Face it, we live in a world of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA). Even here in Hawaii, a place where much of the world thinks of as paradise. There is an increasing necessity to not only look at the facts but to apply our HI. No, not HI as in the abbreviated form of Hawaii. Rather, HI as in Human Intelligence.  To think for oneself. Not to kid oneself either. Legislation in Hawaii passed in 2010 a requirement that single-family dwellings being built must have solar water heaters. Four years later, all single-use plastic carryout bags were prohibited. As we come upon the tenth anniversary of this ban, we still need to focus and see the forest through the trees. Much remains to be done in Hawaii if we are to truly become more sustainable. The photo above, taken from my home, is but one example. Seeing the whole picture is necessary. A beautiful coastline, open space, and yet the neon green arrow points to where diesel oil burns for energy. A shortcut of sorts.

Education in the AI Era: Shortcuts and Consequences

Recently a colleague encouraged me to install Brisk and Origins as Chrome extensions to detect the misuse of AI and plagiarism. To catch out students who opt for shortcuts. Ultimately though, my energies are more into teaching how to use AI as a thought partner of sorts as from personal experience I’ve garnered an understanding of how AI has the potential to create deeper learning. Surprisingly, however, I have found that many students are reluctant to utilize AI. Though initially drawn to it, students have shared how if used ethically, AI often creates more work. More work? Or, more learning?

An invitation for more “work” is not one usually accepted. Increasingly this appears to be true. As students juggle academics, athletics, the fine arts, and all else whirling in their busy lives I sometimes marvel at the choices being made. For example, many students today have a much more “unique” approach to reading than a few generations ago. Maybe you remember the time, PI (pre-internet), when just had the book and maybe a copy of Spark Notes you purchased in a physical book. Today with the ubiquity of resources, instead of delving into the depths of a book, more traditionally or straightforwardly, students resort to a cunning shortcut. But there are no shortcuts. Watching videos, reading websites, and doing everything BUT reading the book, is a search to reach comprehension without the hassle of exhaustive reading. Ionically this makes the process a whole lot more laborious than just sitting back and reading the book!

Similar to the clever game of intellectual maneuvering to “read” a book, these past months as students apply to universities, I have wondered to what degree students are being used by AI. Opting for the long and winding road, interested in mastering the art of shortcuts, is an inaccurate portrayal being demonstrated to admissions departments? A colleague of mine advises, “Reality will surely strike.” Universities are likely to feel the brunt of who students “really” are and what students can do themselves. AI might be a tool that helps a student jump through the hoop, but once admitted might they be ill-prepared? If so, what might this mean to the future workforce?

The Shortcut Myth

The current conversations of AI and ethics remind me of the nepotism I confronted early in my international teaching career.  “But Matthew, Martin is a ​​Dueñas (surname),” chided the director of the school. I was unfamiliar with the power of a last name and had never experienced such favoritism.  “Matthew, the Dueñas never fail.” All I knew was that Martin had done nothing all year. He knew, his family knew, and the director knew. Yet, ultimately I would be asked to change his grade. I stood my ground and let the director know that it would have to be her to do such a thing, not me.

There is a Chinese saying that goes “Wealth does not last beyond three generations.” This can be likened to a similar belief depicted in the American expression, “Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations”. Later in my international teaching career I would have a chance to see this adage playing out and would once again confront nepotism. This time, however, in a different region of the world. The fading of generational wealth was evident as I was introduced to hard-working and determined grandparents who were the builders and first generation of wealth. Students’ parents often were the maintainers and were able to preserve the wealth. Yet, various students, the third generation, were either being pushed through their education or accustomed to taking shortcuts. Unaware that there are no shortcuts. Ultimately, they would be inheriting companies and positions of power in which they were ill-equipped to perform. In effect, they were on the path to becoming the squanders of the families’ wealth.

Nepotism, seemingly in the DNA of many cultures and industries, shares a kinship with the advent of AI as a shortcut. They both illustrate a preference for the familiar over the uncharted. Nepotism prioritizes kinship over meritocracy, while AI prioritizes convenience over authenticity and understanding. I continue to be a proponent of AI, recognizing that it is here to stay. It can and should be used as a tool. Also, one of the elephants in the room is the “shortcut myth.” AI may be just as students report, “more work.” However, when leveraged with honesty, as a tool, an addition, not a replacement to our Human Intelligence, results may generate greater opportunities, broader perspectives, and deeper understanding. In contrast to the constraints of nepotism, possibilities loom.

Meanwhile, it may help if we remember, there are no shortcuts.



Many outdoorsy types, including boy and girl scouts, dream of successfully mastering the age-old art of igniting fire with nothing more than a magnifying glass. What if I told you I started a fire with water?

Nurturing Trust and Agency: The Cornerstones of Inclusive Education

As educators, we invest copious amounts of time into planning for the school year and in the first few weeks intentionally creating community in our classrooms. At the forefront, is fostering an inclusive environment where every student’s voice is valued and respected. Listening and truly valuing one another is our hope. As is collaboration and providing multiple opportunities for students to build connections with one another. Yet, at the foundation of everything is a fundamental feeling of trust. A Harvard Business Publishing Education article suggests that activating positive emotions, including trust, among students helps students foster cooperative relationships, build resilience and persistence, and increase motivation. Further, trust is in many ways tethered to agency. Positive and effective learning environments should induce trust. Trust in teachers, classmates, and possibly even in the education system. Of course, however, trust must begin within the individual. Then, there is empowerment. Not being acted upon as if to say, “I am giving you the choice.” But from within. This subtle nuance is the spark. It is the sensing of control, “the world is at my doorstep.”

But beyond trust and agency, what are the other necessary ingredients to creating optimal learning environments?

