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The Obsession with Assessments

What’s really behind our obsession with assessments? Now, don’t tell me you haven’t taken an assessment (or two or ten) in your lifetime! Fess up… you know your Myers-Briggs Type, your DiSC profile, your Kiersey Temperament, and your StrengthsFinder Insight (and you know you wanted Woo!). You may have taken the Conflict Dynamics Profile or the Thomas-Killman Instrument. There is the C.A.R.E. Profile for teams. There’s a name for your Leadership Style, your Communication Style, and your Hair Style. Okay, maybe that last one isn’t an assessment (yet). Forrester even created one called the Customer Obsession Assessment.

There is a lot of literature about the assessment obsession in K-12 education. That’s not the obsession I’m referring to here. What I’m thinking about is how many different ways we seek to describe ourselves in the quest to understand ourselves and others. In that vein, I offer a few justifications for this obsession with assessments along with a word of caution.

Justification #1 — Our people-skills suck.

Forbes recently published an article titled The Leadership Skill Everybody Needs — And 90% Of Managers Lack. The author’s claim is that while “people management… is the crux of their job,” managers rarely receive any training in that area. Fear not, the article does go on to offer some hope.

The first step in building your leadership muscles, whether you currently manage other people or not, is to cultivate a skill most managers — and indeed, most people — lack.

The skill is called perspective-taking.

Great! But how exactly do I get better at perspective-taking? The author suggests a couple ways, and I am greatly simplifying here: analyze communication and reflect on conflict. Actions which are made infinitely easier when you understand your behavioral style, communication style, and method of dealing (or not) with conflict and can understand how others’ styles may be different from yours.

Justification #2 — We can be blind to our weaknesses.

If you know about the Johari Window, you can see where I’m going with this one. The Johari Window is divided into four quadrants:

Johari Window

  1. The open part — stuff you know about yourself that everybody else knows, too.
  2. The hidden part — stuff you know about yourself that others don’t know about you.
  3. The blind part — stuff you don’t know about yourself that others do know!
  4. The unknown part — super secret stuff nobody knows… not even you.

The goal is to increase the open part by minimizing the other three parts. By doing so, you can enhance your communications, decrease conflict, and have better relationships with people (again, greatly simplifying).

Justification #3 — We want to be happy! (Don’t we?)

Would life be more fun if there was less stress and conflict? Would there be less stress and conflict if we could get along better with our coworkers, our boss, our family? Could we get along better if we understood where we were coming from… and how where the other person is coming from may be different?

A word of caution…

Assessments are not tests. There are no right or wrong answers. There are just different answers. One MBTI type isn’t better than another. No one Strengths Theme is rated higher than another. Types, strengths, profiles, etc. should not be used as a defense or an excuse. They are a way of looking into a mirror and seeing who we are at a level we may not have seen before.cat-looking-in-mirror-1024x584

 

 
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Posted by on July 12, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Do I need to explain?

Four days into my 30-day challenge, and I missed a day. I’m not going to beat myself up, though, and while I know I don’t have to explain why I missed a day, I want to explain.

It was Sunday, and I had no where to be until lunchtime, so I did not set my alarm. When I did get up, I drank coffee, savored a delicious breakfast, and played with my dogs. After I finally showered and got dressed, I picked up a couple salads at Panera and brought them over to a friend’s house. She and her husband moved back to Richmond three years ago, and while we’ve gotten together countless times, I’d never seen their house. We spent most of the afternoon talking and playing with her furbabies. When I got home, I threw together a casserole, loaded the dogs into the Outback, and we headed over to Mom’s for dinner. After dinner, we took a walk outside around her place and enjoyed the beautiful flowers and ponds and chatted with some of her neighbors. It was after sunset when we got back to her place. We chatted some more before I loaded the dogs back into the Outback and came home.

