8 days ago: It was the last working week for the year, and I was about to leave the house for a hectic day of deadlines. I’d planned to go in earlier than usual to get a head start on things I had to do. But…just as I was about to head out the door, unexpected circumstances conspired and I had to ditch my office plans to take my 4 year old to his swimming lesson. Usually, I’d relish an opportunity to see his progress at swimming. But I was annoyed that my plans for the morning had been wrecked. However, as the lesson unfolded, I watched him happily gliding through the water, listening intently and following instructions, chatting to the other kids, and putting everything into it, and my initial annoyance at not meeting work goals faded into insignificance. I was looking up at what mattered in life. As a parent, there’s nothing quite so awe-inspiring as watching your child conquer tasks that you never knew they could do.
I thought about the serendipitous chain of circumstances that had led me here > which led me to think about many of the best learning experiences I’d had this year many of which had emerged from serendipitous events (usually the sighting of a seemingly random but perfectly timely tweet). I thought about reflection in particular, how important these small moments of reflection are for consolidating learning…I remembered what Clark Quinn said at our Third Place meetup: 7 hours of work + 1 hour of reflection each day results in greater productivity gains compared with 8 + hours of work only (the actual quote was based on research, contained a statistic and was expressed far more eloquently…but you get the gist). I thought about this secret Santa blog post and wondered what I’d write.
As I watched my child swimming his little heart out, thoughts also swirled in my head about learning, and independence and motivation – and how it was that a year ago, this same child had had to be coaxed into the water, gingerly and half-heartedly attempting some tasks, then cried and refused to get back in. I wondered at the change. I thought about the previous times I’d been here, observing the lessons and how different instructors worked with the kids. I’d noticed how some of the (seemingly) more experienced instructors just let kids go, pushing them out to swim on their own. You could see the kids struggling to make it – swimming independently was clearly on the edge of their ability. Just when you thought the kid wasn’t going to make it and that the instructor should really intervene and cut them some slack (they’re 3 & 4 year olds for goodness sake!), you’d see their little head bob up for a last gasp of air, a slight panic in the eyes, then a final burst of manic paddling…and suddenly, they’d reached the instructor’s arms.
I was often intrigued to see the kids weren’t in the least upset, or annoyed they’d been made to do something they could only just barely manage; rather they were jubilant, smiling and proud they’d made it. Instead of lavishing the kid with praise (as my natural reaction as a parent would likely have been), the instructor simply gave a few words of positive encouragement, a high five, then sent the kid to swim back to the wall again. Back they would go, this time ever more confidently – and usually, instead of that last desperate gasp and manic, panicky paddle, make a relatively smoother glide into the wall.
Watching – and comparing – some of the younger, seemingly less experienced instructors, I could see a difference: they tended to be more cautious, more hesitant to let kids go for it on their own, often keeping a reassuring hand on their back or walking alongside them as they swam to and from the wall. Maybe I imagined it, but there seemed (to me at least) to be a noticeable difference not just in swimming ability, but also in confidence, between the kids in these groups and those with instructors who were more brash.
I always think of the term “enforcing independence” (the week 2 theme of Dave Cormier’s Rhizomatic Learning MOOC) when I observe these swimming lessons. While the term itself was (as I understand it) deliberately oxymoronic, coined by Dave to spark exploratory conversations during the MOOC, to me it perfectly represents that familiar (and necessary?) tension that exists when people undergo breakthrough learning or change. Learning something completely new and challenging, or going through a major change is hard work. It’s confusing and difficult and there will always be moments through the experience when you want to give up or wish you never started because it just seems too hard. This is where it may help to have someone dump you in the deep end and get you to try fending for yourself. Someone who can “enforce independence” while still watching from the sidelines in case you drown. Sometimes, people simply need that first push to show themselves they can do it on their own, free of scaffolding. And then…(as Helen herselfquotes):
“Once you give people freedom, it’s very hard to take it back”. – Dave Cormier
All wrapped up
…and, as the swimming lesson concluded, I stopped wondering what I’d write for this secret Santa blog post. Like the year, some things I’d had in mind for this post haven’t turned out exactly as I’d expected or wanted, but, (just like all of my other Christmas presents) I’m wrapping up with moments to spare (04 hrs, 22mins, 22 seconds to be precise). As I look back and check that it’s wrapped up nice and tight, I notice that a comment on Helen’s post at the outset of the year referencing the same theme) also draws a parallel between this concept of ‘enforcing independence’, and observations about young children’s behaviour and reactions when pushed towards independence. That the comment is from mutual PLN friend Maureen Crawford is a bonus and brings a smile to my face. and, although I didn’t quite get in everything I intended to give, I feel like this is a nice, circular way to wrap up, and that moreover the gift contains bits and pieces that Helen would appreciate: personal narrative (I know she likes a good story – they are a characteristic feature of her blog posts), tangential stream-of-consciousness musings, reflection, and a glimmer of networks and connection.
Besides, it’s Christmas morning, the child has woken, and it’s time to get this show on the road.
Thank you Helen, for giving me plenty of ‘aha’ moments through the year with your posts – it’s been a pleasure writing and giving back to you. Looking forward to many more moments of inspiration in the year to come – Your Secret Santa Blogger 2014.