Learning Language, Breaking Barriers: The Role of Authenticity and Place

Recently I was in a high school language classroom and it took me back to my first experience learning Spanish. The class was held in a lecture hall where I sat passively amongst 200 other students as the professor stood up front and rattled on incomprehensibly. Feeling academically wounded, I would then limp over to the language lab. Here, a teacher’s assistant would open a sliding glass window to enquire about the module. Then, before pushing play on the cassette recorder she would hand over tight-fitting headphones, a #2 pencil, and a scantron sheet. Never was there the ability to pause, let alone stop. The “show” just went on. With a one in four chance, I would guess, weary to have too many Cs blackened. My confusion and being disheartened eventually lost out to a more pervasive feeling. One of repulsion. This is NOT the experience we ever endeavor to create for learners.

Oddly enough, a decade later I would be in the classroom teaching Spanish even though I questioned if language could be learned in a classroom. My sentiment is captured in a timeless parody called, “One Semester Spanish Love Song.”  When I last watched, the first comment below the video read, “I took Spanish all the way up to AP Spanish in high school. This song summarizes how much of it I remember.” Might this be because of relevance? Language often is learned by going somewhere. We learn it when we have a purpose. When it is authentic. Furthermore, might there be ties between place-based education and the learning of language? Certainly, a deeper understanding of local culture and environment is integral. This example of learning a language ultimately can be translated into what it means to learn anything. The importance of place, purpose, an individual’s motivation, and authenticity. Ultimately, getting out of the classroom and into much more boundless spaces of learning.

Even if the reality for many teachers remains within four walls, we know learning is like breathing. Students will learn no matter what. So, let’s keep the “air” as clean as possible.

The Container: Creating the Right Conditions

So I did really light a fire with water. I share this because it showcases what is possible with just the right conditions. Might we as educators intentionally create such similar conditions? Where there is a spark and then a fervent fire for learning. Countless times in the past I have filled a gallon glass jug with water and set it in the sun to allow for dechlorination. Recently, I errantly placed it against a dry wooden stump where in the days to come I would water saplings. 18 hours after filling the jug I received a text from our tenant saying, “There was a small brush fire at a tree stump in the front of the house, all put out now and heavily watered down. It was caused by science and a glass water jug which magnified the sun…” He was being generous, the fire was caused by ME! Well, my negligence along with heat, dryness, powerful morning sun rays, and the water’s reflection. Never in my wildest dreams would I have considered the gallon jar of water a fire hazard. Besides being grateful to have learned the lesson the easy way, I thought about how this example speaks volumes about what is possible. What is possible with the right conditions?

So, venture forth to continue to spark inspiration and kindle the flames blazing within your classrooms!



Life’s rhythm these past few months has resembled more staccato than flow. However, after more than three decades, I find myself on the familiar yet uncharted path of rediscovering my love for running. In turn, I notice an improved sense of joy, creativity, and legato-like feel to life. Smooth and steady. This fits with education as such exercise has brain-changing effects.

Up until six weeks ago, I would admit to running, only if I were being chased. However, it has not always been this way. I was fueled by the boundless energy and curiosity of childhood and could often be found running in the forests, across the hills, and through Mill Creek. I exchanged my football helmet and pads Freshman year for running shoes and surprised even myself by joining the cross country team. I had never run three miles in my life and now we were warming up with this. The training stands out as a vivid memory, yet one particular cross-country competition especially remains unforgettable. It was a chilly autumn afternoon when Coach Wilson moved me up to run in the Varsity match, surrounded by probably two hundred other eager runners. The race was fierce, with every stride carrying the weight of expectations and determination. I wish I could say I became lost on the course but the truth was I started too fast and ran out of gas. I ended up being at the back. The very back. Once I could see the finish line, the supporters could see me too. And on that final stretch, I could see one other lone boy in a blue jersey just ahead of me. The absolute tail to this whale of a race. As we approached the finish line, the atmosphere grew electric. I suppose this is when my brain had the most changing effects! To this day I wonder if the cheer for the last runners sometimes rivals the 1st place finisher. For most of the race, I had been trailing far behind, lost in my struggle against the course. But, in the final stretch, when I spotted the second-to-last place runner, I summoned every ounce of strength left. Sprinting with all my might, I closed the gap. It was an all-or-nothing effort, and my parched mouth was seemingly whetted by this small victory. To not be the last runner. This however would not be the case, for as we reached the finish chute, the blue in blue abruptly veered in front, stealing my chance at redemption. I crossed the finish line dead last. The first, but also the last time this ever would happen.

Battling Shin Splints in Military Boots, Barefoot Adventures, and Blistered Feet

Fast forward four years and I picked up running again. Only this time my fancy shoes were traded out for leather combat boots. I was part of a Ranger team in the ROTC program at university. The distance tripled and a 40-pound rucksack now weighed heavily on my shoulders. This was an experience that left its mark—quite literally. Brain-changing, to say the least! Those rugged boots pounding against the unforgiving terrain eventually gave rise to the nemesis of every soldier: shin splints. I continued to run, the discomfort growing until I was hobbled. Decades would pass before I would even trot again.

Then in 2013, I came across a book called, “Spark.” The author Dr. John J. Ratey explores how exercise has a profound impact on the brain. I read convincingly about how aerobic exercise has the power to transform one’s health. Something I knew from experience. And nowhere did it indicate one must run. Shortly thereafter a friend recommended I read, “Born to Run.” Christopher McDougall, the book’s author, shares how he overcame injury by running barefoot with an indigenous people in Mexico who were recognized for their abilities to run long distances with huaraches on their feet. Not the huarache of Mexican street food folklore, made of masa and topped with refried beans, meat, cheese, and salsa. No, these huaraches are simple flat sandals, one continuous strap that attaches to the bed of the sandal between the first and second toe. I dabbled in a version of barefoot running, once even running barefoot high in the hills above our house. The result was blood blisters stretching the entire length of the bottom of both feet. And my shin splints from years ago still flared up. Once again, I stepped away from running.

