Saturday, February 28, 2009

Who moved my Cheese?

Who Moved My Cheese? An Amazing Way to Deal with Change In Your Work and In Your Life by Spencer Johnson

It's a very "old" book... but it's an evergreen book... very long shelf life! Still find new copies (duno after how many re-publications) in book shops!

Have this habit of signing on books I bought... to mark down when it became my collection - it was Year 2000. Wah! Almost 10 years ago. Think, it was around the time I went for my DDM course, when the rest of the "one minute" books made their way to our hands!

The first time I read, vaguely remember my takeaway...

  • it's mixed with anxiety... maybe... 'cos I just took up the headship to lead a department... yeap, perhaps, I thought (and yes) I found my cheese... something that never crossed my mind that I would do. I would never dream of setting up and leading a Commerce Department while my trained discipline has totally nothing to do with it! This is unlike admin work when we could pick up along the way. It requires content expertise... Well, I picked up that cheese and chewed... hahaha...
  • I would never dream of handling the ICT department! Well, the ICT Masterplans had 'offered' another flavour of cheese to me! It came in "abundance" - that lasted me for more than 5 years! and I continued to find new cheese that's along this flavour subsequently.
  • Of course, the biggest one is when I really physically walked out of my comfort zone - and "renounce" almost all I have for a year. Was that considered a new cheese? I'm still not too sure... but definitely, it has allowed me to apply all I had gained, my experiences to a totally alien environment - and there, I "discovered" there were so many things that I didn't know I could do! But the biggest "C" I discovered was really, COURAGE.

In the last 2 weeks, I was wondering... what to share in the EXCO meeting... thinking hard and shopping hard, too! Ha! Within 2 weeks, spent more than $500 on books! That's wild! Isn't it? Especially in this groomy economy. The books are still lying there... read a couple of them... useful... but could not quite sieve out the essence... ok it takes time! especially for a slow reader like me. Nevertheless, this time, I bought a couple of audiobooks - and one of them is "Who Moved My Cheese"! Had been listening to it a couple of times... and at last, some fresh thoughts came...

Yes, many a time, we would take it as a personal development guide - to guide our own thoughts and actions... But... How about from an organisation's point of view? I thought it's refreshing! Well, bringing it into the current situation - when the school is still in the infant stage... - yes, certain pointers are really helpful.

Here are the few...

(1) The reaction from the littlepeople and the mice when they discovered their cheese was gone:

What! No Cheese?
No Cheese? No Cheese?
Who moved my Cheese?
It’s not fair!

It sounded comical - why this happened? Didn't they notice that the cheese had been disappearing? (Ok, there's no mentioned about why or how it disappearing... though it could be one of them forgot they had the last bit or actually there were other than the 4 characters but were not mentioned in the story?) But lesson learnt here is really, do not take things for granted! It's always the case whereby we showed appreciation when we were given help and support to get things done... however, after a while, such consistent 'dosage' of support and help leads to dependency and subsequently would lead us forgetting that these are privileges, but as regarding them as entitlements!!! (which is a very scary situation to become!)

(2) The more important your cheese is to you, the more you want to hold on to it.

This is really true, the important a certain thing is - be it an object, a belief, a practice - the more reluctant we are willing to give up or put it aside. In the first place, when it's important, it means it has shown its value - which could be a foolproof practice from past experiences, it could be something that one holds dearly to because of emotional value.

In fact, we bring along lots of these "baggages" with us - which we all feel that's where we could contribute and value-add to the growth and development of the new school. On the other hand, here, we want to innovate, we want to integrate practices that are absent or not common in mainstream schools - How do we manage both?

Our plate is always full. When I first joined ETD, we wanted to 'market' the use of ICT in learning while the most commonly cited reason for not using ICT is where got extra time to carry out such frills! The first and easiest thing I could thought of is, "Why not, tell teachers that they could substitute such selected existing activities with the ICT-integrated ones!" That solves the time issue. However, this is a most superficial way to encourage people to use our products (i.e. the ICT resources) - but it is not telling people why need (choose) to use our product!

The PURPOSE is important - that is, the use VALUE-ADDs to the pupils' learning experiences! Experiences encompasses not just the in classroom experience, but the increased degree of understanding and skills they acquire that prepare them beyond that activity moment!

