What we can learn from FISH…


We just came back from 9 days of camping on a pristine, isolated beach. One intermittent bar would flash up on my mobile every now and then, taunting me during my digital withdrawal and delivering the odd email from the real world. During this time I had a chance to really (and properly) sit, think, reflect, and read- all of which are sadly precious and rare in my world of crazy-busy. It was pure bliss.

This holiday I sat and devoured 7 books. The last couple of books in my holiday pile were texts that were not necessarily for pleasure, but for self-improvement. One that I want to discuss is called FISH: A remarkable way to boost morale and improve results. (Stephen C Lundin, PhD., Harry Paul and John Christensen). I chose to read this book as I had an interest more in its sequel, Cats: The nine lives of innovation, by Stephen C Lunden PhD, which I’ll talk about another time.

FISH describes how to achieve an ideal workplace: one where the staff are motivated, inspired, energetic, passionate and positive. Through a narrative the book outlines 4 strategies to achieve this:

  • Choose your attitude;
  • Play;
  • Make Their Day; and
  • Be Present.

The scenarios highlighted within the story relate to staff working in customer service and an operative group within a bank. By adopting the above strategies, the groups involved experienced greater job satisfaction, client satisfaction and an overall improvement within the workplace and productivity.

These 4 strategies seem like common sense- there is nothing particularly ground breaking about them. However, the beauty is in their simplicity and ease of implementation, particularly within classrooms where the ‘clients’ are our students.

The cornerstone of this approach is the first strategy, ‘Choose Your Attitude’. In this, the authors encourage us to change the way we approach our day. They assert that ‘there is always a choice about the way you do your work, even if there is not a choice about the work itself’. We can choose to do the best that we can do, with energy and passion, or we can choose to hang on to feelings of negativity that promise to burdon us with a miserable day as well as drag others down with us. We can choose to step away from the negativity of ‘that’ co-worker who tends to suck the life out of the room, or we can choose to feed and multiply that negativity through its interaction. In this, we are reminded that we often can’t control what happens to us (such as the idiot that cut you off on the way to work this morning), but we can control our reactions and behaviours to these things. We all make a choice, be it conscious or unconscious in how we behave. ‘Choose Your Attitude’ implores us to make the conscious choice to be positive, to approach what we do every day with pride and energy, no matter what the task.

I love this philosophy because I can see how it can be successfully translated to improve my class environment and (hopefully) increase the energy and overall happiness of my students. By encouraging my kids to ‘Choose Your Attitude’, we are asking them to walk through the door each morning having made a choice about how they approach their day. A positive attitude towards their peers, their  work and their school experiences would have to result in a utopian classroom, would it not??

I’m sure that any teacher that reads this is by now muttering that many kids find it difficult to be sunshine and roses all of the time because their lives are hard, for a variety of reasons. What I am saying is that if a culture of choice and consideration is fostered within our classrooms, then our classrooms (and our workplace) can become a sanctuary and not just another battle that they (and we!) have to get through every day. If our students are taught over time to modify their reactions to negative behaviours and to choose to celebrate and embrace the positives they encounter, we are fostering life skills. Above all, it is vital that we as the adults in their lives model these behaviours.

The remaining three strategies would only serve to build upon this strong foundation for a happy, productive, energetic classroom.

The strategy of ‘Play’ is one that any good teacher uses on a daily basis. Kids learn when they have fun and learning through play is a no-brainer. ‘Make Their Day’, the third strategy,  is something we often need to put more thought into. ‘Make Their Day’ refers to making our ‘clients’ feel special, creating positive experience that students will remember and cherish. Sadly, for some of my students, basic kindnesses are enough to make their day. A conversation unrelated to school where you actively engage. A smile. A shared joke. These are not things that you should consciously have to remind yourself to do, however sometimes we need to identify and ‘bank time’ with students who would benefit from someone putting the effort in for them and showing that they care.

The last strategy is ‘Be Present’. In terms of the modeled workplace in the book FISH, ‘Be Present’ describes employees are entirely focused on their work and their clients. This is complicated when we relate it to the classroom. On one hand, the day flies by at warp speed that there is no choice but to ‘live in the now’ and focus on the task at hand. On the flip-side, however, it is for this precise reason that we can benefit from again reminding ourselves (this is not a new concept!!) to interact with our students while they are working to really learn how they feel about a task, and if they are benefiting from it. Is what you are asking fulfilling their needs as a learner? Is what you are asking the best way for this particular learner to learn?

I want to reiterate that I know what I’m saying is nothing new or groundbreaking; none of these strategies are things that we haven’t heard before. What I really enjoyed about this book was its simplicity. It served as a fantastic reminder in a job full of complicated theories and practices of ways to not only be a better teacher and co-worker, but how to foster a better classroom environment for my students, my clients.