Exercise and Change the Trajectory of Your Life for the Better

Running seemingly became a distant memory until recently when I was inspired during a high school cross-country race. I stood at the edge of the course, the young runners crept and clawed up the steep 8% grade hill. I could almost feel the burn in their legs and the determination in their hearts. Some managed to run the whole way, many walked, and some even maneuvered with their hands pulling at the earth. For some reason running suddenly appealed to me. Maybe because I told myself, “I bet I can run this hill without stopping.” After the race, a colleague randomly shared a TED video of Wendy Suzuki. She is a neuroscientist at New York University. When I looked at the number of viewers, over 16 million, I felt a little like I did in crossing the finish line last. How had I not seen this video? In it, she shares how study after study shows how we benefit from exercise. Before closing she imparts, “I want to leave you with one last thought. And that is, bringing exercise into your life will not only give you a happier, more protective life today, but it will protect your brain from incurable diseases. And in this way, it will change the trajectory of your life for the better.” Convinced, I bought a new pair of running shoes and registered for a 10km run to benefit a local Dry Forest.

Embracing a Healthier Rhythm of Life

A newfound perspective on running has since rekindled the flames of passion for the timeless sport. Yet, choosing to exercise for the benefit of your brain does not have to be limited to running. I invite you to join me on your odyssey, as you remain motivated to move your body. You may even experience greater flow, legato in the place of staccato! Inattention, tiredness, and brain fog shelved for a higher vibration and healthier rhythm of life.

7 Tips For Success
#1 Start slow and keep mileage low so as not to overdo it
#2 Get professionally fitted shoes, creating peace of mind that what you have on your feet is best
#3 Recruit a partner to be your “running partner”
#4 Be creative and change routes for your eyes and body to experience the scenery and terrain
#5 Sign up for an event so you have a goal to work towards
#6 If there is a day you don’t feel like running, take a walk
#7 If you don’t feel like running (or walking!) do something that is active and provides you with joy



The emergence of innovative teaching methodologies continues to reshape the way we prepare the leaders of tomorrow. Though numerous events and ways of learning are unfolding, a sound seemingly rings out. One that is ubiquitous, a symphonic and synchronous echo full of hope, reminding me of the value of holding fast to what it might mean to be progressive. Global Online Academy, more flexible scheduling, Hunter and Gatherer Education, and Khan Academy all naturally command my focus.


Fostering Independence: The Teacher’s Path to Becoming Unnecessary

This semester I am teaching two courses for Global Online Academy, an “institution” predating COVID-19 by nearly a decade. With a mission “to reimagine learning to empower students and educators to thrive in a globally networked society,” GOA is about reimagining learning. Currently, enrollment is at its highest, welcoming 14,000 students these past weeks. Students often are curious about the frequency of Zooms. For some there are memories, possibly not so positive, of 2020 when many schools just transferred classrooms to online, expecting students to be glued to their screens in a more traditional lecture approach. What students however quickly learn through experience and the bi-weekly Zoom usually is what is reflected upon as bringing so much connection and joy. Students from across the globe meet, are offered differing perspectives, and both provide and receive valuable feedback. Sometimes I am present and can help guide the session. Other times, students simply record the Zoom and share it with me. I have found that when I intentionally get out of students’ way, some of the deepest learning occurs. This is progressive. Educational theorist Thomas Carruthers was on to something when he shared how a teacher is “one who makes himself progressively unnecessary”. 


The Four-Day School Week: A Bold Step Towards Greater Flexibility

Similar to GOA’s reimagining learning, businesses are beginning to entertain envisioning a different look to the work week. One which increases flexibility in new and different ways. A March 10, 2023 article in the World Economic Forum attests to the success of a pilot project where a 4-day work week was tried. Of the 61 UK companies taking part, ninety percent kept the shortened week going even after the trial period ended. Furthermore, 30 percent committed to a permanent 4-day workweek change. Similar results were found in the “world’s biggest trial of the four-day workweek.”  

Might schools be so bold?

Over 2,000 schools in 26 states have already made the switch to a four-day school week. Usually, the choice is either fiscally related or moral boosting for teachers and students alike. Researchers share how no statistically significant detriment evidence is found of four-day school week achievement impacts. Though it still may be too early to tell, the bigger “reveal” that behooves us to understand is that learning is not something that just happens in places we call schools. Case in point, hunter and gatherer education.


Reconnecting with Our Roots: The Role of Balance and Play

In the past two generations, we have witnessed a winnowing of children’s outdoor playtime. Screen time is one factor, as is a move towards greater urbanization and also adults structuring children’s play life. Oddly enough there sometimes is an almost overt convincing regarding the importance of children spending time outdoors. Are we so separated from nature? Annie Murphy Paul’s profound book, “The Extended Mind,” alludes to how humans are wired to thrive outdoors and that it is more than just enjoyment. Paul states that being in natural, outdoor environments helps to relieve stress and balances our equilibrium, which in turn makes our thinking more effective. Makes sense. We spent thousands of years outdoors and but a bit more than a century locked up in schools and workplaces!

Peter Gray, an American psychology researcher and scholar, makes a case for how childhood was better in the days of hunting and gathering. Gray purports that we should design learning environments around such values as autonomy and sharing. Furthermore, play has a very important role in that it is preparation for learning and life. “Gray has long appreciated how spontaneous, unsupervised play aids self-directed learning and self-assurance in children.” Dr Nikhil Chaudhary shares in an article in Science Daily how “Hunter-gatherer childhoods may offer clues to improving education and wellbeing in developed countries.” Around the globe, emphasis is not only being placed on improving learning but also on student well-being. Looking back to our origins, we have a lot to learn from hunter-gatherer societies. One such fact is how rare instructive teaching is. Instead, Chaudhary cites how children from around the age of two, spend large portions of the day in mixed-age (2-16) ‘playgroups’ without adult supervision. Play and exploration are integral, as children they learn from one another, acquiring skills and knowledge collaboratively. Strangely, I can see a resemblance to the Zooms my students have without me “in the room.” Yet, even more critical is the need to highlight the role of the unconventional. One analogous approach could be the respected paragon of outdoor wear, Patagonia. How Patagonia does business is anything but “usual.”  Patagonia prioritizes balance between work and play and the company values flexibility. A testament to this is their, “Let My People Go Surfing” flexitime policy which allows employees to “catch a good swell, go bouldering for an afternoon, pursue an education, or get home in time to greet the kids when they come down from the school bus”. A far cry from a world caught up in traffic, tests, and stress. A read of Cal Newport’s, “What Hunter-Gatherers Can Teach Us About the Frustrations of Modern Work,” alludes to lessons about improving jobs (and schools) today.


