Archives for July, 2010


Fresh Perspective and the Right Kind of Help

One of the reasons I love to travel is the new perspective I always bring home with me. No matter where I've been, or for how long, I come back to my home base with fresh eyes.

Upon this most recent return from LA, those fresh eyes of mine took one look at my chaotic house and went AAK!

True confession: Neatness is not my strong suit, to say the least! Books and papers stack up, jackets get thrown over the backs of chairs and just stay there, clutter piles up everywhere. I get busy doing other things, thinking other thoughts, and I tune out the gradually increasing mounds of disorder.

But after a week away, in a clean hotel room (well, except for the contents of my suitcase spilling out on the floor, and the Sunday LA Times I never quite finished which got strewn next to the bed, and all those receipts and business cards and change and ticket stubs littering the dresser...), I was newly energized towards CLEANING UP my house.
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Our Judgements Say Most About Ourselves




I've noticed a series of interesting advertisement posters in airports. They were lining the walls of the ramps as we boarded planes to and from our trip to LA. I don't know what product they are advertising (which I suppose might be a bad sign from a marketing perspective), but I sure find these posters thought-provoking.

One set of three posters shows identical shots of Niagara Falls, but with three different captions: Beauty. Danger. Power.

Another shows three identical apples, each missing an identical bite: Nutrition. Flavor. Temptation. (I don't remember all the captions precisely; don't quote me on these, but you get the idea.)
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Not Empathy, Just Respectful Listening

Here's some more wisdom from Dr. Haim Ginott, whose books I first read way back when I began tutoring in the 1970s.

Dr. Ginott never uses the word "empathy," but his books are full of scenarios which help the reader role play and imagine the other person's position. Personally, I find "empathy" too presumptuous a concept; I don't believe one can ever really know what it's like to be inside another human being's reality, and so I appreciate Dr. Ginott's more modest aspirations: skillful listening and preservation of dignity.

Here's a passage I especially like, from Between Parent and Child, in which Dr. Ginott encourages us to "listen with sympathy and understanding," which strikes me as a reasonable and respectful goal.
A child's strong feelings do not disappear when he is told, "It is not nice to feel that way," or when the parent tries to convince him that he "has no reason to feel that way." Strong feelings do not vanish by being banished; they do diminish in intensity and lose their sharp edges when the listener accepts them with sympathy and understanding. (p 28)
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Communicating Well With Students, or Anyone

Communication is multi-layered; so much so that the message we are trying to get through often gets lost in other messages. This is especially true when tough emotions such as anger, fear and frustration are in play.

Let's say a student is failing math. The parent might ask: Why don't you get some help from the teacher?

But even this simple question might easily ignite a firestorm. If there's  a tone of anger or irritation in the parent's voice, the student may seize onto that. The student may not want to ask for help; he may be embarrassed, or afraid, or reluctant to face the problem so directly.

And so, the parent's irritable tone may be enough to spark an argument, which for the student is a welcome relief from the painful topic of his math issues. Now, instead, he can talk about how unreasonable and unfair his parent is! What a relief!

But now parent and child are at each others' throats, leaving the math issue unresolved and becoming more serious as more time passes. A big part of my job as a tutor is to step in and defuse this sort of dynamic and redirect energies productively.
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We're All a Little Bit Paranoid

Here's perhaps my very favorite nugget of evolutionary psychology insight: A certain degree of "paranoia" is adaptive.

Look at how Nature would have bred this tendency into us:

Fred Flintstone is out on the savanna, and far off on the horizon he notices a large lump. The lump is too far away for Fred to make out what it is, but it might be a big rock. Or, it might be a cave bear!

There are the four possible ways this situation can play out:
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Reluctant Summer Learners

School's out, but that doesn't mean I'm unemployed between now and September.

Lots of smart parents take advantage of this summer down-time to get their kids some tutoring help. It's a particularly great opportunity to tackle problem areas in math, reading comprehension or writing.

Of course, many students aren't thrilled at the prospect of doing schoolwork over the summer. They thought summertime was going to be a break from the pain and drudgery of academics.
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