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

Friday, May 27, 2011

Week 4 Reading: The Art of Possibility Chapters 9-12

Wow, these last chapters were a lot to take in! Just when I thought my personal reaction could not possibly be more profound, the Zander’s prevailed with more stories and more implications of living a life of possibility. Most notably were chapters 10 and 11 when adversity was discussed in more detail, including the analogy of self as a game board (versus the typical interpretation as a participating piece). I will admit, when the idea of mutual responsibility in every situation was introduced, I felt some indignation. I mean, who doesn’t want to ostracize the drunk driver or the blatantly rude reaction or the frequent absentee. But how fascinating to think about their perspective and how it will not improve attitude and happiness by being upset and throwing blame.

As easy as it is to get into a downward negative spiral towards my students, blaming them for their negative, rude, and apathetic actions. But what about what I have done to contribute? What about my negative sarcasm or mediocre effort? Not to mention what they have eaten lately or when the last time is that they got a hug or “good job” from a parent? Trying to remember myself in each other person’s shoes will help me to react with a more enlightened attitude, just as Ben did when his students partied in South America. What would it have helped to “go off” like so many of us teachers are expected to do. Instead, the kids understood, felt enabled, apologetic, regretful, and still valued. Amazing. This Art of Possibility stuff is definitely not second nature in the world of modern education, but I feel like a breath of fresh air, a reminder of options and how to go with the flow, giving students and others in my life the benefit of the doubt, has been given to me…I am inspired and grateful.

Original Artwork, detail of tapestry from "A Perspective on Eastern Design in Threadwork", 2007


  1. I completely agree with your mention of a shifting to others perspectives and embracing what we may not know about their actions. Not just in the cases of drunk drivers and such, but very much for our students and difficulties they maybe going through. Our peers as well, there might be plenty of reason for ‘that one receptionist’ to be curt and angry all the time – she might have insomnia that she battles with regularly! It is a telling thing to shift that perspective to see what others are going through and one of the strongest tools I think the Zander’s remind us about.

    I also feel that you are on target when you mention it is not part of modern education. It is so easy for individuals to get wrapped up into their own courses, classrooms, and troubles that we forget we are on the same team – students and teachers alike. What a great epiphany to realize that our journey through EMDT capped off with The Art of Possibility is our chance to make a shift in that existing world! I have enjoyed our trip this year and am glad to see that happiness reflected in your writing as well – we’re ALMOST DONE!!!!!! [happy dance]

  2. Tricia,
    You are so right and so perceptive. I too felt indignation at the thought of blaming myself for what was done to me, but Zanders is right, the blame game doesn’t make the world a better place. We live in a litigious society that is always looking for someone to blame. Ask any student who is failing and he will tell you, he is failing because the teacher didn’t teach him. Ask any teacher why the student is failing and they will say the student failed to learn. Not that we, as teachers, need any more responsibility, but they didn’t learn because we failed to enroll them into the possibility of learning. Granted, some of this is beyond our control, to which we need to cut ourselves a little slack…how fascinating.
    I was thinking, “How do we inspire them? How do we ignite the fire, even when it’s raining?” What came to me as an answer was remarkable simple: Why are we trying to light a fire, when we have electricity? We need to continue to integrate the current technology into the classroom and teach new things in new ways. Continuing to rub two stick together to try to make fire doesn’t make sense in the modern world in which we live. The new things that we teach need to include choices that will allow students to discover their passion for learning.

    Students don’t like change anymore than teachers, but learning to adapt to change is going to be important for the unforeseeable future. Creating the framework for the universe of possibilities and constantly assessing whether we are staying on track becomes our guiding force. From my perspective, I’d rather be the board, than get hit upside the head by the board :-)

  3. Tricia your insight about how we should take a step back and think about how we contribute to the overall situation and attitude of our students was right on the point. Taking care of their physical and emotional needs (your reference to when they ate last or got a hug) is something we all need to be reminded of. Just this past week a student of mine (who is usually defiant with me, bad attitude etc.) came into class looking very sad, saying she was having a bad day, I asked why and she said her kitten had died last night. Of course I gave her a hug and asked what happened, shared a story of when I lost my first kitten and I think it surprised her that I might care. Everyone has experiences daily that have a change-reaction to each other. I agree with your reminder that we need to “put ourselves in others shoes” more often. Well stated, enjoyable read. I loved your presentation the other night too, nice job. Your art talent really comes through. Choosing an art piece, related to “perspective”, for this weeks’ reading entry topic was a great visual representation too.