Redefining Mastery: Exploring Alternative Paths to Success

Last, evidence is increasingly abundant for how alternative pathways are becoming less and less “the alternative.” Just ask Salman Khan, founder of Khan Academy, an organization incorporated as a 501c(3) nonprofit back in 2008, a signature year in technology as Google Chrome entered the browser business. His mission? To accelerate learning for students of all ages. Khan’s free courses, test prep, and tutoring are now being utilized by more than 152 million users. Moreover, a recent precedent was set by the prestigious Caltech. Some students have not had access to required courses such as calculus, physics, and chemistry. In response to possible admission barriers, one alternative path is to take Khan Academy‘s free, online classes and score 90% or higher on a certification test. Permitting an alternative to prove mastery of the material is equitable and also a testament that quality education need not be constricted by tradition. 


Countless Promising Opportunities on the Horizon

The future has arrived. Many moves are being made. Global Online Academy, is an example of connection but also the possibility of learning with anyone, anywhere, and at any time. New structures such as the 4-day school week are being piloted, often in places where we might least expect progressiveness. We too are reminded of the millennia spent as hunters and gatherers. Might this inform the role of greater balance and play? And finally, the likes of Khan Academy illustrate a gaining of momentum for alternative pathways. Steve Jobs concluded his commencement speech at Stanford University in 2005 with the advice, “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.” And so might we, stay hungry and foolish, as the anticipation builds. Numerous are the promising opportunities that lie ahead.



A Return to Authenticity

I don’t remember anyone ever using the word “authentic” back in the 1990s. Now, we hear about being authentic in how we lead, traveling to experience the authentic, and even how to cook authentic pasta. The push towards greater automation and artificial intelligence possibly propels us further toward falsity and maybe has us yearning for authenticity even more.  

Brené Brown, researcher and storyteller says, “Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.” Maybe this infers a need to increase human levels of consciousness, from an approach of a concentric circle, starting with oneself. The choice to take a step back and authentically “audit” our lives. Releasing ourselves from the stranglehold of technology is a fantastic starting point. Thankfully, we are already beginning to see a march toward an inevitable tipping point. An evolution of sorts, where an invitation to remove the tethering to a phone, computer, tablet, or wearables, is accepted with greater willingness and alacrity.

First, rewind. In the summer of 2017, I was leading a two-week student expedition in Iceland. As a part of orientation, we proposed a tech fast for a day. “Give yourself a break. A chance to fully be present. Instead of rushing to take a photo or send a Snapchat (mind you, this was a year before TikTok merged with and became available in the U.S.).” To see 15 pairs of teenage eyes bulging and turned upwards in disbelief is a site to see. It was further compounded by one bold student’s “authentic” quip, “Why?” With an added emphasis on fully drawing out the “iiiiiiiii.” Needless to say, it was a tough sale.  


Not Entirely Connected

Fast forward six years and the expectation on these same expeditions is a tech-free first seven days. Further, it is something students and families agree to. The statement being made is one centering on being intentional about technology, so students can fully engage in the experience, build a stronger sense of community in their group, and strengthen skills in creating interpersonal relationships. All are critical to an increasing need for connection. The irony is that in a hyper-connected world, digitally, there are many signs on the wall that we are feeling less sense of human connection. Of belonging.

Senior writer of the New York Times, David Leonhardt, imparts how academic research provides evidence for how digital technology is leading to less happiness, especially for teenagers. Yet, despite the magnitude of findings, “Sometimes, the totality of the evidence is stronger than the average correlation across a group of artificial experiments.” 


To Do What is Right by Children

So, what might schools and parents do? Instead of what appears a happenstance default to, if a phone can be afforded, and a child wants it, put it in their hands. Critical is for adults to step up. To educate themselves on the advantages and pitfalls of a world being overrun by technology. A world where “typical” American teens supposedly spend half their waking hours on smartphones. A component of stepping up is taking back ownership of the decision-making process. This need not be contested by children as more often than not, it is the adult responsible for shelling out the hundreds of dollars for the device(s) and monthly internet charges. In essence, “children’s phones” are simply on loan. So, it is the adult who rightly can, and arguably should, make such decisions as how much screen time is “right.” When Lisa Damour, psychologist and author, began to implement tech use in her home, the response of her children mirrored a sentiment I recently witnessed on recent outdoor outings with teens. Not only did they not put up a fight but the response resembled a sense of relief.  Damour elaborated how “it did wonders for our family to limit screen time. They are coming back to life. They are more social. They talk instead of shrug and when they get home from school they don’t run up the stairs and close themselves in their rooms. They seem happier and aren’t in such a rush to get back to their phones…and my thirteen and fourteen-year-olds actually went outside. To play. I know, I couldn’t believe it either.”

Similar results were found at Chatelech Secondary School in British Columbia after a 5- month revamping of cell phone use at school, “We are seeing improved mental health, we’re seeing decreased bullying, we’re seeing more engagement in class, we’re seeing more social interaction, kids are playing again instead of being on their phones and we’re seeing increased academic success.” The response when the policy was introduced was also similar. Some students were angry and upset, while others, “were extremely relieved.”


