To be or not to be . . . Attached???

In the Bhagvad Gita Krishna advised Arjuna to perform duties without it!
Buddha said that it is the origin of suffering!
Guru Nanak referred to it as “Moh” – a vice!
The Online Etymological Dictionary says this about the word “Attachment”:
 Attachment: c.1400, “arrest of a person on judicial warrant” (mid-13c. in Anglo-Latin), from Fr. attachement, from attacher (see attach). Application to property (including,    later, wages) dates from 1590s; meaning “sympathy, devotion” is recorded from 1704; that of “something that is attached to something else” dates from 1797 and has become perhaps the most common use since the rise of e-mail.
In the teacher’s world, the word gets a different connotation altogether!!!
In the 1960s, psychoanalyst John Bowlby (1907 – 1990), while coming up with the Attachment Theory used the word to describe the affective bond between a baby and his/her primary caregiver. Through this evolutionary theory, he said that attachment is innate in human beings. Children come into this world biologically pre-programmed to form attachments with others. He called it a survival value. He postulated four things according to this theory. 
  1. The child has an innate need to attach to one main attachment figure. 
  2. The child should receive the continuous care of this single and most important attachment figure for approximately the first two years of life.
  3. Calling it maternal deprivation, he says that disruption in this attachment can cause long term effects in the child like delinquency, reduced intelligence, increased aggression, depression and affection-less psychopathy (inability to show care and concern for others) 
  4. The child’s attachment relationship with the primary caregiver leads to the development of an internal working model.
Today, there is a growing body of research based on the attachment theory. Researchers have successfully connected the positive impact of attachment, climate and learning – the vital life giving oxygen in a classroom! They vow that when a child experiences a secure sense of attachment in the classroom, it will impact his/her learning and behaviour.
What is it that we need to understand from all this? Where does this leave us, teachers??
Be mindful in the classroom and observe students. Is there anyone with attachment difficulties? Researchers also point out that distrust in the classroom which leads to lack of concentration through either constant talking or difficulty in handling unstructured situations are sure shot signs of it. The teacher who is the central figure in the classroom can ill afford to neglect / not observe such children. With keen observation, alert & intelligent intervention and sustained validation a teacher can make a meaningful difference to today’s apathetic child; tomorrow’s indifferent adult! Once vulnerable students experience trust & faith, hope is rekindled, there is a greater sense of emotional well being, successful learning – all nurturing wholesome personalities.
Henry Brooks Adams must have said 
“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops” 
with this kind of an educator in mind! 

Shift and Change

A couple of years ago I embarked on a string of changes at the professional level which then impacted me at a personal level. Though I began with bright flames of enthusiasm, gradually I found it difficult to keep it alive and burning; in fact even the embers were dying. So much so that, I thoroughly felt overwhelmed! Months later, a delectable spread of choicest motivational reading, conscious and deliberate positive affirmations and self talk, a never-say-die attitude, nurturing support from my wonderful family, months of introspection and acceptance of change helped me tide over this difficult phase.

Change is the only constant! It happens all the time. Yet, we stumble. Sadly it is true that no school teaches change management nor is there any crash course to make us seasoned veterans. Why is change so very difficult to manage?

Our belief system plays a vital role in managing change. It is the proverbial question – is the glass half full or half empty? How do we look at issues that call for change – as problems or as challenges? What is our attitude – do we resist change or do we embrace it? Do we see it as a negative thing that is singling us out or as a positive curve that will help us grow into better, holistic persons?

A wine grower named Giorgio called for his two sons Anton and Vitto and told them he would have to test each of them in order to decide who was best qualified to take charge of the property when he retired. The two young men were very different: Anton was daring and mischievous, always smiling and friendly, while his brother was taciturn and hard-working, but entirely devoid of emotion.

The father gave them each a vine seedling and said:”I want you to choose the place that you think has the best conditions for your vine to grow. The one who harvests the best grapes a few years from now will take control of the property.”

Anton was in no hurry to get started. “I have a lot of time before I have to start looking around. A vine grows slowly, and only yields grapes after four years anyway.”
Vitto knew that too, but he decided to find the best place to plant his vine right away. He planted his seedling on a parcel of land facing south, on top of a rocky hill. Anton made fun of him, saying: “You idiot, you chose the worst possible location! A hilltop facing south make the leaves shrivel and burn and soil full of rocks won’t allow the roots to grow. You won’t get any grapes from that vine at all!”
Four years later the father once again summoned his two sons so he could taste their fruit.

