jeffpresents.com – Jeff Borden’s Weekly Weblog

August 10, 2009

Signing off…for a while…

As many of you who know me are aware, I’m heading into my dissertation phase….so guess what?  No more writing.  Not for a while anyway.  I’ll be writing for the next 18-24 months – so between work and teaching and my doctorate, I need to concentrate heavily on that piece of paper!  I hope you’re all with me…sorry if you were a regular reader.  But priorities are priorities 🙂  See you in a couple of years!

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August 1, 2009

Unfaired Upon…

If you read this blog on any sort of regular basis, you know that my wife Keena has Crohn’s disease.  As well, you would also know that it was 2 years before it was finally diagnosed properly followed by 5 years of hospital visits, heavy duty meds, ups and downs, and two bouts with near death until she finally had an ileostomy which removed her entire large intestine.  During that time, our perceptions and paradigms around health, medicine, physicians, food, and support were completely turned on end.

But some of you may not know that about 3 months after Keena’s surgery – just as she was starting to feel well for the first time in 7 years – her mom was diagnosed with breast cancer.  In fact, the diagnosis from the doctors was that the tumor had probably been there for 5 years or so, going undetected by mammograms.  (Yes, it was news to us as well that they don’t always work…)

Luckily, Suzy found her way into a study during her treatment.  Because she qualified, she would get some free medications as she would have chemo both before AND after the surgery.  Doctor’s hypothesize that book ending the surgery like that will significantly improve her chances of staying clear of cancer.  (It better too…there’s nothing like losing your hair – eyebrows included – experiencing nausea, losing your appetite, getting blisters on your hands & feet, and many other wonderful side effects for no reason!)

And much like we did with Keena, our perceptions are being stretched yet again.  And what’s really interesting is that those of us who went through it with Keena are responding differently to Suzy just a few short months later.  The context and the variables are different enough that our support mechanisms have changed.

For example, Keena and I obviously have a daughter now.  A daughter who loves her Nana very much!  And love to Addie isn’t snuggling and rubbing of backs…it’s getting down on the floor and playing.  It’s running, jumping, hide and seek, and lots of other cardiovascular activities.  So, for Nana, my daughter’s desire to be with her is a real problem right now.  That is why Keena can’t see her mom (read: best friend) nearly as much as she wants to.  So Suzy has to endure more of this alone.

As well, there are other relationships that are different.  Suzy’s sister has come out twice during the process, much like she did for Keena several times.  She’s a calming influence for the family and she helps cut through the junk to find the heart of the matter.  But you can see how much harder it is for her to be strong with her sister than with her niece.  

Then of course there is Dave, Suzy’s husband and Keena’s dad.  When Keena got sick, his primary responsibility was to support Suzy as she supported Kee.  Not that he didn’t care for Keena – he cares deeply!  But, his role was clear and his charter was simple: make it easy for Suzy to care for her daughter.  Now, though, he’s in a pickle.  He’s a career Air Force mechanic.  He’s a tough guy.  He’ll tell you about how he came back from knee surgery a week early, against doctor’s orders, and that a person should take as few pain medications as is possible.  Everything is about ROI and TCO.  So, when you ask him for sympathy and empathy, it’s hard.  His mission has changed and his skill set is making it difficult.

Of course all of this is still in the midst of friends and other family members who don’t know how to act or react.  This was true for Keena too – I suspect it’s the human condition.  Very few people really know how to help a person who is going through something alien.  For example, my mom holds “good thoughts” for people, but doesn’t communicate those concerns to the person.  At the same time Suzy has a friend who communicates every thought, to the point of being a bit of a burden.  I try to support Keena as she supports her mom which probably doesn’t let Suzy know how much I want to help her.  Etc.  People generally speaking have trouble doing the right thing, saying the right thing, and offering the right help…it’s just hard!

And there is also the lack of understanding.  I used to get it all the time with Keena.  People would ask me how Keena was doing and I’d tell them.  A year later, I’d see that same person who would ask again about Keena.  When the news was actually worse than the previous year, it made most people extremely uncomfortable.  Doctors are supposed to make you better.  Medicine is supposed to work.  These are things Americans hold to be true and when something happens that promotes a different kind of experience, we get very uncomfortable.  

This is true with Suzy.  She responded very well to her first treatments of chemo.  The tumor essentially died – although it didn’t reduce in size.  Many people hear this and think, “Oh good…it’s over.”  Ask Suzy if it’s over.  She’s got 3 more months of super side-effects from the chemo, not to mention the reconstruction surgeries, etc.  Then there is also the burden of worrying about cancer for pretty much the rest of her life…

What still amazes me, almost every day, is that there are stories like this going on in almost every family around.  We all feel so insulated from the reality of sickness because as a culture, we really don’t share these burdens on a regular basis.  But when you talk to someone and find out about a sick spouse, child, or maybe even the person you’re talking to, it’s so hard to be in the moment and work on understanding.  I’m guessing it’s because it’s too painful to hear on a regular basis so people would rather stay at a distance than really get in there and ask questions.  And for some people, myself included, who have never really had medical problems, it’s almost impossible to truly empathize.  