Awakening to What Truly is Authentic

If these examples are not enough to build credence, it may prove beneficial to examine the paradox happening in Silicon Valley where for the last few years, more than a handful of billionaires have said no to screen time for children. A few quotes to ponder include the likes of Melinda Gates and Steve Jobs.

“Phones and apps aren’t good or bad by themselves, but for adolescents who don’t yet have the emotional tools to navigate life’s complications and confusions, they can exacerbate the difficulties of growing up: learning how to be kind, coping with feelings of exclusion, taking advantage of freedom while exercising self-control.” ~Melinda Gates

“It literally changes your relationship with society, with each other. It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways. God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.” ~Steve Jobs

The dawning days are behind us. We need not be confused by the likes of ChatGPT and popular media proposing all things artificial intelligence. Rather, there is an awakening, a return to authenticity. A world of purpose. Of balance and intention. A world of far greater connection. Connected with our surroundings, with each other, and to ourselves. Free from the complexities that technology often presents. Lives of “authenticity.”



Might May 11 mark a new path forward? For the past several years society has seemingly carried the Sisyphean rock, Covid. The date marks the official close of “Emergency Declarations” in the United States. In effect, this is the end of both the COVID-19 national emergency and the COVID-19 public health emergency.

Emergency, emergency, emergency.

We need not continue to live and learn in such a state.

And this is something to certainly celebrate.


Immersed in Crumbling Models

The month of May bears witness to other forms of celebration, with commencements across the nation and abroad. Speeches will soon be scribed and just how many center on the power and importance of transition is left to be determined. Few, however, likely will focus on the importance of humor. In a world quickly becoming more conscious of the crumbling models all around us. Political, economic, religious, economic, even educational model! Resiliency will increasingly be more important. A component of such resiliency is humor.

You may ask yourself, how many times did I laugh today? If you are able to take this inventory, whether 3 or even 17 times, then a more apt answer probably is, “not enough!” Carol Whipple published University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension published how on average, a child laughs 300 times a day while an adult laughs only 17 times a day.  In “Big Think,” a multimedia web portal which “challenges common sense assumptions and gives people permission to think in new ways,” Matt Davis contributed an article titled,  “Why a good sense of humor is an essential life skill.”  Davis indicates how research has shown that humor can improve the physical immune system as well as cardiovascular health.  “Aside from improving your health, laughter can also lead to greater creativity and productivity as well.”

So, if we know laughing is good for us, then why are we not doing it more?

Probably for the same reasons that few philosophers ever have given laughter much thought. Nigel Warburton summed it up well when he wrote, “Thomas Hobbes and René Descartes, who believed that we laugh because we feel superior; Immanuel Kant and Arthur Schopenhauer who argued that comedy stems from a sense of incongruity…”


Thriving as Opposed to Surviving

We seem to be enmeshed in seriousness. In the field of education, administrators concentrated on whatever “fires” need putting out. Educators focused on curriculum coverage and lesson plans, and hopefully student well being.  Students often with centered attention on grades. And all too common, parents operating from a narrowly defined notion of what success looks like for their child. Everyone all the while, seemingly playing the part of pawn. Fixated on the tree before them and not the glorious forest. Or, in a world of Covid, simply surviving.

Yet, we are on the precipices of thriving. It is right within grasp. A ripe fruit ready for the picking.

It is refreshing to see how momentum is being gained as we transition away from knowledge and into competency. America Succeeds, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit is committed to improving equity, access, and opportunity in education. To do this, their focus is upon Durable Skills, a combination of how you use what you know along with character skills.  Yet, I am hopeful they may begin to consider the role humor will play in the days to come because nowhere listed in the 36-page Durable Skills report, does humor appear. Ultimately laughter is essential to success but also especially necessary as “function” dissolves the archaic “forms” in which we have been living. Victor Frankl alluded to humor when he wrote in Man’s Search for Meaning (1946), “another of the soul’s weapons in the fight for self-preservation.”  Author and educator May Kay Morrison asserts to the power of humor, even coining a term she calls, “humergy.” Humergy  as she defines it, is the energy that emerges from joy and optimism of our inner spirit.

A sense of humor is an essential life skillBrain research backs the power but also importance of humor. Laughter is surely within each of us, yet simply may require a bit more space and time to express. As May 11 marks the terminus of Covid and the end of a state of emergency, let us step forward with even greater joy, lightness, and laughter.

TRY IT YOURSELF:  Jim Paterson shares these few ideas for how you might attempt to use humor.

Get back to work. A bit of humor gets attention and provides a break, but teachers should have it relate to the work somehow, should keep it brief (even if they let students participate) and have a path back to more serious information and a method to bring their students along.

A simple surprise. Just having on an odd hat or projecting a cartoon at the start of a class can get students energized. A simple surprise is also a way that a teacher who doesn’t think they are funny can easily bring some lightheartedness to the classroom.

Let them at it. Have time when students can tell a joke (with guidance about the humor being appropriate) and you will find that even the most introverted ones might be willing to participate. Give them a chance to write about a funny incident.

Game time. Give students a quiz with the right answers mixed in with outlandish wrong ones. Have a game show where the answers are on topic, but the game is humorous and fun.



“People are status-seeking monkeys,” purports Eugen Wei, former product leader at Amazon, Hulu, and Oculus. This status-seeking links with an understanding that identity is a fundamental aspect of our very human nature. An evolution of identity all around that begets a moment of preponderance for those in the world of education. How well do schools know themselves?” 

Sensibly, we expect to find shoes sold in a shoe store, not bananas. Many models, brands, and sizes of shoes and yet all still in the shape of a shoe. However, schools often seem to brand themselves as Chinese markets. Everything to all people. The ethics of this approach might be questionable, and one might also be left to wonder if programs become diluted as a result of being out of focus. Further, some wondering might be whether there is any intersection between a school’s strengths, attributes, values, mission, and vision? And their website, what might it suggest and is it truly aligned?

