Re-Imagine Education

Gallup sends regular updates to those who are registered with their services and often times they include interesting articles that relate back to strengths-based education or general education discussions. Below is an article from their most recent listserv about needing a new approach to education. Sir Ken Robinson claims that it is not legislation and testing requirements that is going to improve our education systems, but it is the ideas of creativity, diversity and maintaining an organic experience that will drive education to the next level.

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Sir Ken Robinson calls for a radical transformation in education

“For most companies now, creativity and innovation are bottom-line issues. And the great irony ā€¦ is that our education policies, which are meant to be serving the needs of the economy, are stifling both of those qualities through standardization and compliance,” says Sir Ken Robinson, Ph.D., an internationally recognized leader in the development of education, creativity and innovation.

Robinson called for a radical transformation in education during his presentation to the 2012 Gallup Strengths in Education Conference. Legislation like the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, Robinson says, won’t bring about that transformation because it contradicts three fundamental principles of human life.

First, to be a human being is to live a life that is essentially creative. “We create our lives in the way that’s not true of any other species on earth,” Robinson says. The second key principle is diversity, which gives humanity its texture, its dynamic, its vibrancy, its color, and a sense of possibility. The third principle is that human life is organic, “an interaction between ourselves and our environment.”

Yet these three principles are contradicted by most education systems. “Our education systems don’t promote creativity, they promote conformity. They don’t promote diversity, they promote compliance. And they don’t promote organic development; they’re premised on the opposite idea, [which is] linear development,” Robinson says.

It will take a radical transformation to re-imagine education to arrive at a system that promotes creativity, diversity, and organic development. The problem begins when politicians call for a move to get “back to basics” in education, because as Robinson says, policymakers usually mean a group of subjects, such as science, technology, engineering, and math (or STEM).

“I’m not knocking the STEM disciplines,” Robinson says, because “they can be every bit as creative as music or art or dance.” But while they may be necessary, they’re not sufficient — they provide a partial education at best. “For a community and economy to flourish, we need a multiplicity of talents of every sort,” Robinson says.

How would Robinson start the process of transforming education? Rather than building on the current industrial model — or “specifying more and more national standards” — Robinson would ask educators and policymakers to recognize that education is a personal process. “Personalizing to me is not a slogan,” Robinson says. “It’s the axiomatic basis on which all good education has always worked. You know, it’s the teacher who looked you in the eye and got you — the person who understood what you were about and encouraged you.”

Robinson focused on this in his book, The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything. “To be in your element, you’re doing something for which you have a natural aptitude,” Robinson says. “And this, by the way, is why I think Gallup’s work in strengths is so important, because part of the premise of the work in strengths is to discover natural aptitudes.”

In the end, a key to transforming education is to find ways to discover what kids’ natural aptitudes are, then helping them understand what excites and motivates them. Teaching is “about creating conditions for growth, Robinson says. “If you create an appetite for learning, you have a very different style of education than one based on feeding kids a dry diet of condensed information. If they have an appetite to learn, they’ll create their own opportunities.”

~from Gallup’s Strengths Insights

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Start of a New Academic Year: Starting with a Commencement Speech by Steve Jobs

In 2005, Steve Jobs addressed the new graduates of Stanford with tales from his life. With his recent passing, it is truly amazing to think about what he accomplished with his life and how significant the lessons he learned apply to our broader society. This should hopefully be a little motivation for the start of a new academic year.

The Link Between Strengths and Wellbeing

After several months of taking the Wellbeing Finder assessment provided by Gallup, I have learned a few things about my overall wellbeing. The first is that days where I have a great amount of social interaction, I tend to have higher wellbeing scores. This may not be a surprise, but it is important to note. Second, I learned that I tend to have a higher average wellbeing score on days that I am not at work. In turn, those generally are weekend days or times when I am away from the office. The most beneficial finding from the assessment has been that I tend to have higher wellbeing scores when I am able to lead with my Strengths.

It is not an automatic element of the assessment that one can discern based off the assessment questions. There are no direct questions related to use of Strengths or even the activities you engaged in while at work. Instead, it takes a more reflective approach to identifying what occurred throughout that day and how those interactions, accomplishments or experiences contributed to that day’s overall wellbeing.

For example, the week that I spent at the University of Georgia while attending NHTI was the highest overall week of wellbeing since I started the assessment. Since the experience was career-related, I still consider it to compare to the experience of a regular week of work. The days were long and the sessions were packed, but I found that I was actively embracing my Strengths throughout the week. My Developer element came out through the engagement in the sessions and the self-reflection I went through in the evenings. My Relator and Empathy elements was prevalent through the interactions, connections with new colleagues and sharing of experiences. My Responsibility element was gleaming from the experience of feeling like I was back in graduate school and embracing the educational interactions and homework.