But at the end of the day, I think it comes down to this.  We need to know that people are hurting.  While we may not know exactly how to help or support them, it’s a good starting place.  And about the only real way to learn that is to ask.  Then, the second step is something I’m going to try very hard to teach my daughter.  After we know they are hurting, it’s important to listen.  It’s important from one human to another to acknowledge the context of their situation and listen.  From that listening I believe a lot of good can come.  You can hear how to support, how to help, or simply what to say next.  Simply giving 30 minutes to someone may be all they need that particular day.  Talking it out (for most people) really can make an impact.  

So this blog, while about my family and about illness, is really about what I believe in from my core.  I teach communication to people around the world and that’s what this blog is about.  Listening, immediacy, feedback, stories, context, and interpersonal communication – these are traits that we should all work on in multiple frameworks.  

Here’s to healing for you Suzy.  And here is to health for our family.  We’ve had enough sickness to last a lifetime, so here is to a time of wellness for us all moving forward.

Want to hear more about how to communicate around illness?  Need someone to speak to your group about effective interpersonal communication?  Contact jborden@jeffpresents.com for more information!

July 19, 2009

How To Lose An Audience With Just One PowerPoint

Filed under: communications,speaking — Jeff Borden @ 8:51 pm
Tags: , ,
Bad PowerPoint Ideas
2:35
A presentation about how NOT to use the world’s most popular presentation software

July 18, 2009

Addie Is Two!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jeff Borden @ 5:39 pm

By the way – there is a YouTube video (pictures, video, and music) as well!  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N3O2q_NZMgs

July 13, 2009

Assessing Creativity

Filed under: education,Internet — Jeff Borden @ 3:56 pm
Tags: , , ,

Pick a number between 01 and 09.  Got it?  Multiply the number you chose by 9.  (You may need a pencil or calculator for this…)  You should now have a two digit number.  Add these two numbers together.  Subtract 5.  Take this last number and correlate it to a letter of the alphabet.  (1=A, 2=B, etc).  Think of a country that begins that letter.  Now think about the 2nd letter of the country’s name.  Think of an animal that begins with that letter.  Got one? 

You now have a problem.  There are no elephants in Denmark!  (Impressive, eh?)  So, approximately 94% of you came up with that answer.  The rest of you probably had an ostrich in the Dominican Republic, but it’s a crap shoot at that point.  🙂

Do you think that attention getter is creative?  I do.  Audiences like it – if you can get them to participate.  The payoff is when they realize you “read their minds” and they try to deconstruct it.  But regardless of the math behind the trick, it’s a pretty creative way to get people invested in you as a speaker.

Creativity is a passion of mine.  I am a big believer that we do not teach, nor do we encourage creativity in our classrooms.  (Tell me you’ve watched Sir Ken Robison’s talk at TED on this subject: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iG9CE55wbtY)  Yet, what talents do we read about in newspapers, magazines, and journals that are said to differentiate successful businesses, inventions, or even countries?  Innovation is often touted as what makes one business successful while another one fails.  Inspired design is often how inventions are described.  The United States likes to talk about our resourcefulness, imagination, and out of the box thinking that helps us stay ahead of other countries with regard to science, defense, and technology.  But if creativity is so revered, and if innovation is what will change our future, why don’t we build an infrastructure of creative thought for our students? 

I used to believe that educators were creative.  I thought you had to be innovative to find ways to inspire and motivate while teaching foundational principles.  But after 15 years in and around educators at all levels, I’m not convinced of that anymore.  Don’t get me wrong, there are some tremendously imaginative people out there teaching and assessing our students.  But, the percentage of creative people in education is probably the same as the percentages in industry, business, and the military.  (I’d guess that percentage is around 5%.)

Don’t get me wrong.  I think everyone has the propensity for creativity.  Or at least a majority.  But without those skills and attributes being nurtured by someone along the way, most people just do as their told and that creative inclination dissipates.  Think about it – you are in 2nd grade and you’re asked to draw a picture of a farm.  You grab your crayons and a big piece of butcher paper and start to work.  A purple sun here, a blue barn there, a flying tractor that can transform into various vehicles – all in all a pretty imaginative farm!  But then your teacher comes over and asks what you’ve done.  They explain that our sun is yellow and that a typical barn is red.  “Why?” you ask.  No answer is given.  It should be red because it should be red apparently.  And of course tractors don’t fly.  That’s just silly.

The end.  Game over.  Your attempt at something fun, cool, interesting, and creative was squashed and you soon understand that in order to succeed, you need to do things the conventional way.  You need to follow the pack to show that you have learned.

Obviously, this is a super simplified example and I mean no offense to 2nd grade teachers.  This could have been any level with any project.  And therein lies the problem. 

Think about what I call the triangle of teaching and learning.  You have two foundation points – the outcome and the assessment.  Then you have the tip of the triangle – the learning asset.  (I am growing tired of the bastardization of words like “learning object” which now mean so many multiple things to different people, we can’t have an effective conversation anymore.)  But let’s talk about each point.

The outcome: this is a constant.  It should not change unless it becomes out dated.  An outcome of students demonstrating writing skills or reading skills comes to mind.  (Of course, the level of specificity is an important conversation – but one for another day.) 