As a school are we:

Athletics focused? 

Sustainability driven? 


International Baccalaureate Diploma (IB) Programme or Advanced Placement (AP) curriculum focused? 

Interdisciplinary project-based?  


We Can Have It All

As of late, I’ve given a bit of thought to “yes/and,” as opposed to “either/or.” Though there is something certainly to be said for a school having a clear identity, they need not pigeonhole themselves into one single initiative or monocular focus. Especially if interests are not competing. Sustainability can funnel down and through everything in a school. Athletics too can be tied to sustainability and individual health. While interdisciplinary projects can be place-based. Advanced Placement or the International Baccalaureate can be an opt-in for students. None of this is a stretch. In fact, it attests to flexibility and opportunity. A multiple pathway approach.


The Omnipotence of Culture

Identity includes culture and this culture is a bit like breathing. It just happens. For better or worse. I like to think, for the better. However, because of this, it behooves us to intentionally design cultures. So learning is optimal. And so, as schools we are ethical, ultimately doing that which we claim. Conscious and deliberate creation as opposed to letting culture just happen. Schools mustn’t play the reactive “game” of Whac-A-Mole, where the “gophers” (dealing with parent and teacher concerns, managing budgets and resources, hiring personnel as a result of high attrition, etc.) take precedence over engaging in work that improves teaching and student learning. The development of culture requires vision and the wisdom to leverage knowledge and experience. A consideration but also a plan for where a school wants to be in 5, 10 years, or even the turn of the 22nd century!


I would argue schools are wise to intentionally design learning for multiple pathways. Equally, I caution that we do not kid ourselves. With several foci, not everything is likely to be done well by all students. This realistic notion is one of balance but also acceptance of perfection in process. Contrary to this, however, is the importance of a school’s due diligence to create cultures of excellence. Defining what excellence looks and sounds like should be at the foundation. Following this, students must have explicit opportunities to see this “bar,” and then be encouraged to push the bar, setting new and higher standards of excellence.  


Not Sacrificing Excellence for Authenticity

Though there may be many pathways, the destination of a high school student is graduation and preparation for the world beyond. A Senior level thesis or capstone course can serve as a sort of rite of passage, an important stage in a young person’s life. An invitation to engage in a year-long process, to create something meaningful. To demonstrate competency, reflect throughout a process, and then showcase what is known but also able to be done.  

This is powerful.

Authenticity could appear at odds with excellence. Failure is an authentic and simply sometimes difficult reality. A student should not fail in putting the “crowning jewel” upon their high school career. To ensure this does not happen, sincere consideration must be given to competencies. Competencies are defined as the knowledge, behaviors, attitudes, and skills which lead to a student being able to do something successfully. Schools will serve learners well when these competencies are clearly articulated horizontally and vertically throughout the curriculum. Such conversations are the kindling of culture and are hopefully guided by two questions: 

~What competencies get assessed?

~How and when might these competencies be demonstrated best?

Inherent in these conversations is one single driver, PURPOSE. School is to prepare students for a future we do know not yet. 

So when “school’s out,” teachers let more than “status-seeking monkeys” out!



A New Era of “Reading”

How fast does a person think?


 More than a decade before President John F. Kennedy was touted to read the entire New York Times newspaper in 10 minutes flat, a school teacher named Evelyn Wood would develop speed reading techniques to improve the lives of troubled girls. Evelyn Wood Reading Dynamics Speed Reading courses would set the stage for what today is considered the largest and most trusted provider of speed-reading training, a company called Iris. Their trademark is, “Reading at the speed of thought.” The average person can read about 200-250 words per minute (wpm). With proper training, it is not uncommon for individuals to engage in super speed reading, 3x faster than the norm (1000wpm).  

 But what about listening?

How fast might a person be able to listen with accuracy? According to research by B.J Kemp, an auditory stimulus takes only 8–10 ms to reach the brain, whereas a visual stimulus takes 20-40 ms. This in effect means we can listen more than twice as fast as we can read. 

 But just how fast?


Demand for Listening Continues to Grow

 Many university students during the pandemic grew accustomed to speeding up the lectures of their professors. In a new paper published in Applied Cognitive Psychology, researchers concluded that some asynchronous learning formats, like recorded lectures, prove to be much more efficient. Further, there was no major difference in performance between students who watched a lecture at normal speed versus those who watched a lecture at 1.5X or 2X speed. However, a recoil back to in-person lectures may have students twiddling their thumbs. Like waiting for that endless joke’s punchline. 

 Audiobooks are the fastest-growing format in publishing and are predicted to become a $19 billion industry by 2027. January likely will be the 11th straight year, the Audio Publishers Association reports a double-digit increase in audiobook sales. Further, consider the out-of-orbit escalation of podcasts. It is hard to believe podcasts were an enigma a mere twenty years ago. In June 2022, Daniel Ruby’s analytics reported the existence of over 2.4 million podcasts. If you are reading this, you have likely listened to a podcast, book, or maybe both. Possibly even the speed was accelerated 1.5x, or even 2x for more efficiency, or if the narrator possibly read too deliberately.  You may have also selected “Intelligent Speed,” which in effect shortens silences!


You Can Argue With History…but You’ll Probably Lose

Yuval Noah Harari, the bestselling author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind”, claims that history is ultimately a complex network of stories. Stories which were not dependent on the written word, but instead passed through oral history. Some  likely told with intent to entertain, whereas others were of a more critical nature.  Stories which passed on the knowledge and wisdom necessary for survival. Stories which in effect activated sensory centers in the brains of our ancestors. Neuroscientists at Princeton University continue to uncover the connections, literally the neurological connections in our brains, demonstrating how stories play a pivotal role in the development of such emotions as  compassion and empathy.

