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Teachers' Lore Digest (11/30/12)


Lessons We Can Learn from Jiro Ono

by Maximiliano "El Nerdo" Nérdez (via | Nov 7th 2012 7:00am)

I have been re-watching the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi for the past couple of months. I've seen it at least 10 times, probably more, while writing drafts for this article. I've watched it alone, with my wife, with friends, and I don't tire of it; I've recommended it to everyone I know, and now I'm wholeheartedly recommending it to you. I have watched this film in fascination, trying to extract lessons from this master. What have I learned from him? And what questions do these lessons open up for me?

This little gem of a documentary by David Gelb takes a look at the work and life of Jiro Ono, a Michelin three-star sushi chef who, at 85 years of age, continues to work on his craft every day at his tiny restaurant in a Tokyo office building basement opposite a subway station entrance. His colleagues, his country, and at least one very knowledgeable food writer recognize him as perhaps the greatest sushi chef alive.

What lessons have I learned from him?

You must fall in love with your work

"Once you decide on your occupation," says Jiro, "you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That's the secret of success and is the key to being regarded honorably."

Jiro himself is enormously happy with his work; he is a blissful craftsman who truly enjoys his work, which keeps him vital in his old age.

However, it's crucial to note that he doesn't say "find work that you love," as if suggesting one goes on some romantic quest in search for the perfect job, but rather he tells us to love the work we have chosen.

This means to consciously and voluntarily cultivate love, much like we do in a marriage. This is different from a teenage crush whereby one gets struck in the head by a random force and goes temporarily mad, only to wake up to disillusioned weeks or months later. Jiro's path to joyful work requires a lifetime of devotion.

This brings to mind a more common conception of work some of us have: We tend to categorize jobs as being either "passion work" or "work just for the money." Then we tell ourselves that passion work is a pipe dream and we must endure a lifetime of mindless toil until the day we retire and begin to enjoy life.

What would happen, I wonder, if we consciously and purposefully loved the jobs we feel condemned to do "just for the money"? Could this perhaps completely revolutionize our relationship with work, increase our quality of life, and diminish our hunger for retirement?

Specialize, simplify, go deep

Sushi is by definition a minimalist food, and Jiro has taken this simplicity to another level, not only in his sushi-making technique, but also in the composition of his menu. Unlike other restaurants of its kind, Jiro's does not serve appetizers. Rather, they create a daily menu of about 20 pieces of sushi per person. He serves sushi only, and no other dishes.

Moreover, his restaurant has only 10 seats. This allows the staff to focus on preparing top-quality sushi and serving each client the best possible way, noticing little details like how much they eat or if they are right- or left-handed.

Jiro's eldest son, Yoshikazu, who is a sushi chef in his own right but still works with his father as the heir apparent, says that at the restaurant they try to repeat the same thing every day. What's left implied is that mastery results from this constant repetition.

This focus goes beyond the confines of work: Jiro repeats the same routine every day, down to standing on the same spot to take the train. He dislikes holidays and wants to return to work as soon as possible.

It seems to me that Jiro increases his creativity by going deep, rather than wide—start with an automatic daily routine, pursue a narrow focus at work, and within that narrow focus, the combination of talent and hard work open up a universe for creative exploration.

This reminds me of that mad genius William Blake, who wrote in "Auguries of Innocence":

To see a world in a grain of sand

And a heaven in a wild flower,

Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,

And eternity in an hour.

With happiness like that, who needs vacations?

Loving your work requires sacrifice

If we stick for a moment with the "passion work" scenario I mentioned earlier, I notice that some people tend to assume that doing work you love is free of difficulties and that everything will be well in your life if you just switch careers. It is not. Doing work you love may cost you dearly, especially in the initial stages, and everyone choosing such a path should be willing to pay the price of admission.

In my case, pursuing studies in the humanities and striking out on my own instead of finding a place in academia meant I have to work longer hours and make less money compared with people working in established organizations and with perhaps fewer years of education.

I have made peace with that fact because I am doing work that I love, but the trade-off is evident. Today I aim to increase my income to a more comfortable level by cultivating focus and honing my skills, but it's a steep climb. Still, this was a conscious choice that I do not regret.

I know this may seem to contradict a little bit what I said earlier about loving the work you've chosen, but I guess what I'm trying to say is that loving your work can at times be difficult, but if you persevere you will find yourself rewarded for it.