The assessment: this may change from term to term, class to class, or group to group, but essentially this stays the same for one instance of teaching.  In other words, you should assess all students in the same way to promote fairness.  (Ex: Don’t use a test for one student and a paper for another student.)

The learning asset: this is where teaching creatively can come into play!  How you get your students to the outcome can (read: should) vary within the same class / term and beyond!  The learning asset may be a lecture, a widget, an exercise, a powerpoint presentation, a video, etc.  (Creativity should be modeled!)

However, it’s the assessment that we’re talking about here.  While you don’t want to change requirements for assessment on a student by student basis, what about trying this.  Give your students the option to demonstrate understanding and application in their own way?!  If your assessment gives the freedom for students to explore their own creative ideas in terms of submission – and as long as the objectives for the assignment are met – imagine the culture of creativity AND assessment you would be creating!

For example, most instructors ask for a paper on bigger, complex items.  Why not ask for a presentation?  This may be a paper, but it might also be a video.  Students could use Zentation to combine a video with a powerpoint.  They might even create a model on Excel or using another software that demonstrates the objectives creatively.  

What about asking students from the start what ways they would like to promote themselves in terms of your outcomes and objectives?  Creating a democratic classroom in addition to a creative assessment culture is also powerful!  Students get to take more and more ownership of their learning and you get more and more ideas for future teaching modules!  

Why not start assessing students through gaming devices?  Games are powerful teaching and learning tools – and the assessment combines formative and summative effectively.  There are a number of games already created online or in books, but you can certainly make your own (demonstrating your own creativity!). 

There are ways to promote creativity.  There are things we should do to suggest to students that innovation, invention, and inspiration are both valued as well as something we can develop!  Think of the ramifications for our businesses, our culture, or our country around this powerful concept.  While we believe ourselves to be decent problem solvers, this may lead to a whole new generation of problem finders (which is typically considered much harder…).  Assessing creativity can happen.  It can make learning more engaging.  It can lead to stronger connections between content and application.  It can happen.  Good luck and good teaching.

Want to know more about creativity?  Want to inspire your team to think outside of the box?  Contact Jeff at jborden@jeffpresents.com for more information!

July 7, 2009

Addie

Filed under: immediacy — Jeff Borden @ 4:37 am
Tags: , , , , ,

The blink of an eye.  I know it’s cliché and I know it’s probably overused, but I have no better way to describe it.  Don’t get me wrong – I’ve noticed the inevitable speeding up of time my whole life.  For almost 40 years, the patterns of existence seem to increase in velocity on an exponential basis. 

Every Fall I look forward to the fresh Colorado air, the leaves transforming into something Rockwellian, and the ability to play outside all day but still want hot soup for dinner.  Of course, Fall also represents the nearness of Thanksgiving and Christmas – my two favorite holidays.  And that pattern has existed for me since I was about 8 years old.  But each year, Christmas gets here faster.  Thanksgiving is gone seemingly before it began.  Then we’re into the dead of winter – those few months in January and February where it’s dark, cold, and the days are long.  Those months don’t seem to fly by quite as quickly, but they too are accelerating.

That brings me to today.  The day after something consequential…something monumental in my life and the life of my family.  It brings me to the day after my daughter turned two…

My little girl, who needed Keena and I to fulfill her every need just months ago is no longer a baby – she’s now a kid.  In the last 24 months, she’s been summoned and referred to by many names: Peanut, Sugar Plum Fairy, Monkey, Addie Girl, Ads, Addie Borden, Munchkin, Lovely, and Cutie – I’m sure there were more, but my memory is already fading (sigh).

I’m having a hard time remembering where these last two years have actually gone.  While I remember being in the hospital, having the doctor hand my daughter to me immediately after being born, and staying with her from that moment until two days later when I finally ventured out of the hospital for some much needed Qdoba for Kee and I, I can’t remember all of the little stuff that I want to.  

Addie walked super early – she was walking at 9 months – and she walked pretty well right from the start.  Luckily we got that on video!  But until I looked back at some of those video moments, I forgot how she liked to run back and forth between Keena and I, giggling the whole time.  This little girl who screamed her guts out at her first bath went on to meet milestone after milestone early and I want to remember them all.  But like a frosty window pane, I can focus on specific memories while others are just out of reach, lingering in my subconscious.  

Our SPF (Sugar Plum Fairy) started to use sign language early too.  She knew more and milk and water before we did.  And what was her first word?  Was it “Daddy” or “Mommy” or “kiss” like some kids?  Nope.  She said the word that fascinated her and captured her little attention right from the start.  “Jackson” – our Lab / Greyhound was what came out first.  Well…more like “Jacks” but we all knew what it meant.  That was over a year ago.  Now, it’s on to, “M&M Cake” (what she busted out that she wanted for her birthday party…).  Now she says things like, “Oh No Momma!” when there is a ladybug on the window.  Or one of my favorites – she’ll say, “Down Dad.”  This means she wants to go downstairs.  I’ll reply, “You want to go downstairs Addie?”  To which she’ll come back with, “Okay!” – as if to say, “What a grand idea!  I wish I’d thought of that!”

