#TT4T Book Study – Turn Weakness Into Strength

Note: This is an ongoing book study started by Chase Orton about Tim Ferris' Tools of Titans. Intro Post

I was reading this week about how different people have taken what were considered weaknesses and turned them into their greatest strengths. Take Arnold Schwarzenegger talking about his heavy accent even after being in the United States for several years:

Arnold was able to use his biggest “flaws” as his biggest assets, in part because he could bide his time and didn’t have to rush to make rent. He shared an illustrative anecdote from the Terminator set: “Jim Cameron said if we wouldn’t have had Schwarzenegger, then we couldn’t have done the movie, because only he sounded like a machine.”

He took what critics told him was preventing him from further roles and made it something that became his trademark.

As teachers we often face the same thing. I’ve read books (can’t remember from where!) where they talk about some teachers on teams maybe aren’t great teachers, so make up for it by being really nice people. Or maybe the teacher who is always involved in fundraising and supervising sports never comes to the professional learning community collaboration time. For myself personally, I found that while I understood the math well, I wasn’t very good at things like recognizing kids birthdays, or even sometimes recognizing when discipline wasn’t quite what I needed it to be in a classroom. In other words, I was so inside my head about the lesson I would miss the bigger story of what was going on in my classroom.

This flaw was pointed out to me by the principal who became my friend that shaped my teaching career the most, Jeremy Ward at Computech Middle School. He had a good way through feedback in Google Docs and in person about being honest about what he saw. Organization was the root cause of my struggles – often I’d be fumbling from class to class for markers or materials that I would miss the cues from kids coming into class.  So over time I was able to become a minimalist teacher, and with less, “stuff,” I became more effective.  Likewise, I was able to point this out to both students and other teachers who may have struggled with being able to focus on the task at hand.

What are your weaknesses that you have turned into strengths?

#TT4T – The Damage Done In Not Waiting

I’m reading Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers after a gentle nudge from Chase Orton, whom I’ve gotten to know through CMC conferences recently.

There is a part in the first part of the book where it’s talking about learnings from Siddhartta Buddha. A merchant is asking what Siddhartha can give him if he can’t give him possessions. A short portion of the exchange is follows:

Merchant: “Very well, and what can you give? What have you learned that you can give?”

Siddhartha: “I can think, I can wait, I can fast.”

He can’t give money, he can’t give things. But he goes on to explain a bit – if he doesn’t have food, then he can fast.

Let’s take the same ideas and apply it to teaching mathematics:

I can think (Math Practices 7,8)

Tim Ferris extrapolates further that because he can think, he can make good decisions.

We can teach kids how to memorize things, or we can teach them the why behind the algorithms. We can give them a goal without support, or we can teach them a system of how to study and achieve in education and in life. Specifically I’m thinking about being able to give our students the foundational skills needed to really engage deeply in DOK 3 level problems – we know that we can’t immediately engage kids with a DOK 4. I once saw a chart from an administrator who thought the DOK levels were like a ladder, and that the end of every quarter should automatically see DOK 4 level problems… a blatant misrepresentation of the paradigm

I can wait (Math Practices 1, 3)

In the book, Tim expands – because he can wait, he can play the long-term game and not make short-term bad decisions.

This idea of waiting for students to understand things hit me pretty hard. When I moved from high school to middle school, I noticed that I was quicker to help the middle school students – probably because I felt they needed it. This was incorrect! I only discovered this fact when I recorded myself teaching over the course of several days and then watched the recordings on fast-forward to be able to spot trends.

I didn’t wait for kids to answer incorrectly or not. I was not giving kids a chance to struggle. This affects equity and as is talked about over and over again in Mathematical Mindsets, my classroom was not a safe place to learn by making mistakes and then being able to apply that knowledge in a new context. I made immediate changes to pre-write questions I knew I wanted to ask and adapt those questions from class to class as needed.

I can fast (Mathematical Practice 1)

Obviously we aren’t going to ask students to not eat here. But we can stop, “spoon-feeding,” them answers (see what I did there?!). Too often I would catch myself asking leading questions without even realizing it – but why should I be asking guiding questions at all when students should have the tools to self-diagnose.

What to do about it

Some ideas I had while writing this post:

  1. Use puzzles during warmup to help remind students that just as they can find different ways to solve a puzzle, they can find different ways to solve a problem.
  2. Have students explain their steps out loud to another student or explain it back to me using an app such as Recap. I would also often have students in a group be recording into an audio device and then the next day, have them play back parts of the audio to be able to hear themselves solving problems – their own insights to their thinking process was often quite interesting!
  3. Strategies/activities I have used to stimulate students perseverance include the Four Four’s activity, Grazing Goat, and having students find multiple ways of solving the same linear equation. When appropriate, three act tasks are also great to see results!

What tools/tasks do you use in the context of “Think, Wait, Fast”?