In the case of Jiro, the demands of his job kept him away from his family while his children were growing up. He also had to struggle against poverty; when he got married he had no money in the bank, and years later his kids had to save for months before they could afford a Coca-Cola.

Things have changed today, Jiro shares a good relationship with his children, who learned their craft from their father, but it took years of sacrifice and hard work to get there. Jiro himself had to endure being slapped or kicked during his learning years, but he didn't quit. He's had apprentices, however, who only lasted a day in his kitchen.

The point of this, to me, is that the kind of bliss Jiro finds in his daily work can't be achieved through quick solutions and four-hour workweeks. It takes hard, intense, concentrated, and often painful work. Dream jobs don't simply work their magic because you find them; they do because you marry them for life and they reward you for your efforts as years go by.

I am not suggesting, of course, that citizens of 21st-century Western democracies with different cultural prejudices put up with unfair or unsafe work conditions, but Jiro's tale is a reminder that love and sacrifice can reward us in transcendental ways that cannot be reduced to quick formulas for easy success. His path may not be for everyone, but I believe it's at least worthy of examination.

About the author: Maximiliano "El Nerdo" Nérdez has been, at various times, scientist, dishwasher, professor, circus performer, politician, farmer, door-to-door canvasser, and fugitive from justice. He currently makes a living as a freelance artist and small business owner. He is interested in the philosophy and psychology of financial prosperity because (he claims) "it's all in the mind." El Nerdo does *not* live in Portland (OR or ME).

Title image illustrated by Dominick Rabrun. You can find his illustrations on his personal web site, or works in progress on his blog.

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7 Creative Thinking Skills Important for You to Have

by Mike Brown  (via June 16th 2011)

We were on a call recently with an extended creative team generating ideas for client videos. During breaks, I found myself jotting down examples of important creative thinking skills the team was exhibiting. These seven creative thinking skills demonstrated during the call are ones which benefit both those who display them and those working with them too:

1. Suspending advocacy of your own idea to push for another person’s concept.

It’s helpful to be able to come into a creative situation and demonstrate your willingness to champion another person’s idea. It can open the way to getting others to support your thinking, as well.

2. Putting your own idea to the same test you apply to an idea from someone else.

When it comes to your own ideas, it’s easy to be a hypocrite and apply all kinds of hurdles to other ideas while letting your own thinking slide by unchallenged in your own mind. Just one thing to remember: don’t become somebody known for doing this!

3. Combining two different ideas and making them better (not muddled) as one idea.

Often (maybe “almost always”) compromising on creative ideas leads to something nobody likes, recognizes, or thinks satisfies the original objective. Being able to dissect ideas to pull out highlights and put them together as something new, however, is entirely different, and a great skill to have.

4. Letting someone else take “ownership” of your idea in order to build support for it.

This skill really tests whether you believe so strongly in an idea you’re willing to let someone else step up and take it on as their own idea to see it prevail. The key to seeing your idea win out can be letting somebody else be the vocal proponent for it.

5. Displaying the patience to wait for someone else to say what needs to be said so all you have to do is agree.

It’s tempting to jump in right away and make all the points you feel necessary in a creative discussion before anyone else talks. At times though, patience and silence are called for when it becomes clear someone can and will express your perspective – and can do it more appropriately than you can.

6. Sticking to your guns amid challenges to a creative idea which makes solid strategic sense.

There are many creative ideas which, while being really cool, have nothing to do with what you’re trying to achieve and how you should be achieving it. When confronted with others who are passionately arguing for highly creative yet hardly strategic concepts, make and remake your case if the idea you’re advocating is on the mark strategically.

7. Always looking for new creative skills to develop in yourself and those around you.

Not only do you want to make yourself stronger creatively at every juncture, it’s in your best interests to help improve the creative performance of your overall team. Creative meetings are a great opportunity to spot gaps others labor under as well as seeing your own creative shortcomings. Inventory what you saw (or didn’t see) after a creative meeting and get to work filling the gaps.

How are you doing on these 7 creative thinking skills? How about your team?  – Mike Brown

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You Should Read… (September 30, 2012)

(by | Oct 1st 2012)

I missed sharing this post last week as I decided to take a Sunday off from everything and just watch some football  There is a ton of great stuff and the article this week really pushed my own thinking about what can be happening in schools right now to push what we do in schools.