I want to remember the compliments.  I can’t describe how often complete strangers stop my wife and I to tell us how beautiful our little girl is.  Our kid photographers want to give us extra pictures and send her images in for product placements.  I mean, my little girl is over the top pretty.  (Don’t think I don’t know what that’s going to mean for my future…)

I pray I’ll never forget that tiny body running to me when she hasn’t seen me for 8 hours.  She puts that little head down and just starts trucking my way, putting her hands up about 5 feet away.  Then, it’s into my arms and she lays her head down on my shoulder, patting my back.  (I wish those moments could last for hours…)

And unless we capture it on film, audio clips, photos, or in journals – it just fades away.  Every day brings something new as we lose what was new yesterday.  Excitement for any ceiling fan was replaced by a love of airplanes and hec-ocs (helicopters).  Of course, hec-ocs was then replaced by the thrill of, “poo poo!”  Everywhere we go – “Dad!  Bird poo poo!” or “Oh No Daddy!  Jacks poo poo!”  And so on…

But through all of the memories, with all of the fascination and wonder, along side it all, the memory that actually improves is love.  I have no idea how it’s possible to love a being so much more today than yesterday, but it’s as if the memory just builds on itself – exponentially.  I want to protect her, help her, give her everything – I just want her to know that love that I can’t really express.  

There are a few songs out there from parents to kids.  They totally have new meaning for me now.  My wife and I particularly love, “Fix You” by Coldplay…ok, like doesn’t cut it for a song that makes me cry every time I hear it.  (Damn you Coldplay!)  But it’s not the song as much as the feelings I associate from that song with my little Addison.  I want her to always know that those lights will guide her home.  I yearn for her to have a home where she is safe forever – a home where she can go to ignite her bones.  

Even after 20, 30, or 50 years…after my eye has blinked just a few more times – I want my Addie girl to always know how much we love her.  Happy Birthday Addie Cakes. 

-Dad-

June 21, 2009

Mentors

Filed under: communications,immediacy,leadership,transparency — Jeff Borden @ 6:15 am
Tags: , , , , ,

When I was sixteen years old, I remember going downstairs to our basement where my dad was watching tv.  In fact, he was watching some guy on tv talk about the need for men to have a mentor.  I watched the tape with my dad and when it was done, I remember looking up as my dad was silent for a few minutes. “What did you think of that Dad?” I asked after a while.  He went on to explain to me that felt every guy needed a mentor – a leader and/or teacher to help him navigate parts of life that were tough, new, or important.  In fact, my dad said that I should always strive to find a person like that in my life – that he would never be able to fulfill all when it came to advising.  I tried very hard to take him seriously and I’ve looked for mentors my whole life.

So, as Father’s Day came and went and I got to celebrate as a dad myself, it also gave me time to reflect on the men who have had a significant impact on my life.  First off, I’m sorry ladies.  I know there are several of you who have also affected me greatly, but I didn’t think about this until yesterday.  Maybe next Mother’s Day, I’ll do something similar 🙂

Note, I’m not talking about respect.  There are tons of men who have passed through my life that I respect a great deal.  My Father-In-Law comes to mind.  He’s a good man – an Air Force man – who can fix just about anything that needs fixing.  He wants desperately to be a good husband, a good dad, and a good Papa.  I respect him immensely.  Likewise, I respect some of my friends.  John, Luke, David, Ben – these are good guys who I love to hang out with – in fact, I wish I had MUCH more time to hang out more often.  

But I’m talking more than friendship or respect – this is deeper.  I’ve known guys to leave companies because they had no mentor to coach them through.  I’ve known men who joined clubs and groups just to find a trusted advisor.  Heck, my mom works with Psycho-analysts who let people pay for years to gain a guide in life!

I would also add that the men in my life who have taught me, led me, and helped me become who I am today were very diverse.  Many probably have no idea that they meant something to me.  Well today I hope to remedy that.  I won’t use any last names, with a few exceptions, but if these guys read my work…they’ll know.

