to fit into existing systems.”

Regarding teaching reading: “We invest thousands of hours exposing millions of students to fiction and literature, but end up training most of them to never again read for fun.”

Regarding teaching: “And just as important, it’s vital we acknowledge that we can unteach bravery and creativity and initiative. And that we have been doing just that.”

How to change school? Here are some of Godin’s ideas:

  • Homework during the day, lectures at night
  • Open book, open note, all the time
  • Access to any course, anywhere in the world
  • The end of multiple-choice exams
  • Cooperation instead of isolation
  • Death of the nearly famous college

Cause a reaction? It should. We don’t have time to waste in bringing our kids up to speed. It’s true that you can find anything you need to learn, for free, on the internet. If nothing else, this should scare the pants off us. Kids are already way ahead of us in technology, when they realize they don’t need us to get what they want to learn, watch out. We’re actually right there, right now.

So, my dream before breakfast, is that you download this free manifesto, and take the ideas that shock, and the ideas that motivate and discuss them with your fellow educators. Think of all the experience you have in your buildings and districts and build something great for learners of every kind!


Zig Zagging to Success

By Barb Terpstra | ★★★★ Reviews

Zig Zagging your way to success seems like a misnomer doesn’t it? But that’s the premiseZag: The Number One Strategy of High-Performance Brands of Marty Neumeier’s book Zag.  If you want your brand to stand out, then consider this new definition of brand from Neumeier’s book:

“It’s not a company’s logo or advertising. Those things are controlled by the company. Instead, a brand is a customer’s gut feeling about a product, service or company.” (italics mine)

I work in public education. Our mission is to teach children. What’s captured my imagination is this: How do we brand our school to compel parents to want us over any other school?

Zag has some practical insights that can help. A few of my favorites follow:

Checkpoint 1: Define who you are. Yes, that is a picture of a gravestone. Why? Because I loved the quirky exercise Neumaier uses to help us define who we are–write an obituary. “What would you like posterity say about you? You’ll find the answers are also the answers to the seminal questions: Who are you? Where does your passion lie? What gets you up in the morning?”

Checkpoint 2: What do you do? This should be captured in twelve words or less. “(Think Coca-Cola: To refresh the world.)”

Checkpoint 6: What makes you the “only”? What population does your school serve? Do you have a clear vision of what you do? Does it involve passion and get people out of bed in the morning? What makes your school unique?

Checkpoint 7: What should you add or subtract? Schools don’t get to choose what they add and subtract. How can we minimize the adding and subtracting from state and federal levels and get our “brand” on track with our vision?

Checkpoint 14: What do they (customers) experience? Do you have structures in play that invite and welcome parents in each and every contact they have with you?

Checkpoint 15: How do you earn their loyalty? Good customer service with a short and articulated vision that can be expressed by all employees goes a long way to earning the loyalty of our customers. We want our parents to tell their friends, “Come to my school – you’ll love it there!”

People are always saying that a school is not a business. I would argue that it is, but, it is a business with heart. What if, instead of hopping on the latest trend, or continuing with business as usual, schools took these practical branding checkpoints and purposefully created a vision and purpose from them. What if they measured anything they did by how it fit with that vision? What if that vision included minds and hearts? This would take us to the next level of creating a unique environment that attracted parents to our districts.

What if our school improvement plans included a lot more of the heart right along with the required components?

I see the heart of education in the staff that I work with every day, but usually, it’s individually, not collectively. It seems like everyone could benefit from that short, articulated vision that would engage not only the hearts of our staff, but the hearts of our parents. It seems like this would propel our districts to success. The challenge is removing the “blah” from school improvement and making a new story that will engage parents, community and staff. The question is, do we have the discipline to get it done?

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