Marvin Harris author of Our Kind and Merlin Donald author of Origins of the Modern Mind: Three Stages in the Evolution of Culture and Cognition believe Homo sapiens fully developed speech and a complex oral culture by at least 45,000 years ago. That means we have been telling stories for some time. Besides having an unequal ratio of ear to mouth, two to one, the printed word is a much more recent invention than the tens of thousands of years we have practiced speaking and listening. “When we’re reading, we’re using parts of the brain that evolved for other purposes, and we’re MacGyvering them so they can be applied to the cognitive task of reading,” explains Daniel Willingham, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia and author of Raising Kids Who Read. 

 Fantastically, according to the Human Journey, “About 6,000 sounds represent the spoken languages around the world and babies can recognize all of them.” In effect, some might claim that we are hard-wired to listen. Contrast this with learning to read, an ability that is not innate. Unesco details “despite the steady rise in literacy rates over the past 50 years, there are still 773 million illiterate adults around the world, most of whom are women.” That is close to a billion human beings without access to the written word! 


Where Might We Go From Here?

In a world seemingly built on acceleration, it is hard to imagine doing anything at 10x speed. However, meet the podfasters, a subset of podcast obsessives who listen to upward of 50 episodes a week. For $2.99 an app first released in 2016, called Rightspeed allows one to train their brain to listen to podcasts and audiobooks at speeds as high as 10x. For this to sound any different than chipmunks on amphetamines, requires dedicated training. A training regime to rival that of Evelyn Wood. Wood reportedly could read at a rate of 2700 wpm which means she would have turned the pages of Melville’s classic “Moby Dick” (209,117 words) in approximately 77 minutes. Or, take YOU. A future you who could “read” this article in 30 seconds!



What Slowing Down Might Teach Us

Poquaûhock sounds better than “clam.” Translated “horse fish,” this was the word used by the Narragansett people, an Algonquian American Indian tribe from Rhode Island, to refer to the “quahog,” an edible clam with a very hard shell.  The Atlantic Ocean-dwelling native is of much greater historical importance than an addition to a chowder. The shells of the quahog were initially invaluable in the creation of tools, for storytelling and for recording important historical events and treaties. Beads of the polished quahog shell were crafted and strung in strands, belts, or sashes called wampum.  And wampum belts sometimes were symbolic of ongoing treaties.  So treasured, First Nations’ wampum became Massachusetts’ first legal currency.  The species name mercenaria is even related to the Latin word for commerce.

Yet, with such rich history there is even more to marvel. Inside the marine bivalve mollusk is a soft-bodied invertebrate. One that can live upwards of 500 years! Besides living in intertidal zones and the adaptability this may showcase, the mollusks behavior is one we might stand a chance to learn from. There is a sort of simplicity, a slowing down of time that anthropomorphically must result, as they spend their entire lives in an immobile and isolated state. Yet, the clam is capable of burrowing down or even migrating small distances if in danger.  Otherwise, they remain steadfast. Possibly for centuries!

This is not about becoming more like mollusks. Rather, a glimpse into what behaviors we might begin to bolster, in order to have longer but also improved lives. Moreover, lives where we do not simply exist, but relate as individuals, communities, and to all other life forms.  Connected, balanced, and in life’s flow, symbiotically moving with purpose and defined by shared values.  Slowing down may just be the secret ingredient. Daniel Christian Wahl, author of Designing Regenerative Cultures attests to how we have much to gain when we envision time differently, “A new cultural narrative is emerging, capable of birthing and informing a truly regenerative human culture.” Underlying is a notion of what may very well be our greatest currency, time. The pandemic assisted us in understanding this. Time to pause. Time to reflect. Time to spend time with family. To take more walks. An opportunity to realize what matters most. The frenetic mornings, claustrophobic offices, occupied minutes and hours in traffic and meetings better served as memos. A dawning realization, akin to the sunrise, of primordial potence.

Find More Than Humanity When We Slow Down

National Geographic explorer Paul Salopek, is retracing the journey of some of our human ancestors’ migration beyond Africa. Called, Out of Eden, Salopek is In his tenth year along the 24,000-mile odyssey. Humble Salopek repeatedly seems to pen the phrase, “I am walking across the world.” Said in passing much like one might say, “I’m going to stop by the store.” In the  tenth year of ambling, Salopek is currently in a Tibetan autonomous county in Sichuan Province. In a recent story Salopek shared how this fictional dreamland of Shangri-La was inspired by James Hilton’s 1930s novel Lost Horizon. “Hilton wrote breathlessly of the Shangri-La lamasery… It was a redoubt of ‘utter freedom from worldly cares’ where time paused and people lived for 250 years.”

Half the life of the quahog!

Though there is no univocal definition or description of Slow Journalism, an ambition of speed is absent.  So too are oversimplification and stereotyping.  Walking is the preferred mode of transport, in effect forcing one to slow down and observe carefully. One of the catchphrases of Out of Eden is, “Slow down, find humanity.” I am certain from reading the philosophical Salopek’s writings, what is learned goes beyond the limits of just finding humanity. Possible because time is re-imagined.

A Look to the Trees

German Nobel Prize novelist and poet Hermann Heese is remembered for his body of work centered on an individual’s search for authenticity, self-knowledge and spirituality. In Heese’s ​​1920 “Collection of Fragments,” one passage especially stands out, attesting to the power of time.

“When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult. Those are childish thoughts… Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all…

So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.”

A New Currency of Connectedness and Time 

That we might take the time to root ourselves, like the trees. Trusting and patient. Wise, listening, and connected.

In my third year living in a Southeast Asian city of upwards of 15 million inhabitants, concrete prevails more than the trees. Yet, I have repeatedly retreated to lone trees, as forests are seldom to be found. And I have received confirmation. A message of hope, remembrance that I am fortunate to have a life of choice. Conscious and unhindered, I am both imbued and revitalized by responsibility. Embracing uncertainty and ambiguity, while synchronously returning to a less complex story of unity.

