This blog belongs to Patricia Atkinson and was created as part of the Education Media Design and Technology program at Full Sail University.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Week 2 Reading: The Art of Possibility Chapters 1-4

The Art of Possibility

First of all, I want to say that this book is absolutely amazing and the first text book that I have ever read in my life that is an actual page turner. I love all the stories and student words, as well as how it reverts back and forth between the authors. It is so down to earth and inspirational. This morning, I bought 3 copies on Amazon—one for me, and one for my mom and dad. Their philosophies are so profound and echo my own very closely. I love the concept of contribution in life, “giving the A”, and just reaching beyond the constructs and conventions of society. I would like to make some chapter specific reflections:

Chapter 1

“It’s All Invented”

I thought the discussion about perception, and how humans have specific mind maps to understand the world around them that are developed over their whole lives was very interesting. I have noticed in my teaching that students have very different mind maps, priorities, and preconceptions than when I was in high school 7 years ago. We all, but especially them, in their little bubbles, do not step back and think about how our minds work. It is so true that there are frameworks in all of our minds that are influenced by categorizing, story-line organization, and a network of assumptions.

It is inspiring to think about leaving all that behind and looking at life with a fresh perspective. It reminds me that we as teachers never know what’s going on with a kid beyond our class, and we need to give them the benefit of the doubt and the most positive reaction we can muster even when they act up. You never know, and maybe never will know, what a difference that choice made in that person’s life.

Chapter 2

“Stepping Into A Universe of Possibility”

I liked the discussion here about the world of measurement vs. the universe of possibility; how people live in the world of measurement and there are hierarchies of what is safe, how to survive in a world of limited resources. I never had thought about how scarcity-thinking and survival-thinking are different from the actual condition; how pressure from invented realities or fear of what could happen causes unnecessary anxiety. This phenomena reminds me of a part in the young adult novel The Giver by Lois Lowry (1993). The setting is a future “perfect” society in which everything is cut and dry, literal, and void of all emotion. There, young children are beaten if they were to say, “I’m starving”, because it is a lie, an exaggeration of the hunger feeling. In our society, so many things are also taken out of context. They get so far gone that the construct becomes the assumed reality. I feel that has happened with the process of standardized testing (which we are in the midst of right now), and how learning, and in turn funding for the school, is catered to performance on this test. Isn’t the convention of taking a final assessment being a good measure of learning completely blown out of proportion here? Do we really have the best intentions for our children in mind? And it is being transferred because now, with a month of school left, kids think they are “done” and can totally slack (and let go with their manners) because testing is over. How much better would it be if we were teaching them that learning has no culminating end, that there are profound concepts to be learned that can’t be answered in multiple choice format, and that everything in life cannot be re-done and re-done until you pass?

As stressed in the reading, the important thing is to reflect on HOW thoughts and actions ARE a reflection off the conventions of a measurement world. If I could somehow transfer just that simple concept to my students, I think they would grow a lot in all facets of their life.

Chapter 3 and 4 “Giving” and “Contributing”

What a beautiful story about the starfish woman to start chapter 4. I had heard it before, but often thought of it and similar stories (like you read in FW emails) on my worst days of teaching. When I want to give up because some ignorant students called me a bleep bleep bleep or smashed someone else’s artwork or threw a chair or clogged my sink or hid a dirty paintbrush, I try to remember the subtle positive changes I MUST have made somewhere along the road. The smiles, the hearsay of students mentioning artists we have learned about in other classes, the Facebook requests after graduation, the thanks, the personal growth that is shown in their artwork over time in my class. This is what makes it worthwhile to get through the struggles. And as a veteran teacher once told me, “high school students are like daffodils…they may not bloom the first year, in fact they might just stay in the dirt. But you still water ‘em and give it your best. Then, many years down the road, they will bloom and it will be from something you planted or helped with—even if you never are around to see it.”

I thought the concept of “Giving An A” was beautiful, especially when explained through those amazing student responses. The Michelangelo “revealing the statue” analogy also made sense. I kind of already do that in my grading philosophy, although I don’t discuss it as an instigation of creativity as he does. I can understand that this theory would be great in music class, because there is so much risk-taking involved in being expressive. I laughed out loud at what they do when they make a mistake—putting their hands in the air and saying “how fascinating!” I do that in my own way too. Its more in the line of: student spills something or breaks something or messes something up, and then gives me that scared look of apprehension, like I’m about to go off. Even though I want to, I always remember how my mom reacted to me when I had accidents…and how sad I feelwhen I see the opposite in a store or on a movie (like a mom slapping or cussing at a kid for making a simple mistake). Making these small choices to look beyond the initial negative reaction is what makes us richer individuals and better leaders. I will try to “re-define” my audience as Roz did to her group of graduate students. They are all great artists, eager and ready to participate and create (maybe I should make that my screen saver J ) I AM a gift to others and so are they!