Now, back to the present context... though we have brought along lots of good practices (that had been proven effective), to innovate and bring about new ways to learn, we must be able to identify practices that would be better with the use of new practices (and technology)! It's not a matter of substitution, but it's a new way of practice! Are we ready for this? Are we ready to, first, give up/shelf some of our beliefs? Hopefully, this is something observable in our curriculum design and execution of our programme.

This indeed, goes well with the next one...

(3) The quicker you let go of old cheese, the sooner you find new cheese.

Having immersed in the cheesy environment - we must be alert to the changes of the environment, that is...

(4) Smell the cheese often so that you know when it is getting old.

Scan! Scan! Scan! Yes, internal scan (that we are very familiar with)... but here, external scan is even more important - to be sensitive to the changes in the external environment! Otherwise, we'll become the frog in the well, unknown to us that the well gets deeper and deeper each day! This is really through the 10-year experiences in the school. While we think we innovate... it's when I was immersed in a different environment then we notice there's so much changes out there... of course, like an unofficial scout, that's when we brought back some goodies through channels we know of to the school!

Something I read from "Eat That Frog!" that's relevant here... "One of the worst uses of time is to do something very well that need not be done at all"!


Last, but not least... Who's the Cheese Mover???? Has anyone asked Spencer Johnson this question? I wonder... or it's left to us to figure out? Some thoughts:

  • The changing environment. That's why we have to be responsive to the changes out there and react in a timely manner. It's survival!!!
  • The trendsetter! The adventurer! The trailblazer! Yes, we are the cheese mover! and we want to be the cheese mover! ... while we seek the new cheese for ourselves :D

Sunday, February 22, 2009

when using Acronyms...

This was something brought up in one of our recent meetings... where we saw a number of fanciful acronyms laid on our table...

Thanks to Glenn, who quickly searched and shared the following article (which is a blog post) with us: Annoying, convoluted, random, oblique names you make (ACRONYM)—some rules on using acronyms

Haha... So, what's what ACRONYM stands for? Itself is an acronym of "Annoying, Convoluated, Random, Oblique Names"? What an irony!

Why acronym? Well, think it's one of the memory techniques, for people to remember long chunks of words... the WORD itself does not necessary have anything to do with the context. Of course, sometimes, the letters make a sensible word (er... a word that we can find in the dictionary) (e.g. SEED); nevertheless, there are also lots of such words don't come with any meaning on its own (e.g. SEL).

See? 2 examples just quoted are offsprings from programmes by the MOE (Singapore) in the recent years.

In fact, when using short forms or acronyms, we have to be aware of the context and background (er.... more of the professional background) of the people we speak to. Still remember the very first time encounter an misunderstanding of the term is "CPA".

Practically, all who teach in mainstream secondary schools know that "CPA" refers to "Computer Applications". Howevever, if we talk to someone who's Accounting trained. it means "Certified Public Accountant"... of course, these are the 2 contexts (education, accounting) that I'm aware of... there could be more!

Acronym is one of the culprits for misinterpretations, sometimes! Very often, we take for granted that people interprets the acronym as we do! Be mindful that even when we use the term in the same discipline/field, different organisations might have tagged different meanings to it... A quick one:

"IP" stands for?

  • Intellectual property
  • Integrated programme
  • Instructional programme

This is used in the same place - education!

Could misinterpretation (hence leading to misunderstanding, sometimes) be avoided? Certainly!

Define the acronym before using it

  • This is especially important when talking to people who are not familiar to the context that we use the word.
  • Some acronyms are used only in the Singapore school context. Examples include NE, SEM, I&E. So, teachers in Singapore schools know what they are and therefore able to make meaning when one uses such terms in the conversation or presentation. However, for someone who has lost touch with the word or in institutions of higher learning (IHLs), they would not be able to make the head or tail out of what one is trying to say.
  • One practice, I observe, especially in most paper writing, the writers would always define the word the first time it's mentioned (e.g. School Excellence Model (SEM)) before the acronym is subsequently used throughout the write-up.
  • Another observation is, during conversation, always bother to give a short description of the acronym before it is used subsequently, to set the context for the word. It is always good to be proactive - address to the potential misinterpretation, rather than correcting the mistake.

