Small Moves. Big Difference: Education Meets Life

Galaxy System This place where we are now, right this second, is the intersection of our circumstances and every single one of our choices.  In our lives we have made millions of choices, perhaps unaware of any one particular choice’s impact on our arrival at this moment.

If life is about choices, then, at its core, a formal education attempts to provide guidance with regard to those choices.  All schools emphasize academic skills, but great schools also try to help students form a framework for the act of choosing.  The goal is for young people to understand the concept that how we see affects what we see.

Perspective is defined as, “a particular attitude toward, or way of regarding, something; a point of view.”

This definition requires two things: a lens and a belief.  If we accept this definition, we also accept that our mental world affects how we see our physical world.  Many years ago I read the novel Contact, by Carl Sagan and watched the film by the same name.  Contact is a story about cosmic mysteries, beliefs, and human behavior.  Opinions about the novel and film vary, but what struck a cord with me is the story’s concept of SMALL MOVES.

In the story, a young girl named Ellie, whose mother died when she was a small child, enjoyed studying the night sky and astronomy with her father. Her father was a gentle soul, guiding her toward self discovery.  At one point in the story she becomes frustrated trying to adjust a radio telescope and he quietly fixes it for her, reminding her that the process is all about “Small moves”.

Small moves, Ellie. Small moves.”   Watching his daughter, the father knew that she was trying to tune or focus the telescope with a heavy hand…moving it too far to the left or too far to the right- when what she needed to do was to be patient, quiet and ever so slightly make a move that would turn static to sound and bring the entire universe into focus.

For all of us, Ellie represents our collective quest for truth and figuring out how we fit in this great big universe.  Finding our place among the stars is a daunting task, which makes adopting a concept of ‘small moves’ counter intuitive to such a big project.

Educators spend a lot of time talking about choices, so you would assume that we think choices are a pretty big deal.  The truth is -the choices themselves really aren’t a big deal.  There is rarely such thing as a big choice.  Instead,  life presents us with opportunities, making our only big challenge the regular and consistent act of choosing. This means we must realize that we are actors in this world, not simply reactors.  Our brains have to be trained to see the path not simply because we are following the masses, but because we see where it may take us. It is this daily collection of small decisions that creates an entire lifetime.

Just to illustrate, people clearly do not choose their character in one swift decision.  A voice from the sky does not echo down to ask any of us, on any given day, “Hey you, person A, the ‘powers that be’ want to know if you will choose to be a good person or a bad one? ”  Instead,  it is the quiet accumulation of our actions that becomes our character.

Great stories of human accomplishment rarely involve one big decision. The world’s greatest authors, artists, scientists, and leaders have been faced with the same daily choices as the rest of us breathing air.  We all have a sea of thoughts swimming around in our heads, but the difference between those who imagine and those who achieve is merely the collection of small moves that it took to turn the dream into something real.

We all sit under these same stars with the power to bring our whole universe into focus.  To do so, we need only to concentrate on the small, yet deliberate moves that each moment presents.  If we do that, the stars are just the beginning.


Time Out! Turning Time Saved into Memories Earned

Time to think  For most adults, and even children, finding time is increasingly difficult.  It seems ironic that the inventions we have created to ‘save time’ have not actually had that effect.  Rushing around each day, in this era of technological conveniences, we have to ask,  what has happened to  the phantom time we have allegedly saved?    Let’s take the example of the fax machine.

In the late 1970’s and early 1980s, the fax machine was heralded as an amazing time saver.  We marveled at the fact that tasks formerly taking weeks to complete via traditional mail, could now be executed in an instant!  Voila! Hooray for people everywhere!   With such increased efficiency, our industries could move on from tedious transactional matters to the really important stuff.  Productivity would increase and, at the same time,  families would enjoy richer, more meaningful lives.  In the decades that have passed since the arrival of this time-saving machine, where did all of our ‘time saved’ go?

Turns out we didn’t ‘save’ time at all.  We found ways to do everything faster, but perhaps not better.  We now engage in a permanent state of action, leaving even less time for reflection. In contrast, our old fashioned ‘snail mail’ carried the benefit of a well crafted letter with a personal touch.  Delay brought reflection, anticipation, and planning- essentially, real brain work.  It turns out that the rhythm of life matters.  Experts agree that children benefit deeply from a state of ‘boredom’.   So do grownups.  We all need a time out; time to recharge, reflect and connect with our slower side.

Balancing instant gratification with the benefits of waiting is the new challenge of our era.  IKEA capitalizes on the idea of ‘old as the new new’ with a clever ad about its ‘bookbook”.

IKEA-Bookbook-Screen-750x415   This ad reminds us that sometimes not everything in our lives has to be improved in the name of progress.  ‘More’ and ‘faster’ do not always equal ‘better’.  In this regard, we have to wonder if the modern approach to homework in the name of progress is having its intended result.  As our children suffer endless hours of additional homework (after a seven hour school day)-we have to ask ourselves,  are they turning out to be better educated than earlier generations because of it?  Have we truly advanced as a society by adding more to our already full schedules?

GPS PK3Seizing the day involves mindfulness.   We must do more with our time saved to make memories earned.  Memories are our biological time machines.   From the millions of seconds that pass by unnoticed in our lives, a few special seconds hold our hearts and stay imprinted in our mind.  We are able to revisit the places and times where we paused, giving our full attention to an experience rather than mindlessly performing a task.  Making memories with our personal time machines requires proper programming with scheduled time outs.  Educationally, leaders need to build structures that require balance.  Our planning must prioritize:

  1. Quality over quantity.  Modern education is about formulating the right questions.  Avoid mindless memorization of disconnected content.  Rethink time assigned to homework.
  2. Experience over dissemination.  Create multi-sensory, real world experiences that will become memories for our children.  Think field trips, not lectures.
  3. Personalization over standardization. One size doesn’t fit all, ever.
  4. Growth mindset over a fixed mindset. The world of information is constantly changing, as well as our ability to influence it.  All of us can become stronger, smarter and more capable if we practice and examine our technique.
  5. Fast and Slow.  Efficiency and engagement are essential.  So too are reflection and relaxation.

brainMemories are the brain’s way of prioritizing information.  They are the largest files in our complex, living filing cabinets because they involve more than facts. They involve feelings.  Science tells us that memories don’t exist in a place in our brain, they exist as a process of time travel.  Our minds recall experiences based on our both our emotions and perceptions (essentially our five senses).   This is why I can still smell the bread my grandmother used to bake, I can see her kitchen and remember us laughing at the table.  I cannot remember all 50 state capitals, but I understand the causes of the civil war because my teacher at the time created a wonderful role-playing activity that involved me riding a pretend horse named Rusty.   Memories are our way of bringing the past into the future.

As helpful as the fax machine and its web based successors have become regarding instantaneous communication, these same tools don’t save our time.  We the people must do that.  We must choose to plan a picnic with our loved ones (sans technology) just to watch the clouds.  This makes way for inspiration.  In the end, it is the time savored that will forever be our own.