  1. Jim, Tim, and Steve.  I lump these guys together because they all held the same role – they were my youth leaders growing up.  As the son of a preacher, of course I grew up in and around a church.  But these three leaders got me through Junior and Senior High School when I was probably pretty tough to deal with.  They taught me how to live a decent life, without the need to act crazy in the name of fun.  And as a result, my high school career was pretty great.  No major trouble – no drugs – no drinking – just fun doing things that I enjoyed and that made people happy.  Thanks for not giving up on me you guys!
  2. Keaten.  The best professor I ever had was in college and luckily I stuck around to really gain access to his brain in my grad program.  Keaten taught me how to be a better communicator, instructor, and presenter than any other teacher I had and that’s saying something as I was pretty lucky in that department.  I now know that most college professors are never given education classes – they don’t necessarily know how to teach, what adult learning theory is, how to put an outcome and an assessment together, etc.  But Keaten knew this stuff and he passed it to me.  I was lucky enough to watch him model great teaching behaviors and have him directly assess my ability to create instruction too.  While I’ve come a long way in terms of my education about education, he started me on a path for which I will forever be grateful.  Unfortunately some life stuff got in the way of staying close, but he was a great mentor to me and I won’t forget it.
  3. Andy.  I’ve blogged before about Andy.  He’s the ultimate stats guy – a logistician’s logistician.  He loathes blanket statements and starts to shake if people babble on about nothing for long.  But the guy taught me process is important.  If you ask my wife, she’ll tell you I’m a big picture guy.  I’m a visionary.  Don’t bog me down with the details!  But Andy showed me the importance of those details.  Not only did he explain their value, he showed me several ways to implement and operationalize those details effectively.  Anchor against what’s known.  See if it passes the “Spidey Sense” test (one of my personal favorites if you know how much of a Spider-Man fan I am…)  Follow the flow.  And I must admit I actually have some Excel skills.  Not “mad” skills mind you – this grasshopper will likely never out spreadsheet the master.  But I can put formulas together to figure out support numbers or analyze training revenues.  What’s also interesting about Andy is his management style.  Don’t get me wrong – there are people who worked for him that can’t stand the style.  But what I like is that he accepts that.  He knows he can’t manage all people all the time – but he’s going to try like crazy to set up a culture where others can fill in the blanks for him.  And ultimately, he takes care of the people he feels deserve it.
  4. Steve.  I came to know Steve as one of our clients about 6 years ago.  He was just taking over the online program for a bunch of community colleges.  I’m actually not sure how long it took Steve and I to become “friends” – but it couldn’t have been long.  We’ve traveled hundreds…possibly thousands of miles together on car trips around the great state of Iowa, and along the way he’s gone beyond simple friendship.  He’s taught me some valuable things.  The most pertinent lesson I’ve learned from Steve is that NICE GUYS DON’T HAVE TO FINISH LAST!  It’s true.  I’ve talked with Andy before about not being “cutthroat” in business.  It’s just not who either of us are.  And it’s probably why neither of us has $4 million in the bank today.  But, Steve has shown me that it’s okay to be a decent person, to try and be a good boss, and to attempt to make decisions that empower others.  Steve has quietly provided a platform for dozens…no, hundreds of people to shine.  He never wants the glory – he never wants the praise.  He just wants those around him to succeed.  From the high school girls he coaches to the college instructors he leads, his “get out of the way” approach to leadership has done nothing but make his groups grow, succeed, and be great.
  5. Paul Borden.  I told you, a few last names…and you had to see it coming!  My dad has been a tremendous figure in my life.  Over and over again, he has reinvented himself to me and it hasn’t gone unnoticed.  While I’ve seen him struggle – I don’t think that’s a problem for a mentee.  In fact, growing to see your mentor for all of the positive and all of the negative I would argue is a good thing.  But, at the heart of my relationship with my dad is a friendship – a bond that I hope I achieve with my daughter.  His guidance when it comes to money, friendship, relationships, and so much more has manifested itself throughout my life.  And speaking of modeling behaviors and skills?  He’s the best presenter I’ve ever seen.  He’s a fantastic consultant who can drill right to the heart of the problem and make you believe you are capable of fixing it overnight.  He’s genuinely funny – and not “preacher” funny – but overall funny!  And at the end of the day, I’m proud to call him my dad.  

So thanks guys…to all of you who have helped me navigate the waters.  I appreciate it.  While I haven’t always made the best decisions and I’ve still had to learn some valuable lessons on my own, it’s been made so much easier because of you.  

To all the Dads out there – Happy Father’s Day.  I hope you are mentoring your kids to be better people.  And to all the mentors out there, wherever you are.  Thank you.

Need a motivational speaker for your next event?  Want someone to talk about how to improve communication, teaching, management, or culture at your office?  Contact jborden@jeffpresents.com for more information!

June 15, 2009

Problems Down Under…and Up Over

Filed under: education,leadership,politics,teaching,Vision — Jeff Borden @ 5:26 am
Tags: , , ,

I just got back from Australia…what a confusing place that is! They use dollars, but not the same dollars as the US (obviously). They are 16-18 hours behind my beloved Mountain time zone, depending on the time of year. Australia uses centigrade, so when I asked what the temperature would be one evening and heard, “10-15″…I was hosed. I was asked several times if I was staying in the CBD, to which I incorrectly answered, “No, I’m staying at the Hilton…”

But at the end of the day, all of the differences aside, one thing seems to be universal – even down under. Education is in trouble. Talking to educators ended up in the same conversations I have in the states, just counter-clockwise. 🙂 They’re worried about quality, outcomes assessment, education dollars, and authentic curriculum just like we are in the states. Australian teachers have problem students, problem parents, and problems with administrators just like teachers in the states. Administrators have difficulty with rogue teachers, consumer minded students, and whether to go online with all programs, just like the states. In fact, it seems that we’re all in the same boat for just about every major, educational trend I know of.

So I have to ask…WHY? Why do so few countries seem to get it right? Why are there so many problems? Why aren there so few innovators and visionaries leading the (correct) way down a path towards enlightenment?

