What a great piece from Stephen Downes. A few of these resonated quite strongly, and I found myself wanting to share it with my children as advice to revisit time and again. I’ve picked out a few of the best parts–in my opinion–of what Stephen Downes wrote. Thanks to Ginger Lewman for plurking about this and bringing a 2006 blog entry to our collective attention!

“Predicting consequences,” struck me. My work experience, especially as an administrator, has been centered around problem-solving and project implementation. I definitely see the power of predicting consequences to determine success or failure of an implementation. In fact, this is THE most seldom applied piece of advice by new administrators (ah, the benefit of experience to observe this). That said, be careful to not talk yourself out of an implementation as a result of what MAY happen.

The second most important point in Stephen’s list is communicate clearly. In my experience in schools, top level leaders live in an echo chamber, forgetting, even disregarding the importance of communicating what they are doing, how they are going to do it, who the stakeholders are, and sharing failures transparently. It pains me to see quality programs irritate or enrage people directly impacted by an initiative simply because of an irresponsible decision to not communicate. When I have been on the receiving end of this behavior, the attitude observed is, “This is such a great program! I’m sure you’ll forgive our little mistakes.” Clear communications about the process could easily have remedied the irritation.

I’ve tried to apply communicate clearly to my own work and pray my children develop these skills. I often think of it this way — “Say exactly what I mean to say and not one more word.” I’m sure I picked that idea up somewhere in my readings, but it is lost in time. Knowing what you mean to say challenges me. I often don’t find out what I want to say until I write it, or say it, grappling with the words until they are laid out before me. And, when I do know what I want to say emphatically, that is often when I should keep my mouth shut and keyboard silent.

Finally, distinguishing truth from fiction affirmed a practice I’ve taken with my children since they were old enough to watch television–“This is advertisement. They are trying to sell you something. Find out what they want you to do, then ask yourself if this is something you really need or want.” This skill is critical these days when every news channel you turn on fails to announce its biases.


Things You Really Need to Learn ~ Stephen’s Web

    • Things You Really Need to Learn By Stephen DownesAugust 30, 2006
      • genuine learning means something more than how to succeed in a business environment.
        • 1. How to predict consequences
          • you should always be taking the opportunity to ask yourself, “what will happen next?” Watch situations and interactions unfold in the environment around you and try to predict the outcome. Write down or blog your predictions. With practice, you will become expert at predicting consequences.
            • 2. How to read
              • how to look at some text and to understand, in a deep way, what is being asserted
                • A lot of writing is fill – wasted words intended to make the author look good, to distract your attention, or to simply fill more space.
                  • to what is actually being said, without being distracted, is an important skill
                    • Being able to cut through
                      • 3. How to distinguish truth from fiction
                        • The first thing to learn is to actually question what you are told, what you read, and what you see on television. Do not simply accept what you are told. Always ask, how can you know that this is true? What evidence would lead you to believe that it is false?
                          • Every day, subject at least one piece of information (a newspaper column, a blog post, a classroom lecture) to thorough scrutiny. Analyze each sentence, analyze every word, and ask yourself what you are expected to believe and how you are expected to feel. Then ask whether you have sufficient reason to believe and feel this way, or whether you are being manipulated.
                            • 4. How to empathize
                              • imagine how other people feel.
                                • ou will be able to feel someone’s hurt if you are rude to them. In the same way, it will become more important to be honest, because you will begin to see how transparent your lies are, and how offensive it feels to be thought of as someone who is that easily fooled.
                                  • Empathy
                                    • is a genuine feeling in yourself that operates in synch with the other person, a way of accessing their inner mental states through the sympathetic operation of your own mental states. You are polite because you feel bad when you are rude; you are honest because you feel offended when you lie.
                                      • 5. How to be creative
                                        • creativity is in fact the result of using and manipulating your knowledge in certain ways.
                                          • Genuine creativity is almost always a response to something.
                                            • in order to be creative, the first thing to do is to learn to look for problems to solve, things that merit a response, needs that need to be filled.
                                              • creativity involves a transfer of knowledge from one domain to another domain, and sometimes a manipulation of that knowledge
                                                • Creativity, in other words, often operates by metaphor, which means you need to learn how to find things in common between the current situation and other things you know.
                                                  • 6. How to communicate clearly
                                                    • Communicating clearly is most of all a matter of knowing what you want to say, and then employing some simple tools in order to say it. Probably the hardest part of this is knowing what you want to say.
                                                      • 7. How to Learn
                                                        • When you learn, you are trying to create patterns of connectivity in your brain. You are trying to connect neurons together, and to strengthen that connection. This is accomplished by repeating sets of behaviours or experiences. Learning is a matter of practice and repetition.
                                                          • Embed this word or concept into your existing knowledge by using it in some way – write a blog post containing it, or draw a picture explaining it.
                                                            • you need to ask, what are you learning when you are watching television, going shopping, driving the car, playing baseball? What sorts of patterns are being created? What sorts of patterns are being reinforced? How can you take control of this process?
                                                              • 8. How to stay healthy
                                                                • Every day, seek to be active in some way
                                                                  • 9. How to value yourself
                                                                    • Do it every day. Tell yourself that you are smart, you are cool, you are strong, you are good, and whatever else you want to be. Say it out loud, in the morning – hidden in the noise of the shower, if need be, but say it. Then, practice these attributes. Be smart by (say) solving a crossword puzzle. Be cool by making your own fashion statement. Be strong by doing something you said to yourself you were going to do. Be good by doing a good deed. And every time you do it, remind yourself that you have, in fact, done it.
                                                                      • 10. How to live meaningfully
                                                                        • money, fame and power are things people seek in order to do what is worth doing.
                                                                          • If you don’t decide what is worth doing, someone will decide for you, and at some point in your life you will realize that you haven’t done what is worth doing at all

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