All in all, while acronym helps us to keep things short and sweet, and hopefully leaves an impression in people the programme it stands for, we have to fully aware of its potential "damage" when it's not well defined. Well, Singapore is well-known for acronym... to zoom in further... schools are also culprits for populating the education landscape with so many acronyms... so, the next time we come up with an acronym... let's think... how it differentiates itself from others and would come up as the one that people will remember for long (because it's meaningful and/or it's impactful!)... otherwise, we will ended up as of the "acronym litterbugs"...

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Reflection: Spreadsheet Workshop (5 & 12 Feb 2009)

The days came and gone... oh yes... it's conducting my very first TRAISI workshop this year! The mood is very very different... now, turning the situation the other way round, I'm moonlighting for ETD! It's really... 风水轮流转.

Well, the workshop attracted lots of interest from participants - which is telling, from the subscription rate! So much so that it warranted a 2nd run!!! haha! Good business! 3 Cheers to the Maths team! Hm... 3 Cheers to the enthusiastic Maths teachers out there!

Crafted the workshop last year... it took more brain juices and effort... er... relative to what I've anticipated... 'cos it's supposed to be a re-packed, with new things added... Nevertheless, it ended up as an almost different workshop as we pitch it at a more advance level... We did away with the simple "exposures", but to get participants to see the value and affordances of the features they are going to learn in the follow-up activities! The new challenges introduced in this workshop are:
  • Focus on the more complex features in spreadsheet - formula, macros (which we did not cover much in the previous version of the spreadsheet workshop as it was pitched at the introductory level)
  • Formal introduction on the use and affordances of shared spreadsheet within the LAN
  • The introduction of online collaborative spreadsheet - Google Spreadsheet - which involves a totally different kind of activity strategies and logistics preparation
  • Of course, we also brought in the "Blog" component to illustrate how to package everything readily as a lesson activity

The last 2 parts were actually drawn from the eLearning workshop, which is another monster! (Oops!)


In terms of spreadsheet skills, it's obvious that the competency among the participants were a range; nevertheless, it's obvious that all have heard about and used spreadsheet... even for those who are not too sure, they came with another more "spreadsheet-competent" colleague. This is something which is encouraging...

There were familiar faces too! Ah! If I were to infer... it's an affirmation of the good work done by the team in the past couple of years! Hey, we've got this group of "fellowers" who are confident they would find value attending our workshops - useful ideas, knowledge and skills :D Ah! We have created a pretty strong magnet! Hehee... Thanks, and credit goes to the Team!!!


Perhaps my role is different this time, more like guest appearance... and therefore, not that stressful! No, no... not because the name of the ETD is no at stake (It is, still!!!!) but it's the degree of ownership of the whole preparation + process/implementation + outcomes, I think.

Yes, need not go through that kind of pre-workshop preparation, the self-reminders, the quiet-rehearsing, etc... a more relaxed mind helps! Perhaps, also because it's of a different activity nature, therefore, conducting the workshop becomes another avenue to unwind and take a break of what I'm immersed in now...

At the end the run of workshop, I must say, I thoroughly enjoy the experience... definitely, it's very different when it's part of my formally defined jobscope. While having the opportunity to value-add to the experiences of the participants and the enthusiastic pair (Ghee Han & Audrea), it's really another platform where I hone my skills (especially when it comes to planning a wide range of ICT-enabled activities)!

Well, at the surface, it looks as if it's doing a goodwill... like a form of community service... on the other hand, I gain from this experience and engagement, too - no matter - how big or small :D

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

10 Useful Phrases - Positive Thinking (Leadership)

- sharing by Eunice during EXCO meeting on 10 useful phrases to bring about Positive Thinking:
  1. I am wrong
  2. I am sorry
  3. You can do it
  4. I believe in you
  5. I am proud of you
  6. Thank you
  7. I need you
  8. I trust you
  9. I respect you
  10. I love you

All in all... it's sincerity that matters... sincerity ~ the heart that matters... not self... but selfless? Hm... "ideals" possible? Possible if...??? Ultimately, which is more important: Rule by the Head or Rule by the Heart? Both... but more importantly, while people are more receptive to "Rule by the Heart", which generates buy-in... it's really situational! No matter what... knowing how to strike a balance is certainly very very important!!!

Thursday, February 05, 2009

PD-ICT: Experience in Using Blogs - to teach and for personal use

This is the task that's set for everybody... in preparation of the 2nd session when we move into the use of Web 2.0 tools for learning.