Several times during the day, including when I first woke up, I thought I need to find time to blog today so I don’t mess up my challenge. But as the day wore on, I realized that what I was finding time to do was much more important that making myself sit down with my laptop and think of something interesting to write. Yes, I accepted a challenge. And yes, I fell short. But my greater challenge is to live this life well and leave a positive mark on the world, and yesterday I think I met that challenge.

I love this post by Carrie Newcomer — Impossible Things Just Take A Little Longer. I used to read it every day to remind myself to slow down and savor life. Ironically, I got busy and stopped reading it every day, but I think about it often. To borrow Carrie’s words, yesterday I asked the question “What do I love deeply and truly,” and followed that thread.   

Carrie Newcomer

This was the image that appeared with Carrie’s blog when I first read it. 

 
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Posted by on July 10, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

My In-Group

Last night I finished reading Tiffany Jana’s and Matthew Freeman’s book Overcoming Bias. Understanding bias — especially unconscious bias — has been a favorite topic of discussion with me for several years, so I was thrilled to receive a copy of this book at this year’s Richmond SHRM Diversity & Inclusion Symposium where Tiffany Jana was the opening keynote speaker.

Oh so many topics I could blog about (and still might) from this book. Chapter 3 is In-groups and out-groups. Your in-group can be defined in a number of ways. It’s your family and friends. It may be your closest co-workers, your neighbors, or your friends from college. More broadly defined, it can be people with whom you share political affiliation, religious beliefs, or even more broadly, race, gender… it’s people like you. Everyone else is your out-group. One of the statements the authors make is that “there is tremendous pressure in our society not to expand your in-group.” A clear, albeit sad, example of this was in the headlines recently when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell warned “that Republicans might have to reach across the aisle if they can’t craft a workable health care bill…” A bipartisan solution? Would that really be so bad?

I have had a number of opportunities to expand my in-group over the years. In high school I created a project for my psychology class that fits perfectly with the exercise Jana and Freeman suggest in their book. It’s called Get Out of the Zone. “Find a place where you will be in the minority, the more extreme the better. Try being the only _____________ (fill in the blank) person in a large group of other folks.” That’s exactly what I did when I attended bilingual classes for a day at an inner-city high school. I had taken several years of Spanish by this time and wanted to find out how comfortable I would be immersing myself into a Spanish-speaking environment. (The term bilingual applied loosely to the classes I attended as they were taught primarily in Spanish.) In terms of Jana’s and Freeman’s exercise, I was the only white, blonde, non-native Spanish-speaking person in the group. And it was everything the authors said it would be: intimidating, uncomfortable, and eye-opening.

The authors suggest to “rinse, repeat, and see how the experience of being out of your comfort zone evolves.” Since that experiment in high school, I have found — or more accurately — put myself into other places where I was a minority. I married into a Filipino family and was often the only non-Filipino in the room. When I taught financial literacy classes for Junior Achievement, I purposely picked an inner-city elementary school where as a middle-class white person I was a minority. I know each of those experiences have had a lasting impact on my thinking and, I hope, helped me acknowledge and check my biases. (For a little more about each of these experiences, see my earlier post What makes the world go ’round.)

However, I am still a work-in-progress. Later in the book, Jana and Freeman offer another exercise called Diversity Inventory. The premise is to take your top five friends and list all the ways they are similar to you and all the ways they are different from you. While I do have diversity in this close in-group, the list of similarities is longer than our differences. Does this mean I am still biased? Yup. And I always will be because bias is part of being human. At it’s core, bias is simply a preference for one thing over another. And as humans, we prefer to be with people who are like us because it’s comfortable and safe. I cannot stop being biased, but when I notice that I am being biased, I can stop, think about the situation, and decide if my bias is fair.

 

 
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Posted by on July 8, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Change Revisited

The only thing that’s constant is change.

I would attribute that quote to someone, but there seem to be enough variations that it might be hard to pin down who said it first. With all those variations, we may have become numb to the underlying truth of the sentiment. Nothing stays the same, so even those of you who profess to hate change still deal with it on a daily basis.