While NHTI was a special case, I have found this true during a regular week as well. The week of August 5th was one of two different sides. The first half was filled with preparations for the start of training and few interactions outside of a couple of meetings. Starting with Wednesday afternoon, a handful of our student leaders came back and we started training. My Developer, Empathy and Relator elements all began to shine again because I had an opportunity to connect with and affect the development of this students through their training. This is not to say that there was not a little stress involved and my focus for those days was almost solely on these students, but the reality is that I truly enjoy those types of experiences.

My personal goal is to continue to find opportunities to focus on my Strengths and continue to improve my overall work experience. For more information, Gallup released an article recently talking specifically about this topic:

Uncovering the Links Between Happiness and Health

Sarah Pressman’s research into wellbeing can help educators help students be healthy and engaged in the classroom

Sarah Pressman, Ph.D., will share her insights on the connections between positive emotions, relationships, and happiness — and the pathways that support health outcomes — at the Strengths in Education Conference. She will also discuss how these connections relate to the wellbeing of students and how educators can support students to have the highest wellbeing possible.

Dr. Pressman’s work as Beatrice Wright Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Kansas seeks to find links between happiness, wellbeing, and health outcomes. It also has important implications for educators who want to promote student health and wellbeing in their classrooms and at the schools or on their campuses.

Strengths Insights: What connections have you found that link physical health and overall wellbeing?

Sarah D. Pressman, Ph.D.: Research in the field of positive psychology has shown that people who are happy are living longer and are less likely to get sick. For example, we’re exploring when and how positive emotions protect you from stress, because stress is associated with about 95% of the illnesses out there. When you’re stressed, you experience hormonal changes and your immune system is suppressed, but if you get over that negative physiological response faster, it’s better for your health.

Strengths Insights: How does your research into stress connect to students in a school system or on a college or university campus? How can teachers help their students learn how to better handle stress?

Dr. Pressman: One thing that students don’t understand is how much they compromise their health when they’re stressed. When our stress hormones go up, our immune system is suppressed. If teachers talk about how stress affects us all, maybe students will avoid the kinds of negative behaviors that will further compromise their health, so they won’t end up sick, missing school, or unable to take their exams. It might help students know and recognize that they’re probably not at their healthiest when they’re stressed, and they probably should be doing things to protect themselves, like getting enough sleep, and washing their hands.

Strengths Insights: Gallup research into wellbeing has shown that people who have at least three or four very close friendships are healthier, have higher wellbeing, and are more engaged in their jobs, while the absence of any close friendships can lead to boredom, loneliness, and depression. How does that align with what you’ve found in researching wellbeing? How does that play out in schools or on campuses?

Dr. Pressman: Social relationships, positive emotion, and wellbeing are extremely closely tied. Work is a very stressful place, and we know that your stress is buffered by having a perception of social support. So believing that you have a few close friends that are at work who can help you and give you emotional support will help you objectively reduce the kinds of physiological responses that you have during stress.

We did an interesting study a few years ago looking at how loneliness in college freshmen was associated with how they respond to the flu vaccination. What we showed is that social isolation predicted having a worse vaccination response to the flu immunization.

We also counted how many objective social contacts students had, and we found that the people who had the fewest contacts (for example, if they talked with only about five people every two weeks) had worse vaccination responses than people who reported speaking regularly with 10 or 20 people. College students might need more than three or four friends because they are usually away from their families and don’t have the support network that they had at home. In your first semester of college, you really might only know a few people, and if you’re feeling lonely, if those aren’t good quality ties, that will have a negative health consequence, and health is critical to having good wellbeing.

Strengths Insights: Do you have any specific suggestions on how educators can model healthy behaviors for their students or how they can help their students have higher health and wellbeing, handle stress more effectively, or become more engaged in their classes?

Dr. Pressman: First, they already are, to some extent, enhancing many of these things because of what they do with strengths. One of the reasons we ask students to take the Clifton StrengthsFinder and teach them about their strengths is because it should make them happier and enhance their positive emotions. If you can help someone have higher positive emotions, then they will have higher physical wellbeing. Just by trying to get students to think about their strengths and savor them, you will probably help them have higher wellbeing and be more engaged in the classroom, especially if you encourage them to keep [their strengths] in mind during times of stress.

But it’s important not to let stress become the entire focus of your message. You have to address stress, but we never tell people they have to be happy 100% of the time. They need to recognize when they’re stressed and experience negative emotions, but they also shouldn’t let negativity overwhelm the positive. That’s a really important message: Accept the negative, but try to focus on the positive.