  4. I totally agree. The chapter on being the board put into clearer focus something we are encouraged to think about as ESL teachers. Sometimes you get classes that just seem completely disinterested. They don't want to put in even the tiniest bit of effort. It can be tempting to just blame the students' attitudes and give up. However, a class can be saved if you think "What am I doing wrong? How can I change this so that they become interested?" "Being the board" can sometimes be the difference between a class bombing and a class being a huge success.

  5. P.S. Did you make that tapestry? It's beautiful :-)

  6. Thank you for the comments! I just wanted to add, in response to the loss of the kitten and not knowing what our students are going through, last week, my MOST challenging student came to class quiet and sad. He is ED, and can be extremely loud, rude, explosive, and hateful to me. He usually makes me dread that class. I gave him some time to "cool off", as I was a little nervous about what was going on with him. He is a real badass and gets in fights, has tattoos (he's 17), and on house arrest. Finally, I braced myself and went over there and asked him what was up, could he think about getting his work out today. He shook his head no. He had his iPod in. I asked him if he was ok. He again shook his head no. I asked him did he want to talk about it. He looked up at me and to my huge surprise and dismay I saw big fat tears start falling out of his eyes. He bursted out, "Mrs. A I can't do this shit no more. I can't handle it." This "gangster" dude was now balling with big chest heaves, gasping for breath in front of the whole class. "Mom's got cancer again", he shouted. As I stood there with my mouth open, shocked, he put his head down on the desk and continued to cry. We all were frozen. Then, I put my hand on his shoulder. Slowly, the girls around him got up quietly and gathered, giving him a huge group hug. Even the guys in the class, among them other "thugs", came closer.

    We talked it out some, but there is only so much you can say. One of the things he said in this conversation was an apology to me--for always "being bad". I'm so glad that for all those days, hours, minutes that I wanted to go off, scream, write him up, punch his desk, throw his work...that I didn't. I really did try to do my best towards him. Now knowing the back story a little, I feel proud that I tried my best not to add to the downward spiral of his life, but perhaps my class was a place of comfort in some small way.

  7. When I finished The Art of Possibility, I decided in that spirit to write that student from above a letter of inspiration. I am planning on giving it to him on the last day of school.

  8. I really liked the phrase “Downward Spiral.” We see that in almost everything. I see it in the news and the way my students talk to each other. I see it in the way we as teachers talk when we get together. I hope I can keep this phrase in my mind whenever I talk to colleagues or students. You are right in saying that The Art of Possibility is not second nature in the world of modern education, but maybe we can make it second nature to us.

  9. How often have I blamed my students for their disrespect rather than take responsibility for their boredom, or apathy? Too many times to count I’m afraid. You’re right. I have to confess it. I have contributed to their negative state of mind. You’re right too in saying it is not in the nature of education to live in the realm of possibility. I dare say that it is not the nature of human kind, UNLESS we become aware of it. Now that we are, what will we do about it?

  10. Tricia, I love reading your blog. You always have such a wonderful perspective on things and you include a self-evaluation of each situation. You speak from the heart and you have no problem taking a look at yourself and doing what I call “a self-check.” You always consider big picture and its components. I mean, the child’s feelings, what might have happen the night before, nutrition, and your approach. Tricia be blessed and continue to the blessing that you are!

  11. Oi, Tricia—why is this such a hard thing? It’s obvious that appealing to the best in young people means a different thing than I thought it did—that it means seeing the vision they’ve already got for themselves, NOT implanting the vision I’VE got for them—which is certainly why I “go off”!

    You know, I think of myself as a kind and giving person—that people feel better about themselves when I am around. And there are a lot of instances where that just isn’t true. Because there are an awful lot of instances where I’m all about me. Even when I’m trying really hard to be all about… “not me”!!!! LOL!

    What is, is. “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” But it’ll surely beat the heck out of you first. Hmmm… getting the “heck” out is kind of the point, though, isn’t it?………….

  12. Tricia-

    Great blog. I loved all the comments as well. Great to hear the story of the "tough" kid in your class.
    I found that when I moved into my current school district it was so much hard to get the students to "buy into" the fact that I cared for them not only as my students, but as the people they are. When i ask them about their parents, their families, their life at home and how they are, I always get a weird look like, "why do you care?" The kids are "used" to me now and know that I really do care about their lives. One young lady calls me her dad and just this past Friday I had another kid sign my yearbook, "Thanks for being like a dad to me." Long story short, i understand your plight and frustration with the "bad" kids who you just want to lose your patience with, send them to detention, or whatever, but when you know the back story, the perspective always changes.
    Again, great reading your blog. Great job by the way in not giving up on that student. Awesome!