I loved my last job. I had a supportive team who sincerely wanted me to succeed. I had wonderful clients who were investing in the development of their teams. I had good friends at work who cared about me as a person. And then CHANGE came along. It was all the things CHANGE is known for being — scary, unpredictable, exhilarating, challenging, exhausting. First one change, then another… and another. To make a long story short(er), CHANGE ultimately led me to make a change of my own and leave this job I loved for another.

Fast forward not even six months, and guess who’s been rearing its head at my new job? CHANGE with all its scary, unpredictable challenges. And yet this time, I’m digging in. Why? What’s different about this CHANGE that makes me want to embrace it versus letting it wear me down? In a word… COMMUNICATION.

For fun, I went to the Harvard Business Review site and searched on “the importance of communication during change” and got over 6,300 results. Okay, so this is not a novel concept. Change is an important component in any change management model:

And yet, it seems organizations often skip over this step. Maybe management doesn’t know the answers to the questions people are asking, or worse, they know the answers and know their teams won’t like them. Maybe they think people already understand why the change in happening. Or maybe they are too busy doing the change to talk about it. Unfortunately, as I can attest to first-hand, when there is no communication, two things are likely to happen:

  1. The effects of the change are magnified, and
  2. People will begin to craft their own narrative about why the change is happening.

What’s different about the change in my new job is that I am kept in the loop about what is changing and why. And if my leaders don’t have answers yet, that’s also being communicated. I feel more prepared to weather this change, and I understand where we’re going with it. That makes all the difference.

So my title of Change Revisited has two meanings. Not only is change revisiting me in my new role, but I am also revisiting my thoughts about change in my blog. Oddly enough, it was five years ago almost to the day that I posted a blog entitled Often unpredictable, absolutely unrelenting, and more often than not, terribly unforgiving. This description of change is still one of my favorites, as is another quote I used in that post… one that I often remind myself of when I’m faced with change.

quote-the-illiterate-of-the-21st-century-will-not-be-those-who-cannot-read-and-write-but-those-alvin-toffler-34-60-46

 
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Posted by on July 7, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

30 Day Challenge

Imagine the sound of dust being blown off a favorite old book. That’s what I’m imagining as I write my first blog post in over three years. I meant to keep up my blogging ritual after I graduated from my Masters program. I thought about it a lot. I even went back and re-read various posts. But I never wrote a new one. Until today. And I have a weak connection in my PLN to thank for it… someone I met a few years back whom I haven’t seen or talked to since, but with whom I am connected on LinkedIn. She posted a short Ted Talk called Try something new for 30 days.

A few days ago, I turned over my calendars at home and at work. Goodbye June and the beautiful lotus flower on the calendar my sister made of her stunning photographs. Hello to the adorable Green Heron who adorns July. Goodbye Goldens romping on the beach on my rescued Goldens calendar, and hello to a friend’s sweet senior Golden sporting a patriotic hat for July.

July… really?

2017 is half over already? How did that happen?

It was that sentiment of time flying by that resonated with me in the TED Talk. Matt Cutts says that one of the things he’s learned doing these 30-day challenges is that “instead of the months flying by, forgotten, the time was much more memorable.” So when he posed the question, “What are you waiting for?”, I decided to answer the challenge and commit to blogging every day for 30 days. I am certain that not every day’s post will be insightful or even interesting, but there will be a post. And I will get back into a regular habit of blogging. Maybe after 30 days I’ll modify my goal to blogging once a week or at least several times a month, but as Lao Tzu said…

Quote Journey Of A Thousand Miles Lao Tzu Quotes On Journey Quotesgram

Day 1… check!

 
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Posted by on July 6, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

My Journey Through Learning

These last four years have indeed been a journey, and my blog has been a way to capture post card greetings along the way. It has been fascinating to read back through it from January 2010 until now, finding the recurring themes and watching the evolution of my blogging prowess.

