3 HIDDEN DYNAMICS OF LEARNING AND PARENTING

Written by Les Dahl on June 11th, 2015. Posted in Uncategorized

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Three dynamics distinguish a great teacher from the mediocre and a great parent from the ordinary. Like the wind these qualities are invisible, but their effect is readily evident.

Discernment

One definition of discernment is perceiving without pre-judgment to find intuitive direction and understanding. It is the process of creating a profile of a child based not on preconceived notions, judgments or methods, but rather on sensitive insight. Discernment comes as seeds of genius and greatness are perceived through personal interaction and relationship. It involves taking the time and making the effort to understand who the child is at this present moment rather than imposing who we think the child should be.

Discernment is demonstrated in the ability to judge well. It recognizes the strengths of personality, character and motivation by which the child moves forward confidently instead of focusing on weaknesses and remediation.

Discernment requires astuteness—the ability to accurately assess a situation, detect how the child is responding to it, and then find the key that turns the situation to advantage, i.e. turning bad to good; good to better. Where remediation is necessary, discernment applies the child’s strengths to the process instead of focussing on and belaboring his/her weaknesses.

Just this week I was coaching Reggie (not his real name) who was preparing for his Third Grade year-end exams. Reggie made it clear that he was bored with school, that he didn’t need to study because he already knew everything, and that he wasn’t pleased that his mother had arranged this session. His question, “How long is this gonna take?” said it all!

I discovered Reggie had a keen mind and really did know much of the material he was to study. (This very likely was the reason why he was bored at school). Clearly, Reggie’s problem was emotional not academic. How could I help Reggie break through that wall?

Somewhere in the session, Reggie mentioned that he didn’t need to study Creative Writing, one of the subjects in the exam, because he was “really good at writing”. That piece of information almost slipped by unnoticed.

That’s it! The bells and lights went off inside my head. Reggie just threw me the key, and I almost missed it. (Some of his boredom had rubbed off on me and de-sensitized my discernment.)

“Reggie, here’s your assignment.” I told him. “Imagine there is a new student in your class who has absolutely no clue about what we just studied in Social Studies. He’s bored and just wants to go out and play football, but he has to study for a dumb exam. Write a Grade 3 Social Studies Study Guide for Dummies for him. Just tell him what he has to know in a way that he can get it and pass the exam.”

The idea caught Reggie off guard, but he thought he could do it.

“It might be too much work though,” he countered on second thought.

Oh well, perhaps I wasn’t able to knock down the wall completely, but I think I see it cracking!

Imagination

Imagination is actively forming new ideas, images and concepts of possibilities that are not yet present to the senses. Taking the seeds of genius and greatness discerned while profiling, imagination creates mental images of them in full bloom and fruitfulness. As genius and greatness mature, they move the child—now a young adult—into positions of power and influence. The possibilities are limitless.

With clear images of possibilities in mind, teachers and parents can create a learning pathway that will nurture the seeds of genius and greatness towards destiny. (It must be kept in mind that these are possibilities—they may change as the child develops. Nevertheless, they set a target by which to plot a course.

There must be plenty of room on the pathway for curiosity, spontaneity and serendipity. These fuel the child’s motivation to learn. With imagination we can embrace these ‘interruptions’ as simply ‘taking the scenic route’. The mind shift will free us to be creative and resourceful on the journey. 

Compassion

Compassion keeps discernment and imagination in perspective. It keeps the focus on the child not the program and reminds us that programs should be designed to serve the child rather than the child made to fit the program.

Compassion is prepared to step outside-the-box and beyond methodology with personal action in order to unlock genius and facilitate forward movement. If necessary, compassion takes sacrificial action—learning is, after all, about the child, not the teacher or parent.

Compassion also creates a secure space in which mistakes can be made without judgment, recrimination or punishment. Research affirms that we learn most effectively from mistakes.

 

As we endeavor to engage these three dynamics in our teaching and our parenting, we do well to remember that we are not perfect. Nor do we need to be. Children have the amazing capacity to accept our ‘human-ness’ as parents and teachers. They forgive us when we are humble enough to admit our short-coming. Children thrive when we respect them for the unique, gifted persons they truly are.