What we can learn from FISH…

I love Google- but does Google love me back?

As with many people of my generation, I’m generally self- taught when it comes to the latest and greatest technologies and innovations. I try to keep up with what my students are already using and I try to discover technologies to enhance my teaching or save me time. There are so many options out there for us to grab hold of and use that when we find something that works, is simple and can slide into our work lives easily, we tend to just go with it without thinking too much about if there is a ‘bigger picture’ to consider.

Well, this was the case when I discovered (much later than the rest of the world, I know!) Google Chrome. I just love it! Google Docs, Google Drive, the web store and all of the web apps- it has really simplified some of my most time consuming tasks. For example, I team teach a class of Year 5 students. My teaching partner and I often use common documents to record data that previously we had just emailed back and forth (from home at midnight, slaving away over an overworked laptop…). Now, we simultaneously work on the same document from our separate homes while it saves and updates in real time.

These multi-user capabilities hold huge potential for collaborations between students within classrooms all over the world. Imagine a project partner that lives in a different country! The power of the internet really is fabulous. While I’m here, let me say that I’m a huge fan of OneNote and Skydrive, which have similar capabilities, however for ease of simplicity when I’m on the net, Google’s products win out when I’m in a hurry- which is almost always.

So, when I was shown the ‘Hungry Beast- Google’ clip (attached) at a recent conference, I was forced to stop and think. What am I risking by using this product? Am I tech savvy enough to protect myself? I hope no one actually puts this to the test! Am I just falling for a big joke formulated by a ginormous corporation that really just wants to own me?

I don’t know!

When we’re sifting through all of the amazing technologies available to us, we are generally pulling them from one of the big boys- Apple, Microsoft or Google. The question I’m now asking is, when I use something of theirs, what are they taking of mine?


It’s all about the learning…

Here in Australia we’ve started a new curriculum that links the states and territories for the first time. We as teachers are all required to cover English, Mathematics, History and Science (among other learning areas) as well as the cross curricular priorities of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander History and Cultures,  Asia and Australia’s Engagement with Asia and Sustainability. Of course these are all essential to promote literate, numerate students with a sense of social conscience and place within a global community. However, it is the general capabilities of our curriculum that are something to get excited about.

It is here that our curriculum attempts to align an education system that is in love with chalk and talk, standardized testing and outdated technology with the holy grail of 21st Century Learning practices.  The general capabilities of Information and Communication Technology, Critical and Creative Thinking, Personal and Social Capability, Ethical Understanding and Intercultural Understanding all outline skills and essential practices that need to be woven throughout the curriculum to create lifelong learners that are prepared to survive and thrive within a 21st century world. Despite all that these general capabilities cover, they are nothing but words on a page unless they are embraced within the spirit of 21st Century Learning Practices.

What is 21st Century Learning?

The 21st Century Learning model aims to prepare students for the world that they will graduate into. What will that world look like? No one can honestly say! The last thirty years has seen vast amounts of change in almost every dimension of our lives and we will continue to see change. We live in a technology and media-saturated world where news is instant and we are more globally connected than any other time. The industrial model of teaching and learning, the teacher centered, chalk and talk method is simply too slow for the learners of today. These kids were born into a digital world  where multi-tasking is the norm and flat out is the only speed they know.

So what do we do? We as educators need to prepare students to cope with change, to be creative, innovative and critical thinkers that have the ability to problem solve and work comfortably within a truly global community. We do this by exposing them to the real world using relevant and real life examples. We give them opportunities to collaborate with peers from around the world. Rather than a textbook approach, students should be encouraged to discover using the technologies they are so comfortable with.

The ‘teacher knows all’ achetype that led to reams of paper wasted from copying from the board is now shattered by the fact that kids of today often know more than we do about the use of technology in particular. They are fearless learners, they have no qualms about experimenting, guessing, checking, making mistakes and moving on. They love creating, collaborating and discovering for themselves. They love sharing their knowledge and teaching others. Our greatest battle as their ‘teachers’ is trying to keep up!

It is vital that we as educators facilitate these invaluable learning experiences for our students.

It’s easy to argue that this fast-paced and digital world is not an ideal way to live, that a slower, simpler, less stressful approach is better. The simple fact is that this is not how the kids of today roll. If I asked a nine year old boy to sit at his desk while I lectured him about the joys of persuasive writing, he would last all of ten minutes before he started looking for other ways to entertain himself. Certainly, students need to be taught skills to be successful both as independent and collaborative learners and there is most definitely a place for rigorous teaching and learning of literacy and numeracy in particular. It is the delivery of this content that needs to change in order to engage our learners so that we can say we’ve done our job, which is help our students to learn and prepare for their futures, whatever they may hold.


It’s all about the learning…