My journey actually started in September 2009 when I first learned about this M.Ed. program from a friend of a friend (my PLN – Personal Learning Network – was hard at work long before I knew it had a name). She suggested I meet Dr. Terry Carter, and one meeting with her was all it took to convince me to enroll. Beyond the excitement she created for what I would learn in the program, I have to admit feeling an instant connection with Dr. Carter when I saw the pictures of her Goldens – Carolina and Georgia – prominently displayed in her office.aha-moment

So, four years later, where do I start with this end-of-program reflection? I have considered several formats, but the one that feels most appropriate is to share some of my favorite aHA! moments from my blog (and other writings) that changed my thinking, coalesced my thinking, or got me thinking about completely new things.

Changing my view of what I consider learning

In the fall of my first year in the program, we were assigned to write an educational bio. As I wrote in an assignment later that same semester,

I had a hard time writing my educational biography earlier this semester, and I felt as if I did not have very many informal learning experiences to include. Yet when it came time to map out my time line for life learning, there were so many events that I included that I had not thought to include when I wrote my biography. For example, I referenced in my biography that I am divorced, but I did not talk at all about my marriage. I also did not mention any of the events that were part of what I call my mid-life crisis. When I asked myself why I did not include them in my bio, the answer came quickly – I had not considered them “educational” experiences. I had not yet realized how important adult development is to adult learning.

I am glad I came to this understanding of adult development early in my masters program, because that led me to be looking for learning everywhere… and everywhere is where I found it!

I found it while on a webinar at work about the marketing concept of “storyselling” and immediately realizing it is akin to creating significant learning. It’s in the post my sister shared on Facebook from Thich Nhat Hanh’s Being Peace that I can tie into my readings about connectivism. It comes when you enhance your digital literacy so you can tell fact from fiction. It’s in my meditation practice that enhances neuroplasticity that leads to lifelong learning. The opportunity to learn is all around you, as is the opportunity to gain from what you have learned in unexpected ways.

Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.
John Dewey

Watching the learning come together

The Design and Delivery class was my first opportunity to create a real training program. This class fell at the midpoint of my time in the program and allowed me to “… [think] back not only on what I’ve learned in this course, but on how what I’ve learned in this course has brought up some of the themes I’ve been thinking about over the last two years.” Some of those recurring themes were setting clear objectives, ensuring transfer of learning, and creating opportunities for the teacher/facilitator to learn along with her learners.

Jane Vella’s book On Teaching and Learning will forever guide my instructional methods. The Four I model – induction, input, implementation, and integration –

appeals to me because it provides just enough structure to get you started in developing your instruction, but it affords plenty of room to be creative and flexible with your approach.  As I was developing the instructional plan [in this class], I would find myself thinking while driving to and from work about what questions I could pose to draw out the learners’ previous experience (inductive work), or how I could design a task that would be fun and useful (implementation).  While out walking the dogs, I would think about ways to transfer the learning beyond the workshop (integration).  It was much more than sitting down at one time and listing out the information that I wanted to impart to the learners… [D]eveloping effective learning is not just about covering the content…

as Vella so vividly demonstrated when she literally sat on her book during our Skype call that semester.

Over the course of the next two years in the program, I relied on many of the things I practiced during this class, especially as we revisited the concept of dialogue in Consulting Skills and in Capstone. My teammate and I followed Vella’s model when we tackled the creation of a hybrid learning class for adult educators in Design Challenges for eLearning for Adults, which was a capstone-like class in my technology track.

It was in the Design and Delivery class that I came to understand all that goes into program development – from the politics of the stakeholders, to the forethought needed around how to set up the room, to the painstaking process of creating meaningful assessment tools. It was also during this class that I came to understand

how an instructor can teach the same course over and over and over again, year after year, and still make it new and fresh for each class.  Well, at least the good instructors do!  What I learned this semester is that, for the good instructors, it’s never really the same course… Each time you teach a class or facilitate a training session, there are new learners in the class who bring new experiences and thus new opportunities to work with the content.