Shalom!

Image courtesy imagerymajestic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

S.M.A.R.T. PRAYING

Written by Les Dahl on June 8th, 2015. Posted in Uncategorized

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Nothing empowers faith like answered prayer. Conversely, nothing erodes faith like hope deferred—when you’ve prayed and prayed but just can’t get a breakthrough. I’ve been in both places.

We are finally experiencing breakthroughs. They come after a very long, dry season in which the heavens seemed like impenetrable brass. Several factors come to mind as I ask, “What changed?” One is that we are praying S.M.A.R.T.-er!

Goals are targets we aim at. They help us see beyond present circumstances and envision results which improve our lot. Goals empower us to convert obstacles into stepping stones that carry us forward toward our desired end.

Certain kinds of praying are like setting S.M.A.R.T. goals. The parallel can help us understand the Apostle Paul’s advice: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God.” (Philippians 4:6)

S.M.A.R.T. PRAYING

S – SPECIFIC

One day I sat down and listed on a piece of paper all the things we needed to move out of our frustrating circumstances into greater peace and prosperity. As one thing after another came to mind I added it to my list—not all items were material things. These were not nice-to-have items if we could afford them; these were items we really needed but just couldn’t afford.

Like a new fridge.

Our old one quit on Christmas morning, after 19 years of faithful service. That left us with Rebekah’s small fridge—perfectly adequate for her when she worked at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Montego Bay, but hardly big enough for a family of 3 adults and 2 growing children!

After every member of the family added items, we huddled around the paper, each stretching a hand to touch the list, and we “let our requests be known to God”, ending with an exuberant “Amen!” Like a basketball team getting ready to get back into the game after a time out.

We posted the list in a spot where we would be reminded daily of our specific prayer targets. Whenever we looked at the items on the list, we expressed thanks to the Almighty for His provision.

M – MEASURABLE

The progress of our faith was clearly measurable because our requests were very specific. If our prayer requests are not specific, how will we know if and when the prayers are answered? We would know our prayer was answered when a brand new fridge stood in the spot left vacant by the defunct one.

We reviewed our list day after day, revising anything that was vague until we had identified exactly what we were praying for. Interestingly, as our targets became more specific and measurable, our faith became more focused and gathered momentum.

A – ACTION

The Apostle James writes, “Faith without action is no faith at all!” (James 2:26 paraphrased) Our faith came alive with action! We went in search of fridges to determine exactly what make, size and price suited our needs. We discussed what we needed to do to position ourselves to receive the Almighty’s answer. We examined our hearts for limiting beliefs and lingering doubt. We took note of Scriptures that strengthened our confidence. Answers to prayer are the result of an active partnership with God. We made sure our part of the deal was covered.

R – RELEVANT

Mountain-moving faith is activated when the target of our prayer is relevant. Relevance is defined by the Kingdom and purposes of God. Jesus taught, “Put God’s Kingdom priorities first, and He will see to it that all your needs are met.” (Matthew 6:33 paraphrased) That does not mean that only big, earth-shaking requests matter. Little things matter to God! A prayer request is relevant when the answer moves the team—in this case, our family—forward and into a better position to bless others.

We were confident that our request and our motivation for a new fridge qualified for His attention, even though it was a mundane, housekeeping matter. We imagined our loving Father would be rather pleased to give us a new fridge, not just any fridge, but the exact one on our list. We had no idea how this would happen—the price was far beyond our present means.

T. TIME RELATED

I used to think, as many do, that we can impose time limits on God. “Lord, we really need a new fridge, and we’re believing for a miracle by the end of January.” That should give Him enough time, we think to ourselves. It doesn’t work that way!

The Almighty is ready and willing to answer our prayers immediately. As our loving Father, however, He uses prayer to mentor us to greatness. Delayed answers signal there adjustments to be made, lessons to be learned and insights to be gleaned. Father has heard our prayer and is ready with His answer, but either we’re not yet ready or we’re not yet in position to receive it. So, like the good Father that He is, the Almighty patiently takes time to prepare us and move us into position. When the time is right, the answer arrives. He, not we, determines the right time. That’s what “waiting on the Lord”. is about.