1.  What it might be – As our own school division embarks on the second year of digital portfolio implementation, I really enjoyed this post by my friend Jabiz Raisdana who shares not only some thoughts about student blogging, but shares his own experience with blogging as well.  I really believe that if we are to be effective with kids in teaching this skill, we must not have knowledge, but also some experience with it as well.  Whether that is in a personal blog or a classroom blog, seeing both the benefits and negatives is powerful.

I think back to my own experience blogging and how I started off with the idea of “blog as a portfolio” but really started to fall in love with the writing process.  My style has developed over time and now I find that blogging is crucial to my own learning, both personally and professionally.

Jabiz ends the post with some great advice for students to get into the flow of blogging:

If you want your students to blog effectively, give them the freedom to experiment and write about what interests them. Stay away from portfolios and forced reflections on their learning, at least until they get the hang of it. Wait until they find a voice, find an audience, and become involved in the conversations around ideas, before you push your agenda of meta-cognition and reflective learning. 

Seriously, read the entire post.

2.  5 Critical Mistakes Schools Make with iPads – Too many times, I watch schools/organizations focus on the tool as opposed to the learning. That has led several schools to buy mass amounts of hardware (including iPads) and have many teachers not understand what their purpose is or see it as an add-on.  Many school leaders may not think that, but if you talk to their teachers, they may have a different point of view.  That is I have found this Edudemic article such a great guide to start for implementation of iPads (or any technology) in a school.  The last point in the article is the most important in my opinion:

5) Failure to communicate a compelling answer to “Why iPads?”

Many school administrators simply fail to communicate to their constituents why they’ve purchased iPads. As a result, many initiatives face resistance from teachers, parents — and even students – who don’t understand why these devices are being introduced into their classrooms. Letting the purchase speak for itself isn’t enough – districts need to explain why they’ve invested in these devices.

I encourage you to read this before you implement anything in your school.  If you have already done so, still read it and ask yourself, “what have we missed?”

3.  Learning Today Looks Nothing Like in the Past – Karen Lirenman, a grade one teacher in Surrey, BC, shared some of the things that she is doing in her classroom and when I read her post, my jaw literally dropped.  It is amazing what a grade one classroom can look like now but is this the norm?  Is it even something that many are aspiring towards?

Some of the things that Karen listed in her post that she does…Quad blogging, Skyping, blog for classroom collaboration, high school/elementary school collaboration, global read aloud, and much more.  This is in a grade one classroom!

So a couple of things popped in my head while reading this.

a.  When I hear teachers in elementary classrooms say that kids are too young for technology, I can easily send them to this post (and I probably will).

b. Many may take Karen’s post as that she is not doing some of the traditional “literacies” in her classroom and think it is technology focused. I saw Yong Zhao this past summer and he said something that stuck out to me.

“Reading and writing should be the floor, not the ceiling.”

Karen is shooting for a much higher ceiling then she probably has before, probably because of all of her own learning that she has done.  A master teacher always grows and Karen is exemplifying that in her work.

c.  What happens to these students after Karen’s class? What is her admin team doing to ensure that these types of activities are continued after next year with this group of students?  What is Karen doing with the teacher’s of the next grade?  It has to be a team effort in a school where we must all push each other’s learning to do what is best for kids, not just the sole responsibility of the “admin team”.  This is where we go beyond “classroom teacher” to the notion of “school teacher”.  Leadership can come from many different avenues in a school.

Hopefully you have some food for thought this week from these posts.  I know that definitely with these three articles alone, my thinking has been stretched significantly so I hope they have given you some food for thought as well.

Just as an “extra” share, I wanted to share this awesome song by The Avett Brothers.  I love their music and just started listening to their new album (is that what you call it nowadays?).  Below is my favourite song from it.

Have a great week!

See Video:

cc licensed ( BY NC SD ) flickr photo shared by gcouros

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Creative Commons explained (video)

by David Hopkins, ( February 8th 2012)

Here is a great explanation of the different ‘attribution’ or license elements of Creative Commons:

“Creative Commons helps you share your knowledge and creativity with the world. Creative Commons develops, supports, and stewards legal and technical infrastructure that maximizes digital creativity, sharing, and innovation.”

See Video:

(Nod to @jamesclay for showing this on his blog first)

This work, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Tagged with Creative Commons, Video, YouTube.

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Finally, An Image That Puts EdTech in Its Place


Villemard, 1910 À l’ École


Finally, An Image That Puts EdTech in Its Place


Villemard, 1910 À l’ École



Apple Drained a River


Where is the Han River?