Leslie, N. (2002). Left and Right Brain Function: B0003920, Wellcome Images. Available under Creative Commons at

Lowry, L. (1993). The giver. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Herring, M. (n.d.), Perception of 3D Objects: B0003936, Wellcome Images. Available under Creative Commons at

Shaffner, P. (2007). Starfish_02_(paulshaffner). Available under creative commons at

Zander, B. & Zander, R. (2000). The art of possibility. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.


  1. Tricia,

    Could you do it? Could you get away, in an art class, with giving them a guaranteed A? Do you have “standards” in art that need to be “assessed” to measure your effectiveness? Aha—measurement thinking at its most literal.

    Seniors don’t test, so my whole year is steeped in the “done” attitude, and I love how you’ve identified the subsumed message that testing is implanting in the kids about the infinite re-do of life. I get lots of wrinkles this time of year with my face squinching in deep sympathy for the kids who have had much better things to do with their time than participate in the growth activities I’ve made available to them, and now, less than two weeks before graduation, want to rush out and do them now so they can get “the points.” But some decisions in life can’t be re-done. Not to mention the time-wasting futility of just racking up points.

    There's the quintessence of measurement thinking: translating a possibility-oriented concept like learning into point accumulation.

    The most common reaction to offering my students new possibilities is confusion. Confusion is a survival-thinking mode. Students’ thinking paths shut down in the face of “pressure from invented realities or fear of what could happen,” as you said; they fear the scarcity of points—or perhaps the embarrassment, or feelings of inadequacy—they perceive to be inevitable if they don’t write down the Correct Answer. They don’t see themselves as learners gifted with a new opportunity to grow, so they can welcome the possibility of overcoming, of contributing meaning into their lives or someone else’s. And why should they? Their “system” tells them they’re already “done.”

    I think it’s important to live where we live: measurement thinking is not going away any time soon from teachers’ lives. Indeed, our culture has been steeped in it since the Puritans got off the Mayflower and began their mission of dividing the sheep from the goats, and teaching students how to be successful in a measurement-oriented world, whatever that means to them, is, I think, an important part of our job. But possibility doesn’t live out there, in our houses and cars and bank accounts. Possibility lives in here, in our hearts and souls and minds. So while we teach our students the strategies for functioning in the measurement-oriented world, perhaps we can facilitate that by showing them how to adjust the focus on their self-perceptions so they see themselves as learners in a universe of possibility.

    So maybe there’s a way to give them A’s in their minds and hearts even if they don’t get A’s on their report cards? I’m afraid that’s going to be a function of personal interaction (piece of cake—if it didn’t take so long to grade all those required essays). Or maybe just showing the way, as you put it, “to reflect on HOW thoughts and actions ARE a reflection off the conventions of a measurement world.”

  2. Crikey! Sorry about the sermon... Your thoughts just took me all kinds of places! I need to pay attention to how many words I'm stuffing on a page and cut some of them BEFORE I put 'em where some poor soul has to read them... :<(

  3. Wonderful mingling of your personal thoughts and stories through out the recap of our reading. I share many of your views on the chapters and have found the book to be surprisingly inspirational [based more on the other copyright law and other things we’ve discussed thus far] and as you mention, something to be shared with others. Of special note I want to thank you for sharing the quote from your ‘veteran teacher’ as it is something every educator needs to keep in the minds and heart: you might not be there to see the affect you have had on a student, but rest assured one day that they will bloom into being and some where in there is the little seed you helped tend too. I also want to commend you for not snapping when things go wrong in your classroom – I can’t imaging wrangling teenagers in that environment – and yet from your sharing’s they will indeed bloom into a great person than they were before they explored their expressions through your class!

  4. Thank you so much for your comments Lionel and Debra. Debra, don't EVER cut down your word count for me I love your feedback. It is great for us to deeply reflect on the state of education after reading this book...because its not entirely negative...we realize the inherent problems with the antiquated measurement-based structure of the system...and yet hopefully realize some elements of the "universe of possibility" attitude that can be used in each of our approaches--no matter how small the effect, it DOES matter.

  5. Tricia, what a refreshing perspective! I came in from work and I sat down thinking that there is no way I’m going to reach these kids that I’ve been working for the entire year. I ask myself on the way home, “Should I just give up?”. I sat down and logged in and started to read your response and it was just what I needed to restore my energy and see the situation in a whole new light. Tricia thanks for this reminder, “It reminds me that we as teachers never know what’s going on with a kid beyond our class, and we need to give them the benefit of the doubt and the most positive reaction we can muster even when they act up. You never know, and maybe never will know, what a difference that choice made in that person’s life.” Your students are very lucky to have you for a teacher.