Understanding apathy

January 9, 2014

Students stop attending classes. Staff members will do anything to avoid a departmental meeting. Voters don’t go to the polls.

Apathy and disengagement abound. For leaders and change agents, figuring out the root causes can morph into an obsession, but “why?” is the wrong question to ask. Chances are, you’ll never find out why. If you ask, you may get an answer that you know is not really true.

Why did you stop attending class? May result in a head hung low and a sheepish, “I dunno…”

Why did you stop attending meetings? May result in a superficial smile and a politically correct, “I’m so sorry… I’m just so busy right now…”

Why don’t you vote? May result in a shrug of the shoulders and a deflated counter-question, “What difference does one vote make anyway?”

Asking people why they have become disengaged or disenchanted rarely results in a useful answer. It takes too much mental energy to think through the answer. Or if the person already knows the answer, it takes too much emotional energy to share it. The probability of confrontation is high. It’s too risky.

To avoid confrontation, those who have abandoned a project, process or commitment may share a polite answer that allows them to sidestep the real issue, or they may shrug it off entirely.

If you really want to understand the reasons someone has become disenchanted, sit down with them, face-to-face, and ask a different question: How do we make it better?

Surveys and e-mails are not an effective way to ask this question. They are impersonal. Quick. Efficient. And ultimately, they send a message that you want something (information), but you’re not willing to invest anything (effort).

If you want insight, you need to be willing to invest effort. If you want depth of insight, be wiling to add a personal touch that is genuine and sincere. Book a lunch (and then pay for it). Invite the person over for coffee (without asking the invitee to bring anything).

Show that you are willing to give in order to get… and do so without expectation. The disenchanted may be guarded, unwilling to take risks or afraid of consequences if they are honest. If you want their input, you need to extend the offer first. Be generous and establish an environment of personal trust and social (or professional) safety. There should be no punishment for sharing viewpoints, opinions or feelings.

When you ask “How do we make it better?” you allow the other to share without the risk of punishment or confrontation. You may never get that person back, but you can figure out what happened so you can improve for those who follow in their footsteps.

Ask, “How do we improve?” Then, shut up and listen.

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If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.


21 Characteristics of 21st Century Learners

December 7, 2011

Whether you are a teacher, a parent, an aunt or an uncle, it is important to know that today’s students are wildly different in some ways, from past generations.

21st Century learners…

  1. Want to have a say in their education. They’ll respond better when their voices are heard.
  2. Often have higher levels of digital literacy than their parents or teachers. They don’t know a world without computers.
  3. Expect transparency in their parents, teachers and mentors. They’ll see right through you. (Makes it really hard to plan a surprise birthday party for them!)
  4. Want you to tell them when you have messed up, apologize for it, and move on. Everyone messes up. No big deal. Just don’t try to hide it. If you do, they are likely to post it on Facebook.
  5. Don’t care as much about having a job as they do about making a difference. The very concept of a “job” has changed so much in the past decade, the future is about making a difference.
  6. Demand the freedom to show their wild creativity. 21st century learners balk at rote learning and memorizing. They’ll do it if you make them, but be prepared to let them loose to be creative, too.
  7. Want to connect with others in real time on their own terms. They want their social media, their phones and their mobile technology. They want to be connected. All the time. In a way that makes sense to them (not necessarily to you).
  8. Collaborate amazingly well. They love teamwork and figuring things out with their friends.
  9. Really can multi-task. To do other wise is… yawn! Bo-ring!
  10. Appreciate a “trial and error” approach to learning new skills. Thank you, video-game industry.
  11. Learn by doing. Just try making them sit down and learn from you by watching. See what happens.
  12. Have a “can do” attitude. Of course, they can do it, silly! There is nothing to be afraid of.
  13. Thrive in an atmosphere of controlled challenge. They must be challenged or they zone out, but they need structure, too.
  14. Have multicultural awareness and appreciation. This generation is more aware of a variety cultures, countries and ways of life than any generation before them.
  15. Open to change. Really, what’s the big deal?
  16. Are equal parts “consumer” and “creator”. Today’s learners download their own songs and apps from iTunes… and then they create their own stuff and upload it to share with others.
  17. Increasingly aware of the world around them. From the environment to politics, today’s learners are asking questions and demanding answers.
  18. Know where to go to find information. Google was first incorporated in 1998. 21st century learners have never known a world without Google.
  19. Are better educated than any generation before them. (See #17.) 21st century learners really do know more than their parents (but that doesn’t necessarily make them wiser!)
  20. Expect inter-disciplinarity. It is we, the older generation, who organize topics into “subjects”. The 21st century learner understands that subjects are inherently interconnected. Like, duh!
  21. Know that they are the future. They look at their parents and their peers and understand that the world’s future rests in their hands. (Wouldn’t it make you just a little bit cocky, too?)

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If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.