In May, six months after our request was made, our new fridge arrived. During the wait, we learned how to make do with the small fridge, we learned invaluable lessons about faith and prayer, and we bonded deeply as a family—we truly became a dynamic team in God’s Kingdom!

The money to pay for the fridge came ‘out of the blue’! (God has a delightful sense of humor!) We gave Rebekah’s fridge to friends who needed a new fridge and had been praying for one. We gave the old fridge to a repairman in the neighboring village. He was delighted.

When we pray S.M.A.R.T., we place ourselves in line for amazing answers that benefit not only us, but others as well. The taste of this kind of answered prayer is addictive. Clearly, the Almighty enjoys the prayer journey as much as we; most of the items on our original list are checked off “Answered!”

Shalom!

Source of image – www.mytimemanagement.com/

 

 

LEARNING FROM THE STORYTELLER

Written by Les Dahl on May 26th, 2015. Posted in Uncategorized

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Wherever He went, Jesus created learning experiences.

He sat as comfortably with the doctors of theology in the Temple university at Jerusalem as he did with commoners in the synagogue at Capernaum. He was as much at ease with huge crowds on the Galilean hillside as He was with individuals like Nicodemus. Children, foreigners and outcasts—all were welcomed with unusual grace.

Like Socrates, Jesus often initiated a lesson with a question. Questions help focus attention on essential points in a way that requires students to be fully present and fully engaged. There is no place to hide when the clock is ticking in anticipation of response.

Another technique Jesus used very effectively was story-telling.

An expert of Torah law confronted Jesus with a ‘trick question’. “Rabbi, what should I do to obtain eternal life?” His secret intent was to trap Jesus—’stump’ Jesus, ‘show Him up’, ‘score points’ at Jesus’ expense—to embarrass Jesus publicly.

Unfazed, Jesus countered with a question: “What is in the Torah? You are an expert of the Law, you’ve done the research—what does the Law say?”

Before the young man can answer, Jesus turned the laser on him with a second question: “How do YOU read it? Has the knowledge gained studying the Torah made YOU of greater benefit to those around you and engaged YOU in making the world a better place?”

Quick of wit, the young lawyer quotes the essence of Torah: “Love the Lord your God…love your neighbor…”

Jesus commends him. “Very well answered. Do this and you will experience quality of life!”

Realizing he was caught in his own trap, the lawyer shifts the spotlight back on Jesus with a cynical question: “And who is my neighbor?”

Undisturbed, Jesus replies, “Let me tell you a story…“

What a classic example of turning even a ‘trick question’ (asked with malicious intent) into a ‘good question’, and in the process activating a learning experience in which the student was fully present and fully engaged throughout. In the end, the student faces a life-changing decision!

A dynamic of Jesus’ teaching, more profound than His questions and His stories, is revealed in the above exchange. (Luke 10:25-37)

Notice that not once did Jesus react, belittle, condemn or judge the lawyer?

How did Jesus keep His composure under such intense pressure?

In one of His encounters with Peter, Jesus announced, “You are Simon…but you shall be called Peter.”

Jesus was telling him, “You, and others around you, see yourself only as Simon—little more than a rough-edged, insignificant pebble. But from this moment on I call you Peter—because I see in you a solid, perfectly-chiseled stone that is foundational to the Church I establish!”

Jesus saw the lawyer for the self-absorbed conniver that he was. He saw Peter for the impetuous, abrasive fisherman that he was. Nevertheless, Jesus looked past the present reality of each and focused on the potential destiny hidden within. The objective of Jesus’ teaching was to empower each of His students to be free to be what they were created to be.

Trick question, impetuous personality, ignorance, failure—Jesus accepted whatever raw material was presented to Him. With questions, stories and insights that penetrated to the heart, Jesus skillfully chiseled and chipped at the rough-hewn block in front of Him. His patience, mercy and grace were unrelenting until His workmanship was accomplished—a unique masterpiece that reflected His Father’s glory.