A new way of thinking about learning

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write,
but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.

Alvin Toffler

I chose the technology track on the advice of a friend I met through the Richmond chapter of ASTD. Four years ago, she said eLearning was definitely a hot area, but nobody was doing it well. If I could learn how it should be done, I would be a hot commodity. However, I had my doubts about eLearning which I explored in my first semester. I further examined my concerns about the acceptability of online degrees in my project for Research Methods. Even during the first of my technology track classes, I blogged about

hanging on to my preference for traditional classroom learning. I love being on campus and having the face-to-face interactions with classmates and the professor. I appreciate the effective use of technology in the classroom, and I am addicted to the myriad information online that supplements my learning. But… technology AS the “classroom”? I’m still warming up to that idea, and for that reason, I’m glad this semester’s class is a hybrid class. Ease me into the transition.

By the midpoint of the semester, I was drowning in my new-found love of online learning, or rather learning online. (Thanks, Dr. Watwood, for that lesson in the power of semantics!) There is no doubt it was during these technology track classes that I found my learning groove.

In the Theory and Practice of eLearning Integration into Adult Learning Environments class, I was introduced to and became enamoured with George Siemens’ theory of connectivism and the ideas that “learning is a process that occurs within nebulous environments of shifting core elements” and that “our ability to learn what we need for tomorrow is more important than what we know today.” These ideas were definitely part of what shaped my thinking when I wrote, “by being a lifelong learner, you are open to unlearning what you know in favor of learning something you can’t even imagine now.

As I had already come to discover in Groups & Team, “learning is no longer an internal, individualistic activity,” and Siemens goes on to say that “when knowledge… is needed, but not known, the ability to plug into sources to meet the requirements becomes a vital skill,” thus prompting me to blog:

It is that peer-to-peer interaction that, for me, defines my graduate education experience.  It’s realizing that when I walk into a room at the beginning of the semester, I am meeting, or more often now re-connecting with, a room full of instructors from whom I will gain contextual learning from perspectives I never imagined — nurse, doctor, army officer, corporate executive, academic staffer, teacher, community activist, IT guru… the list goes on and on…

During the second of the technology track classes – Exploration of Digital Media – I chose to explore Jaron Lanier’s You are not a gadget as my individual project. I chose this book because I was seeking a counter balance to what I had referred to in the previous semester as being addicted to the eLearning Kool-Aid. I wanted to examine the arguments Lanier presents as well as test my own acceptance and assumptions about these technologies and social media tools.

JasonLanier_AFI had no idea how much of an impression this book would have on me, or how often I would think back on it and wonder What would Jaron say? As I was reading Lanier’s book, I found myself getting as excited about agreeing with him as disagreeing. Mostly because he made me think so hard about what he was saying before I could even decide if I agreed or disagreed. I felt at times as if I were in a tumultuous relationship with Lanier – one minute I loved him for opening my mind and challenging me to think so differently; the next I hated him for being so cynical and egotistical. In the end, I decided the best way to describe my relationship with Lanier and my analysis of his ideas was simply to say, “it’s complicated.” Spend a few minutes with Lanier, and you’ll understand.

A few words about my blog

My blog has been my faithful companion these past four years, and I would be remiss if I did not dedicate space to reflect on my blog itself.

For the first few years, I wrote my blog for myself and didn’t expect anyone to comment on it except maybe my professors. Then we started to have blog buddies, and I got used to the idea that people would be reading my writings, albeit fellow classmates. During my tour through the technology track classes, I decided to give my blog a facelift and make it more like a real blog with an About me page and links to some of my other work from the program. Still, though, I never anticipated what happened on the afternoon of December 6, 2012.

I received an email notification from WordPress that I had a ping back to approve on a post I’d written about the concept of Big Data earlier in the semester. I was used to ping backs from my classmates, but this was a ping back from a blog written by the Marketing Communications Manager at Lyris, a global digital marketing agency! She had quoted me in her blog and referred to me a “Blogger Joanne Even.” I was stunned. I was thrilled. I was a BLOGGER!