Anton’s basket was filled with beautiful, juicy grapes, while Vitto’s basket held only a few small grapes. Giorgio picked two grapes from each basket and tasted them in silence. The ones from Anton’s basket were filled with seeds and their size was due to all the water they contained.

“Tasteless,” his father said. But when Giorgio tasted Vitto’s grapes his face lit up with pleasure. “These grapes are small but they’re bursting with flavour,” he exclaimed. “Their juice will produce excellent wine. This is very good work. How did you do it, my son?”
“I followed a simple principle,” Vitto replied. “Like people, vines only yield good fruit when challenged with adversity.”

We may sometimes wonder why we have to put up with so many obstacles in life. Change brings to us things that make us work harder – and they are really great life lessons. As we move along the path of life, we need to learn more lessons and emerge as better, stronger people. These events form our character and make us the persons we are today. 

Wisdom therefore lies in accepting change; so let us be prepared to confront whatever Destiny places on our path, and use it to emerge stronger! Let us bloom where we are planted, for there are more lessons for us to learn! Let us go with the flow and realize ‘this too will pass away’! This can make things easy for us and then are able to lead a life with lot more less stress – a definite plus to us and to our loved ones around.
If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.

Maya Angelou

What successful teachers have…

1. Sense of Humor
A sense of humor can help you become a successful teacher. Your sense of humor can relieve tense classroom situations before they become disruptions. A sense of humor will also make class more enjoyable for your students and possibly make students look forward to attending and paying attention. Most importantly, a sense of humor will allow you to see the joy in life and make you a happier person as you progress through this sometimes stressful career.

2. A Positive Attitude
A positive attitude is a great asset in life. You will be thrown many curve balls in life and especially in the teaching profession. A positive attitude will help you cope with these in the best way. For example, you may be teaching Grade 10 instead of Grade 11 / 12. This would not be an ideal situation, but a teacher with the right attitude would try to focus on getting through without negatively impacting the students.

3. High Expectations
An effective teacher must have high expectations. You should strive to raise the bar for your students. If you expect less effort you will receive less effort. You should work on an attitude that says that you know students can achieve to your level of expectations, thereby giving them a sense of confidence too. This is not to say that you should create unrealistic expectations. However, your expectations will be one of the key factors in helping students learn and achieve.

4. Consistency
In order to create a positive learning environment your students should know what to expect from you each day. You need to be consistent. This will create a safe learning environment for the students and they will be more likely to succeed. It is amazing that students can adapt to teachers throughout the day that range from strict to easy. However, they will dislike an environment in which the rules are constantly changing.

5. Fairness
Many people confuse fairness and consistency. A consistent teacher is the same person from day to day. A fair teacher treats students equally in the same situation. For example, students complain of unfairness when teachers treat one student or a group of students differently. It would be terribly unfair to go easier on the football players in a class than on the cheerleaders. Students pick up on this so quickly, so be careful of being labelled unfair.

6. Flexibility
One of the tenets of teaching should be that everything is in a constant state of change. Interruptions and disruptions are the norm and very few days are ‘typical’. Therefore, a flexible attitude is important not only for your stress level but also for your students who expect you to be in charge and take control of any situation.

Managing Classrooms

Discipline problems are listed as the major concern for most teachers. What can teachers expect and how can they effectively handle discipline problems? Classroom management combined with an effective discipline plan is the key. This how to will help you see some important steps in dealing with discipline problems that may arise in your classroom.

Here’s How:
  1. Begin each class period with a positive attitude and high expectations. If you expect your students to misbehave or you approach them negatively, you will get misbehavior. This is an often overlooked aspect of classroom management.
  2. Come to class prepared with lessons for the day. Make sure to have all your materials and methods ready to go. Reducing downtime – i.e. unproductive time or time when there is some kind of machine malfunction – will help maintain discipline in your classroom.
  3. Work on making transitions between parts of lessons smooth. In other words, as you move from whole group discussion to independent work, try to minimize disruption to the class. Have your papers ready to go or your assignment already written on the board. Many disruptions occur during transitional times during lessons.
  4. Watch your students as they come into class or as soon as you enter class. Look for signs of possible problems before class even begins. For example, if you notice a heated discussion or problem before class starts, try to deal with the problem then. Allow the students a few moments to talk  with you or with each other before you start your lesson to try and work things out. Try to gain agreement that during your class period at least they will drop whatever issue they have.
  5. Have a posted discipline plan that you follow consistently for effective classroom management. Depending on the severity of the offense, this should allow students a  warning or two before you move to the next stage of reporting to the Department Head / Supervisor / HM. Your plan should be easy to follow and also should cause a minimum of disruption in your class. For example, your discipline plan might be – First Offense: Verbal Warning, Second Offense: Detention during PE / Art / Music period (students generally hate missing these classes and are likely to avoid this at any cost), Third Offense: Referral.
  6. Meet disruptions that arise in your class with kind measures. In other words, don’t elevate disruptions above their current level. Your discipline plan should provide for this, however, sometimes your own personal issues can get in the way. For example, if two students are talking in the back of the room and your first step in the plan is to give your students a verbal warning, don’t stop your instruction to begin yelling at the students. Instead, have a set policy that simply saying a student’s name is enough of a clue for them to get back on task. Another technique is to ask one of them a question.
  7. Try to use humor to diffuse situations before things get out of hand. Note: Know your students. The following example would be used with students you know would not elevate the situation to another level. For example, if you tell your students to open their books to page 51 and three students are busy talking; do not immediately yell at them. Instead, smile, say their names, and ask them kindly if they could please wait until later to finish their conversation because though you would really like to hear how it ends, you have to get this class finished. This will probably get a few laughs but also get your point across. Never try to be sarcastic. This has a boomerang effect about it!
  8. If a student becomes verbally confrontational with you, remain calm and remove them from the situation as quickly as possible. Do not get into yelling matches with your students. There will always be a winner and a loser which sets up a power struggle that could continue throughout the year. Further, do not bring the rest of the class into the situation by involving them in the discipline or the writing of the referral.
  9. If a student becomes physical, remember the safety of the other students is paramount.  Remain as calm as possible; your demeanor can sometimes diffuse the situation.
  10. Keep an anecdotal record of major issues that arise in your class. This might be necessary if you are asked for a history of classroom disruptions or other documentation.
  11. Let it go at the end of the day. Classroom management and disruption issues should be left in class so that you can have some time to recharge before coming back to another day of teaching.
  12. Never ever pile up issues and speak to the student about bygone issues. Focus only on the current issue.  It is worthwhile remembering that we reclaim many things – why not our students? They will remember you for a life time for this act of compassion. 
  1. Recognize the warning signs of disruption. Obviously this comes with practice of  classroom management. However, some signs are fairly obvious.
  2. Sarcasm should not be used. Many students do not have the capacity to know that sarcasm is not meant to be taken literally. Further, other students could find your sarcasm as inflammatory which would defeat your purpose of greater classroom management.
  3. Consistency and fairness are essential for effective classroom management. If you ignore disruptions one day and come down hard on them the next, you will not be seen as consistent. You will lose respect and disruptions will probably increase. Further, if you are not fair in your punishments, making sure to treat all students fairly then students will quickly realize this and lose respect for you. You should also start each day fresh, not holding disruptions against students and instead expecting them to behave.
  4. It’s easier to get easier. Start the year firmly so that students see that you are willing to do what it takes to have your classroom under control. They will understand that you expect learning to occur in your room. You can always let up as the year goes on.
  5. Rules must be easy to understand and manageable. Make sure that you don’t have such a large number of rules that your students can’t consistently follow them.

Bough – Wow! Tree Talk!!

I confess I am a Lord of the Rings fan, however great a fantasy epic it is! Life is but dull and drab without a little or even a lot of fantasizing. I loved watching the Ents of J R Tolkiens’ Middle Earth, particularly Tree Beard, the grand old man of Tolkein’s world. Ents bear close resemblance to trees and are able to talk in the book and the movie.  

I have always wondered – what would trees tell us, if we get to understand their mode of communication? Sure enough they would harp on the mindless destruction of forests, including that of pristine rain forests, the lungs of the world, and carp about man’s inordinately insatiable greed.

Long back in 1990, Jagdish Chandra Bose, the distinguished Indian scientist and a pioneer in Biophysics, announced an astonishing discovery. At an international conference of physicists in Paris, and later in England, Bose proved that plants respond to pain and stress much like humans. To prove his theory, Bose invented an instrument called the Resonate Recorder that was so sensitive it could record the subtlest of changes inside a plant.

“The telltale charts of my crescograph are evidence for the most sceptical that plants have a sensitive nervous system and a varied emotional life. Love, hate, joy, fear, pleasure, pain, excitability, stupor, and countless appropriate responses to stimuli are as universal in plants as in animals”, the great man is said to have told Paramahamsa Yogananda (The Autobiography of a Yogi – Chapter 8).

So much about plants and trees responding to stimuli! Tree Talk seems to be an interesting possibility going by an Associated Press dispatch quoted in the Science Frontiers #63, MAY-JUN1989 © 1989-2000 William R. Corliss which says:

“Grants Pass, Ore. (AP) – Physicist Ed Wagner says he has found evidence that trees talk to each other in a language he calls W-waves.
“If you chop into a tree, you can see that adjacent trees put out an electrical pulse,” said Wagner. “This indicates that they communicated directly.”
“Explaining the phenomenon, Wagner pointed to a blip on a strip chart recording of the electrical pulse.
“It put out a tremendous cry of alarm,” he said. “The adjacent trees put out smaller ones.”
“People have known there was communication between trees for several years, but they’ve explained it by the chemicals trees produce,” Wagner said.
“But I think the real communication is much quicker and more dramatic than that,” he said. “These trees know within a few seconds what is happening. This is an automatic response.”
“Wagner has measured the speed of W-waves at about 3 feet per second through the air.
“They travel much too slowly for electrical waves,” he said. “They seem to be an altogether different entity. That’s what makes them so intriguing. They don’t seem to be electromagnetic waves at all.”

(Anonymous; “Physicist Says Blip Proves Trees Talk,” Seattle Sun Times, February 12, 1989. Cr. R.L. Simmons)

A footnote goes on to say that in addition to the above discovery, Wagner, who holds a PhD in physics from the University of Tennessee, has detected electrical standing waves in trees. The voltage measured by electrodes implanted in trees goes up and down as one goes higher and higher up the trees. Interesting indeed!!

Coming back to what trees would communicate, Ilan Shamir, author & inspirational keynote speaker seems to have captured beautifully. His poem ‘Advice from a Tree’ is full of innate wisdom. These lines can truly teach us simple lessons to last this life time. Probably these would be what trees want to convey to us – Bough-Wow! Talk about Tree Talk!!!

Advice from a Tree 
By Ilan Shamir

Dear Friend,
Stand Tall and Proud
Sink your roots deeply into the Earth
Reflect the light of a greater source
Think long term
Go out on a limb
Remember your place among all living beings
Embrace with joy the changing seasons
For each yields its own abundance
The Energy and Birth of Spring
The Growth and Contentment of Summer
The Wisdom to let go of leaves in the Fall
The Rest and Quiet Renewal of Winter
Feel the wind and the sun
And delight in their presence
Look up at the moon that shines down upon you
And the mystery of the stars at night.
Seek nourishment from the good things in life
Simple pleasures
Earth, fresh air, light
Be content with your natural beauty
Drink plenty of water
Let your limbs sway and dance in the breezes
Be flexible
Remember your roots
Enjoy the view!

[Could not resist posting this beautiful You Tube video on this poem. Am sure you will enjoy it’s brilliant visuals and melodious music.]

The Future of Education

While education is fast becoming a business and the profit oriented proposition is gathering momentum the world over, a silent revolution is also taking place elsewhere. A revolution so powerful that it is threatening to shake the very foundations of the former! And the man who has sparked this idea is none other than Salman Khan, a half Bangladeshi half Indian American, and an educator par excellence – for what else do you call someone who has successfully delivered over 85 million lessons?

Check his website, and the teaching fraternity as well as eager beaver students are sure to find remarkable educational videos in its online library ranging from a host of subjects; from Algebra to Arithmetic, Geometry to Trigonometry, Calculus to Finance; Banking to Economics; Art History to Civics; Healthcare, Medicine, Biology, Chemistry and Physics. There are many videos for competitive exam preparation too – SAT, GMAT, IIT-JEE. What is so special about these videos? They are concise and clear. Most of them are for just about 10 minutes, the time frame that we can maintain focus and attention. They can help students to learn by themselves. There are ones meant just for practice. Most importantly, they are available FREE. Teachers can use them online in the classroom or can download them and use it whenever, wherever. It is up to the teacher to use the video creatively either as in the class as class work or make it part of home work.

It goes to the credit of Salman Khan that his videos have been clicked by over 50 million people and now his online library has over 2700 videos. Till recently he has been the sole narrator for his videos and he acknowledges that he runs this mammoth project singularly through donations – the major donors being Google and the Bill Gates Foundation.

How has the free videos affected the education scenario? Many schools in the US have integrated these videos into their classroom teaching and learning. The finest effect however has been the fact that many top colleges, universities and institutes have started offering free online courses. For instance, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) of which Salman Khan used to be a student, has offered over 2000 of its courses freely available on the World Wide Web. Other premier institutes like Carnegie Mellon, Yale, John Hopkins and Stanford have also thrown open their courses online and that too at no cost, so that they won’t be left far behind. And the information thirsty, knowledge hungry learners have lapped it all up, smiling contentedly like Cheshire cats! So much so that three most popular computer science courses – Introduction to Machine Learning, Introduction to Data Bases and Artificial Intelligence were offered by Stanford free this fall completely sea changing and reinventing the way education is delivered.  The last one – on Artificial Intelligence – had such huge demand with over 70,000 people registering for it in the first few days!

Which takes us back to the title – what is the future of education system as a business model? If the free education online revolution catches up, there is a serious threat to this model. This does not mean that online education alone will thrive – it just means that a harmonious and clever blend of good teaching & teachers, web tools and inexpensive courses will thrive. Ample food for thought!


I give thee Thanks!!!

Today is Thanksgiving Day – a day that falls on the fourth Thursday of every November. After over four centuries, the long weekend celebrations in the US have emerged into a many-million-dollar industry now with its effect cascading as ripples onto the other parts of the globe.

The concise Oxford dictionary of Etymology defines thanks as “a kindly thought, favour, gratitude, expression of gratitude” and has Old English þancian origins.  

Happiness research is unprecedented in troubled times like ours and the key word in this research is “gratitude” – thankfulness. The pioneers in this research are Robert Emmons and Mike McCullough. Psychologists working at the University of California and Miami respectively, both have been collaborators at many happiness research projects. According to them the “forgotten factor” in happiness research is gratitude or thankfulness. The Scottish philosopher Thomas Brown had earlier defined gratitude as “the delightful emotion of love to him who has conferred a kindness on us, the very feeling of which is itself no small part of the benefit conferred.”
Though contemporary French philosopher André Comte-Sponville (2001) pointed out, gratitude is “the most pleasant of the virtues and the most virtuous of the pleasures” (p. 132), gratitude had never been studied seriously by scientific psychologists. This prompted Emmons to probe into this act of pleasure in receiving and soon discovered that gratitude is a deep complex phenomenon, plays a critical role in one’s sense of happiness and can measurably change people’s lives. In his book Thanks: How the New Science of Gratitude can make you Happier, Emmons says how he and McCollough together through their collaborative project discovered scientific proof that if we practice regular and systematic gratitude, it brings about remarkable psychological and physiological benefits.
So what makes us get the benefits of gratitude? Researchers have found that the very thought of thankfulness triggers the parasympathetic i.e. calming branch of the autonomic nervous system. When this trigger keeps repeating, it gifts a protective effect on the heart. This results in the emergence of positive emotions and can even reduce hypertension and heart ailments. The more we pause to appreciate and show caring and compassion, the more order and coherence we experience internally. In A Different Kind of Health: Finding Well-Being despite Illness, Blair Justice says when our hearts are in an “internal coherence state,” studies suggest that we enjoy the capacity to be peaceful and calm and at the same time retain the ability to respond appropriately to stressful circumstances.

Gratitude, then, can be a total body experience and beyond – meaning the deepest and widest gratitude comes from the soul and that part of the brain – the amygdala – that registers “soul” experiences. So when we look at snow-capped peaks or golden beaches or the Milky Way at a moonless night, our souls sing and our bodies are suffused with streams of dopamine and serotonin, the gifts of gratitude. In short, feeling gratitude and appreciation on a regular basis helps heal us at every level of our being.

In an experimental comparison by Emmons & McCollough, it was found that those who kept gratitude journals were happier, healthier and felt good about life. So gratitude is really good for you! Moreover, if you are happy and cheerful faced, you are sure to earn better opportunities than your dour faced co-workers. Your interpersonal relationships will also perk up giving you an innate sense of goodwill and accomplishment. Give continuously and gratefully placing yourself in the flow of life. Such a person generates a lot of gratitude which in turn attracts all people around to do the same. Imagine the joy of working amid such a crowd! 🙂

 How can you practice gratitude? Here are some simple doable tips:

·         Keep a gratitude journal and list on a daily basis everything you are thankful for.

·         Write a thank you note to anyone in your life who deserves a pat on the back.

·         Begin and end each dayby thinking of five things you are grateful for.

·         Appreciate family and friends on a regular basis.

·         When things go your way, smile and be thankful for them.

·        Enjoy the beautiful sunrise, the food that you eat, the water that you drink, the air that you breathe, the colours you see, the music you hear … all those things that you take so much for granted!

So instead of celebrating a long weekend of thanksgiving, let us make every single day of ours one of gratitude & thanksgiving.

I am starting a gratitude journal today. How about you???

T. F. Hoad “thank. The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. 1996.  <>
Thanks: How the New Science of Gratitude can make you Happier; by Robert A Emmons, Ph.D. 2007
A Different Kind of Health: Finding Well-Being despite Illness, by Blair Justice, pp. 100-101. 1998