Luckily, I have an answer. It’s simple, really: argumentum ad antiquitatem is what it’s all about. Yep, a simple fallacy in reasoning is the culprit behind decades of inaction and fearful speculation. The appeal to tradition is paralyzing education around the world…

Ok, so maybe it’s not just that simple, but listen for a moment to my reasoning. If you look at most scholars who gauge educational relevance, they’ll put it somewhere between 3 and 5 decades late. In other words, educators still teach out-dated theories, practices that nobody uses anymore, and terminology that few “real world” practicioners understand. On top of that, most teachers use methods that are years behind, we force students to learn the ways in which we learned, and we ignore brain research instead focusing on antiquated learning theory.

So you may be sitting there getting frustrated by these comments. If so, odds are that you are 1) a teacher guilty of this (99% likely are…) or 2) an innovator who wants desperately to change things. Well friends, I’m with the innovators.  For example, it still amazes me how few, traditional teachers accept the Internet as a viable way to educate. Is it best in every situation? Of course not. Is it better than on-ground teaching in many situations? Absolutely.  I can show you rich, authentic, meaningful digital assets that will measurably enhance learning.  Of course it’s scary too. It provides a level of accountability that educators aren’t necessarily used to. Data mining is changing the face of online education and the measures / assessments brought with it are going to cause tremendous angst for some instructors. I’ve been in meetings where teacher’s union representatives have flat out denied the viability of online education explaining, “…we’ve never needed to teach that way before…” (yikes)

So you want a fix? Ok – here’s one. Call your Congressman – talk to your local school board – write our President. It will take a small portion of the education budget and some guts. But here we go…

Offer X grants per state for innovative education ideas. Something like 3 schools per state would likely work. One should be elementary, one should be high school, and one should be at the college / university level. The key is in the proposal – it has to be “out of the box” and it has to be adopted institution wide. What would “innovative” look like? Well, I don’t know exactly. The beauty of innovation is that it draws from the collective brain trust. BUT, one key aspect of the proposal would be measurement. How do you measure success? That question has to be answered farily and justly in order to receive consideration. For the opponents of NCLB, this gives them the opportunity to create their own measures. For the proponents, they can use the metrics already in place if desired. But real measurement must provide the outcome.

Let me give one example to get the ball rolling. How about the New City School in St Louis? This is a school where every student has a DEEP understanding of HOW s/he learns. As a result, diversity is embraced without being forced. Collaboration becomes second nature to these kids. And all the while, they see how they BEST learn, while figuring out how to mitigate their own lack of learning styles. In other words, they learn practical application of authentic tasks & assessment – what better way do we have to prepare students for the real world? THAT is innovative.

So, we get 3 schools per state to “pilot” a program for 1, 2, maybe even 3 years. Do you know what we get when we’re done? 150 case studies. We get 150 stories of success or failure. We see what might work, what likely wouldn’t work, and what we should consider rolling out to dozens…heck, to hundreds of schools. It might involve new ways of designing curriculum, different textbook configurations, innovative projects, new uses for technology, providing students with unique tools, or a myriad of other ideas.

We have always been a country that embraces innovation and creativity. While that’s not easy for big business or our government, as a country we still idealize the concept that a new way of doing something may be effective. (Obviously we have to be cautious of the fallacy of novelty…that’s another blog.) So let’s put our money where our mouths are. Let’s let educators put up or shut up. I believe in my heart that there are some creative, innovative educators out there with some potential solutions to our education crisis. Let’s give them a stage to present their ideas and potentially shine.

So would this “fix” education? Probably not. We’re talking about a system that has problems from top to bottom. Just look at the problem with cafeteria foods as it correlates to learning, obesity, and focus (http://www.jamieoliver.com/school-dinners). But, might this start the ball rolling to get more and more of our students educated in a system that creates a more competetive employee! At least I think it might.

So let’s see. I read article after article in INC., WIRED, NEWSWEEK, FORBES, and dozens of other publications about how to tap into innovation and creativity. Why don’t we start modeling and (therefore) teaching it to our students right now? It could lead to education reform that helps us financially, academically, and systemically. Creativity could lead us to a system of education that prepares students for a real world future…whatever continent of our world they may happen to reside in.

Would you like to talk about innovation in education? Want to learn how to both teach and assess creativity in your students? Contact jborden@jeffpresents for more information!

June 1, 2009

Health & Persuasion

Filed under: ideas,weight — Jeff Borden @ 5:17 am

So I’m in one of those mash-ups again… Weight, diet, persuasion, and health are all colliding in a mish mash of confusion and angst, leading to frustration and anger!  See what you think…

My wife recently got Jillian Michael’s book, “Master Your Metabolism” for me.  We are big fans of hers from the show (Biggest Loser) and like many people, I’ve wondered if metabolism wasn’t a potential problem for me over my lifetime.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not back up to 315 pounds like I was in college or anything!  I’m at my normal fighting weight – but I’d surely like to move down a belt or two.  And along the way, if I can eat a healthier diet and live longer (and therefore give my daughter a healthier life…), then I’m in!