It is bittersweet to find myself at this destination called graduation. While it is not the end of my journey through learning, it is most definitely a significant endpoint. I am a lifelong learner and as such will continue the journey and my reflective practice because

… it’s been my own words that have rewarded me by showing how much I have learned over the past few years and how well I weave my academic learning into every aspect of my life.

So for me, it is not so much transferring what I learned into my own teaching practice right now as it is about paying attention to these practices in other areas – such as the recent trend in gamification in marketing, the move toward mobile technologies, and questions surrounding analytics to assess ROI on social media – and applying what I have learned in this [program] to understand how to answer the questions that surround these topics in a different context. (ADLT 640 Final Self-Assessment)

Through self-assessments and especially through my reflective blogging practice, I am proving to myself that I am establishing significant learning.

Post Script

At the moment of commitment, the universe conspires to assist you.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I spent virtually my entire graduate school tenure hoping to make a career change into adult education. It took a leap of faith to quit my job last month without having another job lined up, but I had to give myself the time and space for a transition. As it was a connection in my PLN that started me on this journey through learning, so it was again when a connection I made in my very first M.Ed. class made the introduction that has landed me my first job in the field of learning and development. As a strong believer of chaos theory, it’s hard for me to say it was meant to be – even in a state of chaos, things can line up favorably – but what I can say is that I am excited to start this next phase of my journey.

 
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Posted by on April 29, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

What Have You Learned?

What have you learned in the last week?

This is the question our professor asks us each week. It’s a legitimate question, and one you might expect in a classroom environment, but surprisingly, it’s not always an easy question to answer. Not because we haven’t learned anything, but because sometimes it’s hard to put your learning into words.

Real Woman Drive Stick ShiftIf you learn a new skill — how to drive a stick-shift car — that’s easy to articulate. But what does it mean that you can now drive a stick-shift car? Does it mean you can buy the sports car you always wanted? Does it mean you can drive a friend’s car and get her home safely when she’s had a few drinks and shouldn’t be behind the wheel? Or does it mean you have a better understanding and appreciation for how an automobile works? Is it enough to ask what you’ve learned, or is the real question how does what you’ve learned change the way you look at or think about things?

It’s this second layer of what we’ve learned that’s hard to articulate. For example, during my recent interviews with the staff at UMFS, I learned about all the different roles the teachers take with their students. In addition to the not-so-small task of providing effective instruction, they must also be counselors, therapists, disciplinarians, and negotiators. But how does this knowledge help me assess the overall learning culture and needs at UMFS, which is the task our class is charged with this semester?

First, it illustrates to me that in addition to standard teacher certification requirements, these teachers are also required to learn and implement Collaborative Problem Solving techniques and the MANDT system for de-escalating volatile situations. They need to learn how to employ Plan B scenarios with students in order to keep the class on an even keel. They need to be ready to assist a fellow teacher by coaching him through the appropriate steps to restrain a child and keep her from hurting herself or others. It means that these teachers really need their down time to re-energize, but does it also mean that they need or desire more or different professional development opportunities?

We are still wrestling with these questions (and others) as we sort through all of our interview data. We’ve learned a lot, but what does it mean? How do we use that learning to provide ideas and recommendations?

We trust the process of Action Learning: Great questions always lead to great reflection.  Great reflection always leads to great learning. And great learning always leads to great action.

I believe we have asked some great questions — both in our interviews with people at UMFS and of each other in class. I think we were all struck by the power of the question Melissa wrote on the board Thursday night — are we trying to shape the learning culture or to shape culture through learning? As I look back through the notes I took in class, I see a lot of great questions. Time now to reflect on these questions to discover what we’ve learned and how to turn that learning into action for our client.

“The questions that heal us and offer hope for authentic change are the ones we cannot easily answer…”
~ Peter Block

 
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Posted by on March 22, 2014 in Capstone

 

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