One where we are reminded of a new currency, connectedness and time.  Where quahogs and trees are more than mere metaphors of life and longevity. A purposeful and promising path forward.  May the summer help us all reimagine time.



Cosmic Cookie Class Recipe:

2 ½ cups community creation

3 teaspoons all purpose empathy into action

2 sticks of “story” 

12 ounces choice

Directions: Preheat classroom with reflection and intentionality. In a large mixing bowl, add community creation.  Combine empathy and action into community creation.  Beat sticks of “story” in medium mixer bowl until creamy.  Gradually combine creamy mixture with community creation and empathy into action mixture. Stir in choice.  Drop by rounded tablespoon onto untreated learning pan. Bake for 9 months or until golden brown. 

“Have you tried Mimmie’s Bakery? They have the most incredible Cosmic cookie!”  My octogenarian neighbor recently reminded me of a child, as she hailed my attention while I rushed out the door the other morning. There was something heartwarming about an older person getting so animated about something many would consider so simple, a cookie.  Her excitement was contagious and stirred in me a bit of curiosity.

What made Mimmie’s cookie recipe so different?

As the day went on, I seemingly couldn’t get the Cosmic cookie off or out of my mind.  Instead of heading down to the bakery, I considered how I might transfer this idea of a perfect cookie recipe to what I care most about, teaching and learning.  Could I “bake” something similar in my classroom?

Teaching very well can be just a generic chocolate chip cookie but in reality, it is so much more.  And it has the potential to get people excited. In the case of children, “keep” them excited.  I often remind myself, a big part of keeping students love for learning ignited, is simply not getting in their way.  I think about how knowledge is cheap and with the web we are saturated in information 24/7.  It is what we do with learning that matters most.  After two dozen years “baking”in the classroom, I definitely have learned many lessons.  However, an end-of-year student survey allowed for a sort of distillation or surfacing of a “recipe” for my own Cosmic cookie.

When eating healthy, nutritionists often say to choose those foods with the least amount of ingredients.  I’ve boiled my recipe down to but four “ingredients.”  It would be foolhardy to think I have perfected the recipe, though there are definitely ingredients and/or steps which I feel much more confident about.  Yet, perfection?  Even those cookies at Mimmie’s surely are a work in progress.

Summer is a time of much needed rest for educators, but I trust is also a chance for reflection. So much news in education this past year was about the abandonment of  the noble profession. With a little distance this summer, I remain hopeful that many educators might remember back to why they chose (or were chosen!) to be an educator. And I hope there is a sense of rejuvenation and excitement.  Moreover, if the “Cosmic Cookie Class” recipe is helpful to even a single educator, I will feel a sense of satisfaction.

Cosmic Cookie Class Breakdown

  1. Community creation: Community does not just happen.  Intentionality is of extreme importance. The critical skill of learning how to listen but also how to give and receive feedback are at the heart of functioning communities.  A “we do this together” sort of ethos exists. Routines definitely help.  Ideas for implementation include:

*Philosophical chairs

*Class discussion and occasional  fish bowl strategy

*Feedback loops changed up and in a variety of formats:

~Teacher to student

~Student to student

~Student to teacher (such a gift!)

~Parents (digital notebooks) and segments of conversations recorded with Mote

~Administration invited in at the start and during the process, not just in culmination

~Community (something I especially wish to improve)

  1. Empathy but also action:  This begins with awareness.  Several students commented how social studies class “was about becoming  more aware of what is happening around our world.”  Others suggested, “It is about joy, curiousity, and being inspired to create a positive impact that would affect people’s lives for the better.” And, one of my favorite pieces of feedback was how “the class is more a study of life, all subjects combined. Where we find solutions to problems in the world.”  Three ideas for beginning to transition from empathy into action include:

~Start small and add a Virtual Reality experience or simulation

~Read aloud (a book well read and discussed is appealing to learners of all ages)

~Newsela articles citing students as examples of how youth  are making a difference

*Bonus: Partner with experts in the field and they may even broaden your audience for students (eg: Inspired Citizens)

  1. Integrate the power of story:  “Story, as it turns out, was crucial to our evolution — more so than opposable thumbs. Opposable thumbs let us hang on; story told us what to hang on to” (Lisa Cron). Be okay with being vulnerable as you become “known” to students.  Someone who students can connect with.  Sharing anecdotes can add not only “reality” to the classroom but also comfort. The intentional integration of stories, like the time I tacked a horse for a teen my age who had cerebral palsy.  How I was gifted an opportunity to learn gratitude and grace from such an experience. A story like this not only connects with the equestrian lover in the classroom but anyone who might have a beating heart, if the story is one students can re-live with you as you tell it.  Skills learned this past year from a migration project based on story-telling included:

~Slowing down and really practicing what it means to attentively listen.  This can be difficult as habits need to be broken for students and adults alike.  The digital age has sped us up in numerable ways

~As learners listen, challenge them to discern where a deeper “story” might yearn to surface.  Imagine it breaching as a 150- ton whale!

~Developing questions and being prepared to interview but also to design questions on the fly

~Creatively “tell” stories through a variety of mediums (eg. video, stop animation, and podcast)

  1. Provide student choice:  Choice boards can be helpful so there isn’t paralysis amidst a paradox of choices. Further, in an effort to help with scaffolding, suggested tech platforms, as well as process steps are offered as options to follow. The emphasis is always on process yet with sufficient time built in (a calendar proposed), along with feedback, a quality final product is ensured.  Building in a sort of celebration and/or “real” audience helps up the ante and leads to more student ownership and pride of their learning. On my final survey, several students commented with regards to choice.  One student shared, “I love how we get to express our creativity in our learning.”

Power to Make a Difference

It was Maya Angelou who said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”  What matters most in our classroom is this.  How students feel. The four “ingredients” above contain tremendous power. Power to be rememembered? Yes.  But more importantly, the power to make a difference.  

Thank you for reading and for continuing to reflect and learn.

Enjoy the summer and happy “baking”!