Questions and stories are powerful teaching techniques, especially when used to empower our students to become that masterpiece of purpose and destiny each was created to be!

The Apostle Paul (who also was transformed by his encounter with Jesus) describes the process as he writes: “We are God’s masterpiece, completely transformed in union with Christ Jesus for a life of good actions already prepared by our Heavenly Father for us to do.”

We may be a pebble in our own eyes and little more than a rough stone in the eyes of others, but in the Father’s skillful hands, we are solid rock—a masterpiece in progress—specially shaped for the destiny He has prepared for us and perfectly fitted for our unique place and function in His church.

How much more empowering are Jesus’ teaching techniques when the lesson of His story becomes our personal experience! We can only pass on to our students what we have within us—the rest is just words. 

Shalom!

Image courtesy http://www.freebibleimages.org/

 

DREAMS, GATEWAYS and LEARNING

Written by Les Dahl on May 17th, 2015. Posted in Uncategorized

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The question, “Why do we have to learn this stuff?” is a legitimate question. School work that is little more than ‘busy work’ designed to keep students occupied and assignments that only reinforce rote learning are not only boring, they are counter-productive. The end result is often demotivated students who strongly dislike school. As parents and educators, we must have a good answer to the question and create learning activities that instill a life-long desire and joy of learning.

Children are dreamers. They see a jet flying high overhead, watch it disappear from view and turn to declare, “I’m going to be an airline pilot when I grow up!”

Next day as they hear the screaming siren of a fire truck and watch the bright red vehicle speeding by with rugged firemen hanging on, they declare, “I’m going to be a fireman when I grow up!”

But just yesterday you wanted to be a pilot,” we remind them

Can’t I be both?” they retort somewhat irritated that we limit their future possibilities.

We pass it off as childish fantasy—they’ll grow out of it when they step into the real world!

But why?

One of the amazing realities about learning is that you can choose to be or do anything you desire, because you can learn whatever is necessary to achieve the future of your choice.

Learning is a series of gateways, each opening into a bigger, more challenging field. As you master the content of your present field, you can confidently walk through the gate into new territory, knowing that you have what it takes to master the next set of challenges.

A simple example is found in learning math. The journey begins by learning numbers and counting. That skill leads to addition which in turn leads to subtraction, multiplication and division. Mastery of those fields opens the gateway to geometry and algebra. From these fields the gates swing open to physics, chemistry and biology. Any one of these creates a platform of innumerable careers from which to choose a meaningful, satisfying future!

A similar pattern of forward movement and expansion of skill is found in any other learning pathway, if math is not the subject of choice.

Gateway by gateway, field by challenging field, the path leads to a promising future of opportunities. Somewhere along the journey you reach the tipping point and you realize your options are limitless.

Why do you have to learn this stuff?

A world of opportunity awaits you, and you really don’t have to limit your future to one option. You can be a pilot and a fireman and anything else you set your sights on!

Shalom!

Image courtesy Gualberto107 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

OUTSTANDING MOTHER AWARD

Written by Les Dahl on May 11th, 2015. Posted in Uncategorized

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The many little things that mothers do shape personality and character in their children. I thank God for the mother who gave birth to me. Besides the gift of life, my mother instilled in me values that I treasure.

After Sumas Lake—in southern British Columbia between Abbotsford and Chilliwack—was drained, my father and two of his brothers secured acreage on which to farm. Anyone who has grown up on a dairy farm knows that the work is never done and that almost as soon as a child is able to walk, he/she is conscripted into service. No, it is not child labour, it’s character development!

Many times, when school mates enjoyed after-school soccer or basketball practice, I had to be home, doing my chores. Many Saturdays, while my friends were fishing or just hanging out together, I was at home cleaning out calf pens or chicken barns!

At the time, I likely complained some—probably a lot—but the grit, stamina and work-ethic garnered by the discipline armed me for later success. No regrets!

During the 1950’s, refugees from the Korean War showed up in our area to work in the large hop fields nearby. (The female flower of the hop vine is used as a flavoring and stabilizing agent is beer; it creates the bitter, tangy taste.)

