As I celebrate my birthday I wanted to thank my students past, present, and future; their presence is an invaluable present.

In addition to the people I teach in classrooms I also consider my sons as my students: they teach me about life and my place in it — in a different way, each and every day.

Teaching is my passion and, just as a leader needs followers, I would not be a teacher if I had no students. Whether in a class or in life, my students are the greatest gifts I have been fortunate enough to receive.

Accordingly, as I explain in my Teaching Philosophy, “Internalizing Søren Kierkegaard’s idea that ‘to be a teacher in the right sense is to be a learner,’ I join with my students on a journey of generative learning.”

Believing education should create community, not competition, I combine learning with laughter to construct a collaborative, supportive, and innovative classroom.

Interdisciplinary by nature, I welcome varied viewpoints: no idea is off limits so long as it contributes to the conversation. In that spirit I encourage my students to embrace their ideas and own their education.

I therefore wanted to thank each of my students for being my “birthday gifts.” I am grateful for the opportunity to learn with and from each of you!

Have you met TED?

Founded in 1984 TED is an annual conference of ideas intended to unite leading thinkers and doers from the worlds of technology, entertainment and design. During each conference speakers share their thoughts in 18 minutes sessions. For those not part of the limited in-person audience, TED has made videos of more than 1,900 talks available online.

The collection of presentations is nothing short of infectious. And I mean that literally: at the February 2009 conference in Long Beach, CA Bill Gates released a jar of mosquitoes, emphasizing that people in developed countries are not concerned enough with the impact of malaria in the developing world.

Sir Ken Robinson speaks about creativity and education at the February 2006 TED Talk.Another talk of particular interest to me as an educator and lifelong learner was given by Sir Ken Robinson at the February 2006 conference in Monterey, CA.

Robinson — who earned a PhD for research into drama and theatre in education — is a British creativity expert who challenges the way we educate ourselves.

Recognizing that formal education is unequally focused on linear, quantitative subjects, Robinson proposes a radical re-imagining of our school system that more effectively cultivates creativity and acknowledges multiple types of intelligence.

I can relate to this as I’ve always been one to “think different” (as the famous Apple advertising slogan once encouraged us to do). Specifically, I test poorly on standardized tests: my brain just isn’t wired that way. This is a significant concern as I draw closer to applying for PhD programs.

I need to find an effective and, given my present circumstance, outrageously affordable way to elevate my GRE scores to ensure my application is viewed competitively by admissions committees. (Perhaps at a later date I will discuss my thoughts on the highly questionable financial stranglehold ETS — Educational Testing Service — has on the high education process).

I personally enjoyed the video a great deal — it reminded me of my teaching philosophy which is anchored in the idea of generative learning. The “tipping point” that motivated me to post this blog was that shortly after watching it I logged into my WordPress.com account and read that the system now supports embedding TED videos.  Serendipity!

I couldn’t resist the urge to share this video. Although the talk occurred more than three years ago the ideas seem timeless and more relevant than ever. My two favorite lines from Robinson’s talk are:

“We don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it. Or rather we get educated out of it.”

“Creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.”

Truer words were never spoken!  Additionally, I also found these comments particularly insightful — especially since they reflect my views on education and seem to validate my desire for an interdisciplinary doctoral program:

“We know three things about intelligence:

One, it’s diverse, we think about the world in all the ways we experience it. We think visually, we think in sound, we think kinesthetically. We think in abstract terms, we think in movement.

Secondly, intelligence is dynamic. If you look at the interactions of a human brain, as we heard yesterday from a number of presentations, intelligence is wonderfully interactive. The brain isn’t divided into compartments. In fact, creativity, which I define as the process of having original ideas that have value, more often than not comes about through the interaction of different disciplinary ways of seeing things…

And the third thing about intelligence is, it’s distinct.”

And so, without further adeiu, here is Sir Ken Robinson (you can also watch it on the TED website and follow along with an interactive transcript):

Hopefully you found this talk as encouraging as I did. You can also read a transcript of Robinson’s entire talk. Additionally, earlier this year Robinson published a new book, “The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything,” which presents a deep look at human creativity and education.

I invite you to explore some of the videos on the TED website or to visit the organization’s “TEDTalks” YouTube channel. I don’t think 18 minutes of your day could be better spent!

Although the “New Year” is an arbitrary point in time chosen to indicate the end of one cycle and the start of another, it remains a worldwide moment of personal reflection and planning. In that spirit, a few days before the end of 2008, social media expert Chris Brogan posted a tweet on Twitter as follows:

Thinking hard about what my 3 words for next year should be. Pick 3 guiding principles to shape your actions/decisions. Boil down to 3 words.

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After carefully considering which three principles reflect my goals for 2009, I have decided  to be Affirmative, Generative and Transformative. Here’s why I picked each one:

  • Generative: This word fundamentally defines and guides me. The many definitions for the word generative reveal the most basic meaning to be “creative.” The word “generative” forms the foundation of of generative learning which Peter Senge claims “enhances our capacity to create.” Engaging in generative learning involves linking existing knowledge of a subject with emerging ideas, resulting in a more individualized understanding about its systemic significance.  It is for this reason that I am motivated by the motto “learn continuously, live generatively.” In 2009 I will continue contributing ideas and knowledge for the benefit of the greater good.
  • Affirmative: In its simplest definition affirmative means “positive” and that is what I will be this year. I am naturally predisposed tobeing cynical (in fairness, sometimes it is for humorous intent), but I will make an effort to re-frame a situation to see the good, not the bad. I’ve gone through some very trying experiences in the past few years (including almost losing my younger son several times and dealing with my older son’s diagnosis of autism). However, I recognize that focusing on the negative aspects of a situation won’t reverse its polarity to positive!  Two quotes come to mind when I consider this goal:
    • From John Milton’s Paradise Lost (Book 1, lines 254-255):  “The Mind Is Its Own Place, and in It Self / Can Make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n.”
    • From Abraham Lincoln (Courtesy of @LizzHarmon on Twitter): “People are just as happy as they make up their minds to be.”
  • Transformative: With the election of Barack Obama, the theme of “change” is foremost in the minds of many people. However, I desire something more than change, which merely implies something different (not necessarily better).  I will work towards being transformative which promises a marked change, as in appearance or character, usually for the better. That is my desire for this year: a significant evolution — perhaps even a revolution — on a personal and professional level. I am ready for that “next step” and ready to engage the energy around me and leverage it beyond my wildest expectations.

Now that I’ve revealed my three guiding principles, I invite you to share the ones with which you most strongly identify in the comments area below.  After all, nothing helps you achieve a goal more than writing it down!