What If Anything is Possible

Have you ever read any of Brad Montague’s stuff? Changing the world is on his to do list! When you get a moment, definitely give him a look, listen, and read.

In the March/April 2019 Ideas Issue of Good Grit, Brad says his workshop is “the kind of space where if someone comes to work with us, they would feel like anything is possible.” How awesome is that?

I love that idea, and this cover shot. It makes me smile and chuckle — but it’s also super profound right? Anything is possible. Grab hold of your dream — and your trusty colander — and make it happen!

My thoughts immediately go to my students. I can see us — goggles on, capes flapping behind us, dripping with jewels, multiple bags on each arm — laughing out loud as we run to join Brad in his time traveling machine. I revel in the joy I see on our faces. Then my thoughts turn to the makerspace where we turn ordinary objects into extraordinary inventions. And finally, I see us sitting together in reading groups — eyes wide with amazement as they read!

One of the practices Rosamund and Benjamin Zander suggest in their book The Art of Possibility is stepping into a universe of possibility. What if all educators worked to create a space in their minds and hearts, as well as in their physical learning space, where anything is possible and miracles happened every moment of the day? What if we created universes of possibility for ourselves and our students?

It would be amazing and world changing!

But how? How do we create universes of possibility that others can feel? We can’t just say it’s a universe of possibility where anything is possible, we have to work to make it a reality. Our choice of words, classroom design, norms, agreements, rules, and beliefs have to support everyone in the universe of possibility. We need to believe it’s true, and then speak and act in a way to make it real for others.

I’m thinking what that might look like for me.

Model curiosity.
Engage in conversation.
Listen.
Wonder.
Marvel at ideas and give them a go. Even, and especially, the ideas of a 5-6 year old.
Laugh.
Collaborate.
Make mistakes.
Use, and teach, “How Fascinating!”
Explore.
Investigate.
Think.
Problem-find.
Problem-solve.
Be creative.
Be teachable.
Learn.
Regularly engage in What if? moments with myself and my students!
Believe the best about others.
Help others see and believe the best about themselves.
Radiate positivity.
Speak from a mindset of abundance.
Speak of beauty and goodness.
Be grateful.
Invite others to join in.

And what if we didn’t just create that space in our classroom? What if we created universes of possibility fin our everyday lives? Again, amazing, and world changing!

Is my life a universe of possibility? Yes. I am the Queen of Possibility.

Do I always live in that knowledge? No. Sometimes I forget I live in a Universe of Possibility, and get mired in the slog that the day brings me.

Clearly, even as the Queen, I can deepen my practice of believing, speaking, and living possibility.

So, the universe of possibility I’m working on today.

Cancer? A cure is possible.
Side effects? No problem, I can manage.
The pandemic? Brilliant creative people are working on a vaccine and treatment. Prayerful people are praying them closer to it. It can end.
People hating and being less than human to one another? We can choose to love and be kind. We can make a difference.
Experiencing stress? I can breathe, pray, nutraceutical up, and move through it.
My washer and drier are old and hanging on with a thread? They can continue to work. And, if they need to be replaced, I can stay safe and comfortable in the process.
Feeling small in the face of it all? God is greater. God is generous. God is trustworthy.
Hope? Always good to have, and never disappoints.
Joy? Absolutely.
Possibility? Everywhere.

And, thanks to my good friend, Jojo, I can leave you with one of my favorite Universe of Possibility creating quotes.

When nothing is sure, everything is possible. (Margaret Drabble, The Middle Ground).

How Fascinating!

Have you ever heard of Benjamin Zander? No? Until about a week ago, neither had I.

I’m happy to finally be in the know. I enjoy his quirky positivity and joie de vivre, and his commitment to possibility.  I’ve been exploring the many resources on his website and the net, and am interested to notice how many of his thoughts and actions are similar to mine.

He has a saying — “How fascinating!” — which is only fully expressed by proclaiming it with raised arms, and a gleefully smiling face. Take a look at a clip from his Poptech 2018 presentation.

“Now, don’t make a face. (Raising his arms …) How fascinating!”

That cracks me up each time I watch it — and I’ve watched it quite a few times!

Benjamin suggests the movement counteracts the tendency to contract our body when we make a mistake. I think — and bet he would agree — that it also counteracts our tendency to contract our brains. “How fascinating!” signals to our brain that something interesting — something positive rather than negative — is occurring. It encourages us to view the moment, and the mistake, as an opportunity to explore and examine, rather than a problem to fret over, hide, and regret.

I fence. I’m taking lessons from my brother (a rather brainy, fantabulous coach). Lots of  times our lessons are filled with ambiguity. Hence, being frustrated and making a mistake are quite probable. I know mistakes aren’t a big deal. But boy, do I hate making them!

I’ve been trying to reprogram myself and change my reactions when I make a mistake. My goal is to be a bit more alright with my mistakes, and most importantly, to learn from them. I’ve been doing ok, but it’s still a struggle.

When I heard, and saw, Benjamin’s “How fascinating!” I decided to give it a go in my next lesson — mostly, I think, I found it so amusing. Turns out, that exact fact — that it makes me laugh — may be a large part of the effectiveness of “How fascinating!”

Dr. Barbara Fredrickson — University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Professor, and Director of the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Lab — has researched and written a lot about positive emotions and how they affect us.

In a 2004 article, she states that “positive emotions broaden peoples’ momentary thought–action repertoires, widening the array of the thoughts and actions that come to mind.” And in a 2011 article published by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, she credits positive emotions with increased creativity,  idea generation, and resilience.

That’s how I experience “How fascinating!” It makes me chuckle, and injects a moment of positive emotion into an otherwise frustration-inducing moment. It suggests there is something valuable in my mistake. It helps me change my frame of mind from judgement to curiosity.  “This is fascinating. It’s not an indication that I suck! My mistake — the process — is fascinating! Find out how/why.” I’ve noticed when I use it, I’m more able to think, consider new ideas, see nuances in the process, problem solve, and try again.

My students are a lot like me as a fencer. They really want to do well. Often times they are pretty driven. Mistakes are rarely fascinating. Usually they see mistakes as a reason for negative self judgement or negative emotions, rather than opportunities for positivity and learning.

They need “How fascinating!” So, how do I incorporate it into my classroom culture? How might I increase positive emotions, and curiosity in my student’s learning, and as a response to mistakes ? 

I think it will need to be a multi-pronged approach:

  • My language and behavior has to suggest and affirm the fascination and possibility inherent in our mistakes.
  • My response to mistakes must include curiosity, wonder, and conversation. And, I must share my own “How fascinating!” moments — including how I felt, what I did, what I learned, and how I changed.
  • Exploration of our mistakes must become the norm.
  • Including “How fascinating!” in a lesson, read aloud, activity might help us begin to embrace it in the classroom.
  • A “How fascinating!” partnership with parents will be key.  Sharing research that backs it up might help.

It’s funny, I know in some ways it’s a mindset, and “How fascinating!” isn’t completely necessary. And yet, in another way I think there is something very necessary about it. I can remember moments when “How fascinating!” would have really helped my learners by inducing laugher, breath, enhanced posture, and a bit more conversation.

The silliness of “How fascinating!” may really grab my young students. While I want them to fully embrace and use it, I think I must also teach them prudence. Discussing when might or might not be the best time to use it will be helpful. Also, exploring ways to modify it so as to be able to always use it are key.

We shall see. “How fascinating!” is in my toolbox, and will definitely be pulled out this coming school year.

Looking forward to it!