Enter the problem.  This is the latest of a series of books I’ve read in the past 6 years since Keena got sick.  We looked at “The China Study” – a book (and author) which believes it proves the link between meat & dairy and a plethora of problems from cancer to Alzheimer’s.  We read “Eat to Live” where Dr. Fuhrman promotes a vegan lifestyle as a way to exist as the weight you should be, fix your cholesterol, and on and on.  And there have been plenty of others.  From gluten tolerance books to vegetarian books to chemicals…there are plenty of people with opinions about our world, our bodies, and our lifestyles.

So let me level set the playing field.  I actually buy into the notion that certain meats and amounts of total meat are problematic – this of course is compounded significantly by the idea of chemical enhancement like antibiotics, steroids, etc.  I also believe that dairy is a bad idea for humans.  As the only animal on the planet that consumes another animals milk AND the only mammal alive that continues drinking milk after begin weaned AND the fact that our bodies produce profuse amounts of mucous every single time we ingest dairy to cope with the notion that our bodies don’t like it…I get it.  We shouldn’t ingest milk!  (Try downing a gallon of milk in under 10 minutes and see how your body reacts…it will be very different than trying to down 1 gallon of water in the same time frame…)

So that is my paradigm – my over arching perception of food.  Along the way I’ve also come to believe that sleep is crucial when trying to maintain weight (Jillian supports this in her recent book), low carb / high fat is dangerous in the long term, and most importantly, everyone is different.  Our bodies all react to various things differently – for example, if I need to shed some pounds, eating after 8pm is a no-no.  I have seen books written by people who state that is nonsense.  But (in my opinion) assuming that every single variable applies equally to every single person is ludicrous.

So back to my dilemma.  Jillian Michael’s suggestions, sometimes supported and other times not as much, are tough.  “Of course they are tough!” you might suggest, especially if you’ve seen her on the show.  Well…there is a difference between tough and impossible.  A few examples might help.

  1. Only eat organic fruits, veggies, and meats.  Okay – this is certainly possible for my family.  Although I have a number of friends for whom the double / triple prices would not be a feasible option.
  2. Get rid of anything plastic that touches food.  Hmmm…now we’re starting to get hard.  I get the principle – she asserts that plastics are not completely stable and they slough chemicals into and onto foods / beverages.  Your body, not knowing that these chemicals aren’t from the body, assume they are signals and start to react.  These reactions may be to retain salt, retain water, or retain fat.  But replacing every plastic plate, plastic glass, plastic left-over container, not to mention all of the foods that arrive in plastics (did I mention she encourages very little of these foods to be purchased – mostly whole, natural foods)…now we’re starting to get into a major purchase mode.
  3. Avoid all chemicals from touching / entering your system.  She would say that the stain-master carpet we just had installed in our new home has to go.  No more chemical detergents for dishes or laundry.  No more soaps or deodorants from the grocery store.  (Do you see why I’m starting to struggle here?)

Unfortunately, most of these suggestions aren’t supported by much data.  Although in fairness to Jillian, there aren’t a lot of people looking to see if correlates exist between our hormones and our environment.  DOW chemicals isn’t too worried about proving that their products are not only hurting the planet but slowly poisoning the human race – imagine that.  However, some of the persuasion she uses is just fallacious.

One example she uses repeatedly is a friend she has who has always been thin, while eating as much as she wants all the time.  She claims that this woman only eats whole foods, healthy grains, and lots of fresh fruits and vegetables.  (I’m reminded of a great Brian Regan bit about how his friends suggested a diet of combinations.  You can eat as much as you want of the right combinations.  For example, you wouldn’t want to eat steak and potatoes…but you can have all the cauliflower and steamed raisin skins you can eat!)

The problem is that I also have a friend – one who is even older than Jillian and her friend – who still wears the same size jeans he did in high school.  He’s a rail.  And you know how he eats?  Like @$#* actually.  He’ll eat 1 or 2 HUGE meals a day, usually from a fast food chain and washed down by a power drink or soda.  But his body can handle what mine could not.  I realize that doesn’t mean he’s healthy.  Even though his cholesterol is normal and his heart is “strong” – it doesn’t mean he won’t keel over at 50.  But he might outlive us all…nobody knows.

So, like with many “health” books, people are left wondering where reality lies.  Is it in such an extreme diet and lifestyle that you can’t really fit into society, or should we all say, “forget it” and eat what we want, when we want, ultimately leading to obesity rates becoming 99%?  (Except for my friend…)

If you have lots of money…I’m talking LOTS of money, being healthy is definitely easier.  Healthy food is really costly.  Ripping out your carpets and installing wood flooring everywhere is not cheap.  Using the right soaps, only drinking non-dairy milks, buying organic everything…is expensive!  But for some people, healthy is harder than almost anything.  I work 70-80 hours per week between my job, my teaching, as a full time doctoral student – and that’s all on top of time spent with my family which is precious.  So, getting to a gym for exercise…I know how important it is, but if I do that (aside from the added expense), what do I cut out?  The job and the teaching can’t go or we can’t live.  The student work can’t go or I can’t get a promotion.  The family time is more important than anything else…hmmm. 