Yes, wanted everyone to experience blogging... Nothing beats experience... As Richard had shared, when we expect our students to blog... we should take the lead to experience it... Oh yes, when we talked about role-modeling, walking the talk... it means we are to make the very first move... the first step... Be it an experiment? or a learning journey...

What's more I believe that only when we know the system well, we are equipped with enough knowledge and skills to manage the kind of responses generated from the platform and understand the psyche of our learners.

Only started blogging 3 years ago... so, I'm a latecomer... initially driven by 'job function'... then slowly grew to become a passion. I must confess... the first couple of times to do posting was really a chore... yes, we were tasked to reflect on certain pedagogy or new initiatives and pen it down for sharing... and it was monitored! Ah! I hate that... for someone who read or write little... especially, to write??? It was really a tall order!!! What's more the piece of work would be virtually marked... That really put me off! Anyway, the very first blog was born... on 26 February 2006. It was a Sunday! See! Rushing to meet deadline... {sigh}... and it's this very blog!!! Certainly... it's when the learning journey begins...

Well, this sounds familiar... in one of the research presentations we listened to at London Knowledge Lab... one of the findings said, when getting children use ICT to complete a task, it does not necessary motivate them to use the tool as it's put in a different context... Well, it could backfire!!!

Anyway... it was also the time when I started thinking to pen down my thoughts of my Bhutan journey... Yes, the valuable experience... and lots of things to tell my students over there... then started the very first travelogue... and I could not stop... the emotion was stirred up... the more I wrote, the more I thought of the good times I had in this landlocked place... well, not all are pleasant... but it's through these encounters that I learnt and grew... and become more mature... Well, also discovered it's a pretty good platform where I could share the beauty of the country with people out there... the gallery! Yes, these are "self-directed" activities... the more I wrote and put up stuff in the blogs, the more I explored in this platform.... and potential began to uncover...

That's still very limited to personal use... The person really gave me a push to it was Timothy... was encouraged me to work on a new workshop module on blog! Ah! The typical mindset was, blog for Maths? Was I crazy??? It's a language tool!!! Hahaha... well, when there's pressure, something would be created... in chinese, sometimes is rather 骑虎难下! Of course, the first step is to translate it into something related to work... and in 2007, proud to say that "Using Blog to faciltiate workshop" became a signature practice of the Maths team in ETD!!! Of course, lots of hardwork and perseverence... It's not entirely smooth either... sometimes the team was chided for using the same old strategy, and not engaging participants in an interesting manner... Hm...

Through developing the workshop module, it has really put me into deep thinking how the platform could be used for Maths teaching & learning... and how to sell it to my workshop participants! Yes, have you heard of Singapore Maths teachers getting students to blog? Ha!!! What a breakthrough!!! So glad to take the courage to venture into this road less travelled!

For teaching & learning? It's really through the workshops where we got the participants to learn how to develop blog-enabled lessons for Maths learning! Yes... given the opportunities to practise... The responses and enthusiasm from the participants were encouraging!!! Oh yes, positivity generate positive energies!!!

Blogs has become a convenient place to put down my thoughts... yes... like it or not... however, also learnt to bcome more tactful!!! Maybe not fair to the platform... but have turned to it to pour my grievances too... This is certainly a good way to let out some stream, sometimes... It's also when I started making conversations to myself, clarifying my own thoughts...

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Article: TOTAL program prepares future teachers

Pick up this article from a colleague... that talks about how the new programme has brought about quality change - to better prepare trainee teachers when they take over the classes - understanding students better, how to go about managing learning activities, etc... basically is hands-on preparation under the guidance of experience teachers - through observation and participation.

Well, draw a comparison with what we have:

  • Contract Teachers - Have a taste of what life as a teacher is like before they join the teacher training programme
  • NIE Trainees - Are posted to schools - to observe how classes are run (or how pupils are like), and subsequently sent to schools for Practicum... under the supervision of the cooperative teachers and supervisor from NIE

So... what's new? I wonder...

But it's the effectiveness, I question... Are all who have gone through the structured programme or system turn out to be effective teachers? Do all of them really cope well when they are formally appointed as teachers, going into classes on their own?

If not... why not? Individual's readiness (and attitudes)? or the Quality of the training/supervision during the practicum?


Other recent reads recommended by fellow colleagues: