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Student as Teacher

Posted by Patrick McCrann Jun 18, 2010

Kids in the classroom
Creative Commons License photo credit: chrissuderman

People have always wanted to learn; it’s part of human nature. Despite what you read about video games and adult website usage statistics, people still want to learn. In fact, now probably more than ever, as the web has effectively eliminated any barriers that used to exist in the traditional learning model: money, connections, experience, geography, etc.

But despite the spread of ideas and technology and increased access, learning is not one bit easier. Why? Because we don’t know who the teachers are anymore.

Think about it. Back in the day this used to be really easy. Teachers had their own schools. Wise men lived on mountain tops. There were apprenticeships and academies and road maps.

As the world gets flatter, information is more accessible. It moves faster and is potentially more unreliable. Those old school grand masters are drowned out by tech-savvy web masters, video logging junkies, and twitter-wielding tweens.

In the currency of today’s web world, it’s about who’s the most current, most popular, more vocal or most chosen. Some or all or none of which might have anything to do with the best. Or most interesting. Or most inspiring.

So, in a world where it’s becoming harder and harder to identify who the teachers are, something else must assume even more importance: the individual. Think about it.

The web is like a TV with infinite channels full of everything that you always/never wanted to see or hear or learn that’s always on. If you can find any message or guru at any time, anywhere, for free, then the biggest deciding factor today is simple: does this message work for YOU?

We used to pick schools because they did the work of finding and organizing teachers and creating a “learning experience” for us. But today things are different. Now YOU are the administrator, the principal, the guidance counselor and the student all rolled into one. What teacher would you pick?

  • Do you need to be challenged?
  • Do you need to be made to laugh?
  • Do you want daily interactions or less frequent but higher impact contact?
  • Does it need to be an individual or can a community teach you?
  • Do you need to pay or are you involved enough on your own?

Technology is forcing us to rethink our filters: this person looks like a teacher, therefore she is a teacher. We need to throw away our expectations: I will sign up for this course and do 8 weeks of homework, take a test, get a certificate and become an expert.

Instead we need to focus on knowing ourselves better; on what will work and more importantly, why we want to engage this process. In an increasingly self-focused world, you have to take charge of charting your own course because no one else will do it as well as you can.

I see the teacher-centric model being crushed on a daily basis – and for the better – in my online interactions with others. I think this is one of the most powerful intellectual changes of the internet.

Learn from everything and every one. Be hungry, but selective. This is not an all-you-can-eat contest, but a what-you-have-eaten. It’s about quality, not quantity. It’s not about getting full, it’s about getting your fill.

It’s not about the outcomes, it’s about the process.

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As the popular saying goes, to truly know someone else you must walk a mile in their shoes. My recent bicycle accident has given me the opportunity to experience a totally alternative lifestyle, one that has dramatically changed the way I perceive and interact with the people and places that surround me.

I have written before about turning adversity into opportunity. My recent bicycle accident has forced a reality check on my typical laid back approach to dealing with challenges. It’s one thing to take a day or two off from training, it’s another to have to stand down for weeks…in a wheelchair…on pain-killers.

I am not complaining, but I am still processing. Every day presents some form of new challenge, but I am seriously blessed to have amazing friends and family who have stepped up to take care of me and allow me to focus entirely on the process of recovery.

Having this type of support network is incredible. Regardless of the challenge around the corner, I can go forward knowing that whatever is out there I can conquer it. That confidence is a direct result of the support of so many people, and I can’t thank you enough for that gift.

But enough of the sappy stuff…what have I learned over the last two weeks?

On Short-Term vs Long-Term Challenges…
I think on some level it’s “easy” for me to remain positive because my prognosis is that I will recover just fine. No bones were displaced in the three fractures, things were just shaken up. Yes, 6 weeks of recovery is a long time, but that beats the pants off of, say, 6 months or crashing and becoming paralyzed.

Daily goal setting has become incredibly important. If I have targets, I will work towards them. Early on, others had to set those goals for me: “You are just going to take a step and it’s going to hurt and that’s okay.” (You know who you are!) Now I am getting better at doing this myself, and it really makes a difference.

It helps that I am able to do new things every day, such as lift my leg to get in and out of the shower or use my abs a bit more. Heck, the PT guy put me on a recumbent bike for 5 minutes yesterday (don’t tell my wife!)! I have yet to be able to roll over on my side or stomach at night…and that truly sucks…but it’s a really big target out there and I am aiming for it.

At the end of the day, the concepts of short and long time frames are entirely subjective. Six weeks seems long if you look at it in terms of days or hours, but if you consider it as part of your year, or the time I have been doing triathlons…then it’s just a mere blip.

On Being Treated Differently…
I knew the moment I hit the ground that my year–as I had planned it–was effectively over. I didn’t know how much my life would change as a result, and this has been the source of my highest and lowest points of the recovery process.

Without a doubt, being frisked at the airport on the way home was a serious low point. Since I was in a wheelchair, I couldn’t be wanded, and that meant a full body pat down. Sure, he used the back of his hand for the sensitive areas, but overall a not-fun experience (surely he didn’t enjoy it either!). Can’t imagine having to do that on a regular basis.

On the plus side, I have an entirely new set of friends. People over 65 admire my fancy four-legged cane, and I have had more conversations with new senior friends in two weeks than I have had in the last decade. They are awesome, funny, highly opinionated, and chock full of some of the funniest stories I have heard in a long time. If you don’t have someone over 65 or 70 in your life (parents don’t count!) you are missing out big time.

The most interesting thing has been the response of my friends. Some folks have stepped up making serious sacrifices to support me, beyond the call of duty. There are the people I consider close friends who haven’t spoken to me at all about what’s happened. Then there are remote contacts and total strangers sending me letters, emails and text messages of support.

This has been a really healthy reminder of just how differently people respond to adversity (myself included!), and also a great opportunity for me to reflect on exactly where I stand on my relationships. You get what you give, and it’s clear to me that I have some serious giving to do to some of my close friends. To have support from anyone other than my immediate family is a blessing I am thankful for every single day.

On Venturing Outside…
From driving to shopping to going to therapy, no activity can take place without a plan. Everything we try to do as a family isn’t about do we want to do something, but can Daddy get there? Is there a ramp for the wheelchair? How accessible is the bathroom? Is it going to rain?

It’s a whole new host of things to consider, and makes just being an active family pretty tough. Hard for sure, but knowing there’s an end in sight makes it manageable. While standing off to the side of the playground watching my kids play is hard, I am lucky to be able to do just that.

I have also learned to look at things in a new way. Handicap bathroom stalls are awesome, but most bathroom doors are not handicap-friendly (they are heavy and shut quickly). Having lower sinks is a nice touch, but a person with a broken collarbone in a wheelchair can’t use the soap dispenser with a long nozzle (so as not to get the soap on the countertop). I push down here, soap comes out over there.

My journey is far from over, but I am positive and soaking up every day I get. If you have any advice or similar experiences, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below, thanks!

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She left the Door open


Creative Commons License photo credit: h.koppdelaney

One of the biggest challenges of recovering from my bicycle accident has been learning a new set of skills to do the same old things I did every day. Walking. Showering. Typing. Driving. Talking on the phone. As anyone who’s been in a similar situation can attest, this is not fun. Stepping back, however, this situation has shown me that my real challenge isn’t with the accident or its repercussions, but with learning how to learn (again).

On one hand the accident has really forced me to realize just how much unconscious mental and physical energy goes into simply being. Forget racing or riding a bicycle for second…I mean just being. Many of the things that we take entirely for granted are pretty complicated.

Did you know that taking a shower, from the moment you walk in all smelly to the moment you walk out all squeaky clean, has something like 80 steps involved? From taking off each piece of clothing to getting into the shower to reaching all those hard to reach places to drying off, etc. Of course taking a shower isn’t hard; but having to think about taking a shower while you take a shower really drives home all that we take for granted.

On a macro level, situations like these have really helped me to develop a newfound respect, not only for people who are challenged, or experiencing challenges, but also for anyone who’s learning something new. Here’s why.

I had forgotten what “new” feels like because I’ve been away from the game for so long. I have spent the better part of my adult life living inside an imaginary “box” where I only did things that I was good at.  My world had become so narrow to the point where I had created a safe space where I could succeed and be important.

My accident threw a monkey wrench into those elaborate plans. It has really shown me while that kind of comfy space (the one where I get to be the hero or in first place–by default!) is an easy place to be…it’s not the best place for me. I had become complacent, forgetting how to learn new things because I wasn’t doing new things. I had lost touch with what it felt like to do something new.

Being in a new space means more than doing new stuff, it means being receptive to it. The power of my accident is that I _have to_ do the walking / showering / driving stuff so I can get back to life as I knew it. The opportunity I have is to somehow apply that same process and experience to other aspects of my life.

It’s not enough to tell someone something so they can learn it: Patrick, just put your foot here to walk. They have to feel it to learn it. I need to feel what walking is like to my body now so I can figure out how to do it. I need to feel that liberating rush of moving my legs freely in the water, as it will inspire me to keep striving. I am reminded daily of the importance of “new” just by virtue of the recovery process.

The emails and messages and notes I receive daily, sharing stories of challenging journeys and experiences, are a reminder that I can in a new live space as well — that is, if I want to learn how. Fortunately I am surrounded by amazing family and friends (and folks like you!) who are there to show me, through your love and support, that it’s possible to learn my way into a new way of living.

I respond best to challenges, and this is a big one for sure. While I’m told my body will heal up just fine, no one can tell me what leading a challenging life will bring. Both will take a lot of work, but the path ahead appears filled with equal parts opportunity and uncertainty. I am happy to take on those kind of odds…and I hope to see you on the other side.

+++++++++++ Personal Update +++++++++++

Things are getting better daily. I rode the recumbent bike for 20 minutes on Monday and Tuesday was actually in the therapy pool doing something that remotely resembled a workout. I am working hard to lose the cane soon enough and hope to be back in my own house…with my own family, as soon as I am able to walk stairs.  As always, there are more challenges that lie ahead. But the bigger they are, the stronger they’ll make me. I’m excited.

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IMG_8361 copy_5x5
Creative Commons License photo credit: Nongbri Family Pix

I recently wrote an article on the benefits of standing at work. I subsequently received quite a few emails and twitter messages about standing at work, and thought another post would be the best way to address the challenges people raised. Please read the original post here and feel free to send me feedback via the comments section or by posting to Twitter with @pmccrann.

#1 – I Can’t Afford A Standing Work Station…

Money shouldn’t come between you and standing. There are plenty of ways to hack your own workstation, such as here and here. Of course, they might not look as professional as one of the high-dollar options, but then again you are standing out for standing at work.

Remember that your early stage goals include finding out exactly what works for you. Some people like a full desk surface to be elevated, while others can do with just a “tower” set up for their computing and/or phone needs. Once you have figured out your standing style you can confidently proceed to making it more permanent.

#2 – Regulations / Office Protocol Prevent Me from Reconfiguring My Desk…

I suggest you check first with your supervisor on this one. Most of the time here are no regulations in place regarding standing, it’s more of a peer pressure situation. If necessary you might need to reference my previous post [link] to make a persuasive case for the standing.

Don’t get psyched out. This is your chance to get your supervisor / co-workers on board with your attempt at standing. At the very least, formulating your convincing argument will come in handy in the future when you’ll be explaining standing to other folks you work with! Besides you might come to an understanding that allows others to explore creating more functional workspaces.

#3 – All My Standing is Making My Co-Workers Nervous…

Unless you are photocopying manifestos and making your own soap [link], I think it’s okay. More seriously, having someone standing behind / next to / in front of you all day can be a little unsettling.

Do your best to make the transition to a new work style as easy as possible for the rest of your team. This could mean anything from taking the time to explain why you are making the change to making sure your new set up doesn’t “loom” over any one person. What you are doing is going against the grain, you don’t have to make it into a fight — everyone deserves to be comfortable at work.

What other tips do you have for fighting for your right to stand?

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As the popular saying goes, to truly know someone else you must walk a mile in their shoes. My recent bicycle accident has given me the opportunity to experience a totally alternative lifestyle, one that has dramatically changed the way I perceive and interact with the people and places that surround me.

I have written before about turning adversity into opportunity. My recent bicycle accident has forced a reality check on my typical laid back approach to dealing with challenges. It’s one thing to take a day or two off from training, it’s another to have to stand down for weeks…in a wheelchair…on pain-killers.

I am not complaining, but I am still processing. Every day presents some form of new challenge, but I am seriously blessed to have amazing friends and family who have stepped up to take care of me and allow me to focus entirely on the process of recovery.

Having this type of support network is incredible. Regardless of the challenge around the corner, I can go forward knowing that whatever is out there I can conquer it. That confidence is a direct result of the support of so many people, and I can’t thank you enough for that gift.

But enough of the sappy stuff…what have I learned over the last two weeks?

On Short-Term vs Long-Term Challenges…
I think on some level it’s “easy” for me to remain positive because my prognosis is that I will recover just fine. No bones were displaced in the three fractures, things were just shaken up. Yes, 6 weeks of recovery is a long time, but that beats the pants off of, say, 6 months or crashing and becoming paralyzed.

Daily goal setting has become incredibly important. If I have targets, I will work towards them. Early on, others had to set those goals for me: “You are just going to take a step and it’s going to hurt and that’s okay.” (You know who you are!) Now I am getting better at doing this myself, and it really makes a difference.

It helps that I am able to do new things every day, such as lift my leg to get in and out of the shower or use my abs a bit more. Heck, the PT guy put me on a recumbent bike for 5 minutes yesterday (don’t tell my wife!)! I have yet to be able to roll over on my side or stomach at night…and that truly sucks…but it’s a really big target out there and I am aiming for it.

At the end of the day, the concepts of short and long time frames are entirely subjective. Six weeks seems long if you look at it in terms of days or hours, but if you consider it as part of your year, or the time I have been doing triathlons…then it’s just a mere blip.

On Being Treated Differently…
I knew the moment I hit the ground that my year–as I had planned it–was effectively over. I didn’t know how much my life would change as a result, and this has been the source of my highest and lowest points of the recovery process.

Without a doubt, being frisked at the airport on the way home was a serious low point. Since I was in a wheelchair, I couldn’t be wanded, and that meant a full body pat down. Sure, he used the back of his hand for the sensitive areas, but overall a not-fun experience (surely he didn’t enjoy it either!). Can’t imagine having to do that on a regular basis.

On the plus side, I have an entirely new set of friends. People over 65 admire my fancy four-legged cane, and I have had more conversations with new senior friends in two weeks than I have had in the last decade. They are awesome, funny, highly opinionated, and chock full of some of the funniest stories I have heard in a long time. If you don’t have someone over 65 or 70 in your life (parents don’t count!) you are missing out big time.

The most interesting thing has been the response of my friends. Some folks have stepped up making serious sacrifices to support me, beyond the call of duty. There are the people I consider close friends who haven’t spoken to me at all about what’s happened. Then there are remote contacts and total strangers sending me letters, emails and text messages of support.

This has been a really healthy reminder of just how differently people respond to adversity (myself included!), and also a great opportunity for me to reflect on exactly where I stand on my relationships. You get what you give, and it’s clear to me that I have some serious giving to do to some of my close friends. To have support from anyone other than my immediate family is a blessing I am thankful for every single day.

On Venturing Outside…
From driving to shopping to going to therapy, no activity can take place without a plan. Everything we try to do as a family isn’t about do we want to do something, but can Daddy get there? Is there a ramp for the wheelchair? How accessible is the bathroom? Is it going to rain?

It’s a whole new host of things to consider, and makes just being an active family pretty tough. Hard for sure, but knowing there’s an end in sight makes it manageable. While standing off to the side of the playground watching my kids play is hard, I am lucky to be able to do just that.

I have also learned to look at things in a new way. Handicap bathroom stalls are awesome, but most bathroom doors are not handicap-friendly (they are heavy and shut quickly). Having lower sinks is a nice touch, but a person with a broken collarbone in a wheelchair can’t use the soap dispenser with a long nozzle (so as not to get the soap on the countertop). I push down here, soap comes out over there.

My journey is far from over, but I am positive and soaking up every day I get. If you have any advice or similar experiences, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below, thanks!

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