I realize that I’m in a MUCH better place than some.  Some people are working 2-3 jobs just to live and support their families – they don’t even get family time!  How do THEY be healthy?  I have no idea.  And what IS actually healthy?  I think everyone accepts the importance of exercise.  I think most people buy into a healthier diet.  But what is “healthier” anyway?  The research is hard to wade through, especially with so many special interest groups tainting the pool of information and rhetoric.  Try finding a study on dairy that doesn’t include a lit review with findings from milk-purchased studies.  And the jury is probably always going to be out on meat, but most people will eat it regardless of health risks.  Why?  Two reasons – they were raised that way and they like it.  (Both fallacies in reasoning.)  So don’t bother them with pesky facts…

In conclusion, I’ll say that I like Jillian Michaels.  Seriously – I think she means really well.  I watch her care deeply for her clients on the show and she does put her money where her mouth is.  (Notice she doesn’t “sell” the sugar-free gum, sugar-free jello, etc. during the commercials?)  But in the end, her book will find its way to my shelf with just a few nuggets having been gleaned and it’s a shame.  I’d love to find “the book” out there…but I guess that’s as unlikely as “the pill” – right?

Interested in how NOT to use persuasion?  Want to hear more about effective arguments versus fallacious reasoning?  Contact Jeff at jborden@jeffpresents.com for more info!

May 19, 2009

Political Correctness

Filed under: education,Humor — Jeff Borden @ 5:12 am
Tags: , , , , ,

Q-  How was the training you did in Hawaii Jeff?  A – It was like every other training I’ve ever done…about 72 degrees under florescent lighting…

Wow, is that unfunny.  Ok, it’s mildly amusing.  But, it’s also the craziest joke I get to tell on any kind of regular basis.  Why?  Because I work in an office for a multi-billion dollar conglomerate.  You see, funny to me isn’t funny to my employer – one of the 100 most ethical companies in the world.  Actually, what’s funny to most of my colleagues is a violation of dozens of HR rules, codes of conduct, and probably Miss Manners as well.

Many of you know that I perform stand-up comedy.  I don’t do it as often as I used to, but I got the chance to perform a few weeks ago at an open mic night and I killed!  Why?  Because I wasn’t anywhere near my office and I was 99% sure nobody from my office would hear me.  I got to tell jokes about all kinds of HR violations and the place erupted.  I believe as a people we need that outlet.  We need to laugh at sex, communication, bodies, race, stereotypes, stupidity, bosses, gender, drugs, and hundreds of other non-political correct things.  Yes – I truly believe this is a need people have…

So, I’m a man without a country; a comic without a mic; an employee with a self-imposed gag order.  And it’s tough – believe me!  I see ridiculously funny things every day.  The reason The Office is so funny is because we all know people like that.  Well guess what?  My office has characters even funnier than the tv show!  We have it all – sluts, know-it-alls, dufi (plural of dufus?), hard workers, non workers, bad parents, gas passers, and about 250 more!  And who can I tell these crazy stories too?  My wife.

My wife thinks I’m funny…at least to a degree.  But the humor is sometimes lost on her as my punchline has to wait for my daughter to finish screaming, “OLIVES” seventeen times from her high chair.  The big delivery just isn’t as funny with a fidgeting baby in your hands who is trying to smear you with minestrone.  

True, there are the few – the pantheon – who are willing to snicker quietly as you express your deepest, inner-most thoughts.  They may even see your tit for their own tat.  But there’s always that fear that they’ll rat you out.  Or, the notion that someone will still hear you through the same paper-thin walls that have allowed me to hear marital infidelity, spousal arguments, and 1 nervous breakdown.

It’s not like my speaking allows me to vent – I have no catharsis when I present for education groups.  I have to tell you – that is one of the toughest crowds in the world!  I’ve spoken with some other amazing comics and they agree – teachers are hard to make laugh.  Besides, most educators don’t hire me to be funny – they want to be inspired, motivated, and forced to gain perspective.  That’s cool – I can do that too.  But I sure do miss going on a rant about how ridiculous it is when people “Reply All” in an email just to say, “Thanks!”  I wish I could break out my, “Stuck in a women’s bathroom” routine for people.  I would love it if I could talk about how ludicrous it is to say there are no stupid questions without making the audience uncomfortable…(Professor, I just saw the price of the book.  Will I need to actually buy that this term?  –  Professor, I’m going on vacation next week to hike with my buddies in Alaska.  Am I going to miss anything?  COME ON!  That’s comedy gold!)

But that is not the world I live in.  I can’t bring up the fact that our spam filter doesn’t prevent all of the enlargement emails from coming my way.  Nor can I tell anyone that most of them are from my wife…OUCH!  I can’t afford the uncomfortable silence when I share my favorite student quote:  “I like many other men, like to surf the net and watch sports.  I’m looking forward to this class…”  (See why we need to teach proper use of commas?)  I can’t pass along seriously bizarre YouTube videos like these: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vnOyMSEWNTshttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7b5CKSqlz60&feature=related – What the…?  How can these not make you laugh at the sheer absurdity?

So I will continue on suffering in silence.  I will watch humorous situation after goof-ball premise surround me and not say a word.  But the day I quit…watch out.  I might get escorted from the building but I’ll be laughing all the way…

Need to hire a funny guy?  Looking for an entertainer with humor AND substance?  Contact Jeff at jborden@jeffpresents.com for more info!

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