12 Great Resources on Strength-Based Leadership

July 10, 2011

Last Thursday I did a leadership workshop with the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology Students Association (SAITA) in Calgary. We did an entire afternoon around strength-based leadership. I led the group through a personal and large-group strengths inventory. Then, we did another activity to see how people can leverage the strengths of the associations and groups they belong to. We wrapped up by helping the newly elected student leaders revisit their goals to see how they could achieve them more effectively using an asset-based approach.

A few of the participants asked for the titles of some reading materials on this topic. This post is dedicated to the wonderful leaders at SAITSA. Here are a dozen of my favorite books on asset-based or strength-based leadership. The authors may call it by different terms, but the underlying ideas are shared among these works:

Appreciative Inquiry Commons. (n.d.).   Retrieved May 1, 2008, from http://appreciativeinquiry.case.edu/

Cooperrider, D. L., Whitney, D., & Stavros, J. M. (2003). Appreciative inquiry handbook. Bedford Heights, OH: Lakeshore Publishers.

Cooperrider, D. L. (2007). Business as an agent of world benefit: Awe is what moves us forward.   Retrieved February 21, 2008, from http://appreciativeinquiry.case.edu/practice/executiveDetail.cfm?coid=10419

Cooperrider, D. L., & Whitney, D. (2008). A positive revolution in change: Appreciative inquiry.   Retrieved March 27, 2008, 2008, from http://appreciativeinquiry.case.edu/uploads/whatisai.pdf

Cramer, K. D., & Wasiak, H. (2006). Change the way you see everything through asset-based thinking. Philadelphia: Running Press.

Eliot, C. (1999). Locating the Energy for Change: An Introduction to Appreciative Inquiry. Winnipeg: International Institute for Sustainable Development / Insitut International du Developpment Durable.

Faure, M. (2006). Problem solving was never this easy: Transformational change through appreciative inquiry. Performance Improvement, 45(9), 22-31.

Kretzmann, J. P., & McKnight, J. L. (1993). Building Communities from the Inside Out: A Path Toward Finding and Mobilizing a Community’s Assets. Skokie, IL: ACTA Publications.

Kretzmann, J. P., McKnight, J. L., Dobrowolski, S., & Puntenney, D. (2005). Discovering Community Power: A Guide to Mobilizing Local Assets and Your Organization’s Capacity. Asset-Based Community Development Institute, School of Education and Social Policy,
Northwestern University. http://www.abcdinstitute.org/docs/kelloggabcd.pdf

Murrell, K., L. (1999). International and intellectual roots of appreciative inquiry. Organization Development Journal, 17(3), 49-61.

Northwestern University. (n.d.). The Asset-Based Community Development Institute: School of Education and Social Policy.   Retrieved October 1, 2010, from http://www.abcdinstitute.org

Tzu, Sun. The Art of War (L. Giles, Trans.). London: Arcturus Publishing Ltd. (The original was believed to have been written between 505 B.C. and 473 B.C., though exact date unknown).

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If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop (either live or via webinar) contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.


Best of Social Media Resources & Guidelines for Education, Literacy and Other Non-Profits

May 18, 2011

Over 20 Resources to Help You Develop Your Own Social Media Protocol or Policy

If you’re with an educational or non-profit organization that is new to using social media, you may find it helpful to establish your own Guidelines, Protocol or Acceptable Use Policy. Here’s my “best of” list of resources and guidelines to help you get started.

ABC LifeLiteracy Canada’s Social Media Guidelines (.pdf)

Social Media Governance Site – Over 170 sample social media policies and guidelines from non-profits and governments all over the world

Red Cross Social Media HandbookLinkedIn logo

NSW Social Media Guidelines for Teachers on Scribd

Creating a Social Media Policy for Your NonProfit

57 Social Media Policy Examples

Sample Nonprofit Policy on Social Networking by Blue Avocado

Social Media Best Practices and Guidelines by Tuft Unviersity

5 Simple Ways Non-Profits Can Measure Social Media ROI (Return on Investment)

What Non-Profits Need to Know about Social Media

How Non-Profits Can Maximize Engagement on Facebook

10 Must-Haves for Your Social Media Policy by Mashable

How to Write Your Firm’s Social Media Policy

Penn State’s College of Education’s Social Media Policy

Improving Your Social Media Policy

Ontario College of Teachers’ Professional Advisory on Social Media

Social Media in Plain English – A brilliant short video (3:33) to help you understand social media

Facebook for Educators by Linda Fogg Phillips, Derek Baird, M.A., & BJ Fogg, Ph.D.

Lake County Schools – Guidelines for Employee Use of Social Media Networks (.pdf)

The Principal’s Partnership: Research Brief: Social Media – Developing an Acceptable Use Policy

Social Media Acceptable Use Policy for Schools

Is there a great site that’s missing from my list? If so, leave a comment and let me know. I’ll be happy to add other great resources to the list.

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If you are interested in booking me (Sarah Eaton) for a presentation, keynote or workshop contact me at sarahelaineeaton (at) gmail.com. Please visit my speaking page, too.


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