As the year winds to a close, I am thinking about all those blog posts that never developed past a scrawling on a Post-it Note, so now I make this last ditch effort to get one in before midnight. Over the course of the year I read several books that made quite an impact on myself. I would even say these books have caused pradigm shifts in my thinking.
The most recent shift was brought on by Drive: The Surprising truth about what motivates us. The video below is a wonderful RSA white board animation that was created from a talk by Dan Pink (the author) on the subject. If you can’t get into Dan Pinks unorthodoxed notions, you can always sit back and enjoy the clever animation.
The book felt a bit academic in the writing style but it was an enjoyable and thought provoking read. The title of the book, a quote from comedian Steve Martin, which is his advice for those wanting to make it big.
A quote from the book which sums it all up for me is this:
“The first is the craftsman mindset, which focuses on what you can offer the world. The second is the passion mindset, which instead focuses on what the world can offer you.”
A third book that made a lasting impression on me was Blink by Malcom Gladwell, which is about rapid cognition or the thinking that happens in the “blink” of an eye. This book has taught me to trust my gut feelings, for more often than not, those “gut” feelings are simply my mind picking up on things and processing them on a subconscious level in the blink of an eye.
As an adjunct instructor at a junior college I have been struggling find that right balance between demanding too much and demanding too little. And racking my brain to find ways to motivate my sometimes unmotivated students.
The premise of Multipliers is that some leaders drain intelligence and capabilities from the people around them and others amplify it.
When I arrived to class I had no direct intention of implementing any of what I had learned recently learned, when a student who has been struggling asked a question. I gave him leading questions to allow him to solve his problem rather than answering the question directly.
So on to the next student who is quite capable but also quite lazy. He asked how to do something and I flat out told him, he should have known how to do this since the second week of class (we are in week 10). So without thinking I called over the struggling student and asked him to explain the technique, which he did perfectly. And he walked away with his often shaky confidence thoroughly unshaky. The lazy student sat up a little straighter after being shown, not by me but by a student with apparent capabilities below his own, how to do something. He went on in that class to produce his best work of the semester.
In a class critique of of student work I simply asked students what grade would they give themselves. If they declared they deserved an A, I asked if it was their best work. That exercise clarified the fact that that my expectations for what they were capable of was perhaps a little low. It also made them more accountable for their work and they seemed to change the way they saw the work. It was no longer simply an assignment in a class they “had to take” but now an example of what they were capable of, which they seemed to suddenly take ownership of.
I teach a Digital Imaging course at a community college and lately I have been trying to show my students some more graphic was of working in Photoshop. The assignment was to use some stock art and create a fictitious magazine cover. Today I got to playing with filters and really had some fun. Unfortunately I can’t decide which version I like best.
They say we only use a small portion of our brains’ potential. Whether that statement is true or not, I don’t know, but I have recently discovered the same can be said about how I use Photoshop.
I have used the software as a professional artists for more than 15 years and have become set in my ways. Photoshop keeps developing new tools and I do things the way I have always done them. I certainly have only been using a small part of Photoshop’s potential.
Since I recently began teaching a computer art course, I can no longer leave all of those strange menus and tools un-touched. It has been quite rewarding in the class room, and on my own as I explore new and forgotten tools in Photoshop CS5 in my own creative ways.
I had my students create self-portraits using Photo Booth, a random assortment of stock images and Photoshop CS5. I joined in on the fun.
In Japanese, Henna Ojisan means strange old man. Also a character made famous in Japan by Ken Shimura.
I decided I needed some inspiration as I began my adjunct teaching career, so I watched Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society. I loved his character’s passion and ability to inspire passion with his unconventional teaching methods. The movie brought back memories of some of my favorite quirky teachers through the years.
My favorite of the quirky teachers was Dr. David Thurn who taught high school English Literature. In my high school and college career, this was the only non-art class in which I received an A. It was also the only A that he gave out that semester for his two classes. I attribute that to his quirkiness and unusual teaching style that somehow spoke to me.
I have always sweat a lot, and when I lived in Japan I started using a folding fan. So as I stood before my class sweating profusely after running all over campus completing a number of chores. I tried fanning with a piece of paper and it just wasn’t cutting it. For years I have carried a folding fan, only using it when concealed. I was going to have to use my fan or the students would have to put up with a great stink.
I announce to the class that I lived in Japan and taught English for three years. I told them that in Japan folding fans are not trendy. Only old women and old men use them but I find them quite useful. Then I pulled my fan, opened it with a pop. I felt a bit embarrassed but grateful for the breeze.
Some of my old quirky teachers from high school and myself who seems to be joining the ranks of quirky teacher.
I was scheduled to begin teaching a two-week course in Flash animation this week for teens, but the class was cancelled due to low enrollment. Drats!! But I’m scheduled for a second session and I created this over-the-top promo to stir up some interest and get my teaching career started.
The style of the piece is modeled after one of my favorite on-line teachers, Andrew Kramer of VideoCoPilot.net who has tons of free tutorials as well as (highly recommended) products for sale on his website (that’s where I got my music for my promo). Kramer makes the finished product so exciting that any student of motion graphics and visual effects will sweat blood to achieve the same, but rarely do they with Kramers videos on hand.
As I prepare to begin for my first teaching job at a junior college, I felt I needed insight into how teachers deal with students beyond just the teaching of materials. A few years ago I read the book Angela’s Ashes, the Pulitzer Prize winning memoir of Frank McCourt. He tells of his poor and “miserable” childhood in Ireland. I loved the book and knew he had later written a book about his years teaching English in the New York City public school system entitled Teacher Man.
I finished the book last week. It put my mind at ease to learn from his experiences and to know that he didn’t always know what to do, took risks and experimented in order to find his way. To know that he survived 30 years with all manner of students; the good, the bad and the imposing students with black belts in karate gave me comfort.
Yesterday I had an interview a the Bronx Community College for an adjunct position. I arrived early and wandered through the empty stifling air-conditionless building, popping my head into old and weathered classrooms.
Outside the Art Department office, there was a bust of Albert Einstein. A wad of gum stuck in his right nostril and there were traces of gum that has been scraped from the other. I smiled to myself and though, I can do this.
Just last week I was offered the opportunity to teach a pre-college (teen) class in Digital Animation (Adobe Flash) at Westchester Community College. I am pretty psyched about the whole deal but the big difference here from my past teaching experience as an English teacher in Japan is I won’t be an assistant. I will have the opportunity to experiment and be creative with the curriculum . . . Muuuhuuuuhahahaaaaaaaa . . . . .
I suspect I will have to be a bit less experimental than I am when I cook but I am looking forward to the experience.
As I mull over how I will approach my new role as chief experimenter, I will expect the same from my students. Meaning, I would love for them to take chances creatively.
As I look for inspiration and instruction I am drawn back to one of my favorite video lectures from TED Talks. Sir Ken Robinson’s talk, “Do schools kill creativity?”