One Sunday afternoon, a frail, slightly-bent visitor shuffled into our yard. Plainly dressed in ‘charity’ clothes, he looked like a character out of a children’s picture book.

Wide-eyed, I watched him approach my mother, who happened to be feeding the chickens. With a welcoming smile, she greeted him as though he were a long-time friend. Animated gestures and strained words—Korean and English intermingled—followed as the two struck up a ‘conversation’. An hour or two later, Mr. Lee left beaming and clutching a bag of fresh brown eggs.

Mr. Lee became a regular visitor and a special friend. My mother said simply, “I understand what it feels like to be in his shoes.”

She had fled for her life during Stalin’s brutal pogroms in Russia, across eastern Europe in boxcars during the bitter cold of winter, arriving finally after an arduous trek, a refugee in Canada. I’ve never had to endure the trauma my mother went through, but from her I learned the grace of friendliness.

My mother’s friendliness began with empathy—the grace to walk in someone’s shoes in order to understand what they are feeling. Then, she built bridges that connect rather than walls that separate. Third, my mother continually affirmed and validated. In my mother, the hopeless and broken found a listening ear, an understanding heart, and someone who would walk with them through the process of healing. Finally, my mother had the grace to overlook faults and forgive. She searched for and focusing on the good in people. She truly believed good triumphs over evil and mercy over justice.

Rich, poor, race, color, creed—all were welcome in my mother’s circle of friendship. I decided early in my life, that I wanted that grace. I have been greatly enriched as a result.

Shalom!

 

I honor 4 award-winning mothers: (1) Miriam, who like my mother has enriched the lives of our children & grandchildren; (2) Rachel & (3) Rebekah, our 2 daughters who are great mothers; and (4) Nichole, our daughter-in-law, & also a great mother. Blessings to you all…

 

Image courtesy Witthaya Phonsawat / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

WHAT DO LEGO® BLOCKS AND LEARNING HAVE IN COMMON?

Written by Les Dahl on May 7th, 2015. Posted in Uncategorized

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At times students in my class raised the objection, “Why do we have to learn this stuff? I’ll never use it anyway!’

Usually this was in response to a difficult or tedious task. After hearing it repeatedly, I realized my students were asking a good question. Good questions deserve good answers. I didn’t have one. So I set out to find one.

(“Just because.you have to…” and “It’s part of the curriculum…” do not qualify as good answers. They offer neither relevance nor context for the particular learning activity in question.)

The question was brought home as I embarked on home schooling our four children. My evasive answers did not satisfy them nor me.

Why do children have to learn this stuff! What relevance to real life are the myriad of learning activities called school? What reason can I propose that will motivate children to engage in the learning process with purpose and delight?

In my quest to formulate a good answer to the question, one that was both meaningful and satisfying, I found four. The first—learning activities provide mental fitness exercises—is the subject of my previous post, Mental Fitness and Learning. The second—learning creates knowledge capital with which prosperity is built—is today’s focus.

I am fascinated as my grandchildren create amazing designs, landscapes and machines with lego® blocks. Totally engrossed in the creative process, their little minds are fully present and fully engaged. With spontaneous, unrestricted imagination, they experiment, discover and invent.

Some learning involves gathering bits and pieces of information that are stored in the mind like lego® blocks thrown into a toy box. They appear to be unrelated, but when they are connected, amazing thoughts, ideas and inventions are created. The more lego® blocks in the toy box, the bigger and better the creative possibilities!

Creative, inventive people are those who explore learning with spontaneous, unrestricted curiosity and garner useful pieces of information for their ‘toy box’. Innovative strategies for business, industry, agriculture and social development emerge from the cognitive ‘toy box’ that is well-stocked with mental lego® blocks.

“Why do you have to learn this stuff?you ask.

I say, “You want to gather as many lego® blocks as possible. Fill your ‘toy box’ with as many pieces of varying sizes, shapes, colors and functions as you can. They may seem unrelated and useless at the moment, but these will be the very pieces needed to create a solution to a very perplexing problem or to design an amazing invention in a time to come. Then you will be glad that your toy box is full of creative ideas and resources.”

Shalom!