Tag Archives: Robert Kegan

The Russian Tale

Robert Kegan closed out his Learning & the Brain session with this Russian tale, told to him by his grandfather, and included in his book How The Way We Talk Can Change The Way We Work. Kegan facilitated his interactive, collaborative workshop by taking us through the major exercise described in his book. The exercise might best be described as understanding our languages of commitment. More on that in weeks to come. For now, here is the tale.

It was winter and a woodcutter was walking through the woods, with plans to chop some wood to bring back home. Along the way he found a bird in the snow. The bird was cold and weak, and the woodcutter took heart, picked up the bird, placed it in his jacket, and continued into the woods.

Upon arriving at just the right spot for chopping some wood, the woodcutter realized he would have to put the bird down in order to do the chopping and carrying home of the wood. Wanting to keep the bird safe and warm, the woodcutter looked around for a place to put the bird. In the distance he spied some cow pies recently dropped by a passing herd. The woodcutter walked over to the warmest pile, dug out a nesting spot, and placed the bird within the surrounding warmth.  The woodcutter returned to his cutting area, cut down the wood he needed, then picked up the wood and carried it home.

Meanwhile, the warmth of the cow pile was nourishing the bird, so much so that the bird regained its strength and started to sing a lovely song. Off in the distance a hungry wolf’s ears perked up upon hearing the bird’s song. The wolf set off in search of the source of the sound, and soon came upon the bird nesting in the cow pile. With one big gulp, the wolf had his meal and the bird’s song had stopped.

This Russian tale has three morals which, according to Kegan, is the standard for Russian tales.

Moral 1
The one who gets you into a pile of s**t is not necessarily your enemy.

Moral 2
The one who gets you out of a pile of s**t is not necessarily your friend.

Moral 3
If you wind up in a pile of s**t, don’t sing about it!

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Third (and Final) Day’s Distillation

Ah, awake since 4:30 this morning, I write this post from the comfort of home, still percolating from the intellectual and emotional bubbling of being in Cambridge and attending the Learning & the Brain conference.

Being one who likes to sit near the action, yesterday afternoon I situated myself up close, front and center, to better tune in to the four keynotes. My neighbor to the left turned out to be a fascinating 68 year old woman who, back in 1985, was the founding President of a public charter boarding school – the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy. A few years ago she stepped down from that position to focus on consulting and writing a book, and in the course of her work has traveled to Australia and Africa, among other places. I couldn’t help but be interested in hearing more of her story, and peppered her with questions that she kindly obliged me in answering. She epitomizes, for me, what it means to be a lifelong learner and an intellecutal entrepreneur. And then I realized, as Monday’s afternoon session was beginning, that this multi-faceted woman was Tuesday’s opening keynote speaker!

Stephanie Pace Marshall received a rousing reception from an audience of approxmiately 600 as she finished her hour talk Igniting and Nurturing Whole Minds – How Advances in the Learning Sciences Can Frame and Shape the Transformation of Learning and Schooling. While it may be a lengthy title for a talk, which was full of stories, not-so-subtle pokes at the current state of spending on school and family services, and NCLB (No Child Left Behind), Marshall left us wanting to hear more.

She talked about transforming schools rather than reforming them, and ardently urged us – the teachers in the audience – to politicize the discussion. She brought up A Private Universe, a movie that pointedly shows how basic concepts can be misunderstood and carried around with us until and unless someone sets us straight, yet teachers thought they had taught and students thought they had learned. You can download Marshall’s notes for her talk here. Among her closing thoughts:

We don’t have time for pessimism. Pessimissm only works in good times.

The second keynote of the morning was really not a talk but an interactive workshop with Robert Kegan, whose book, How The Way We Talk Can Change The Way We Work, I read prior to the conference. The workshop, Understanding and Overturning the Immunity to Change: An Interactive, Experiential Presentation, was all that and more, because if any part of this entire conference was going to transform us, this was it!

Funny, engaging, and thought provoking, Kegan walked around the room making eye contact as he encouraged us in our exploration of what it is we are committed to and what we are doing that prevents us from realizing this committment. That was the easy part. Next we had to take this apart and get into the real nitty gritty of what stops us from doing that which we say we want to accomplish. This is psychology and brain science taken to the most personal level.

Kegan left us with a Russian tale complete with three morals, but you will have to wait till tomorrow for that tale, as this one has reached its end!

Learning & the Brain conference – 1 week to go!

Back in February I expressed my delight at hearing the news that my grant proposal for funding attendance at April’s Learning & the Brain conference was approved. Well, the conference begins next weekend!

Also sometime in February, I began email correspondence with a graduate student/teacher who has similar interests to mine. (Ah, the benefits of blogging; that is how we met.) We’ve emailed about books, grad school, Smart Boards, and the April Brain conference. And now we have plans to meet in person at the conference.

And then, there are the books. Reaching the last chapter in my current book, How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work: Seven Languages for Transformation by Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey, I realized that I had read the books by the opening and closing (Kegan) keynote speakers of the upcoming Brain conference. This seems rather fitting, though at the time of reading Norman Doidge’s book I did not know he was the opening speaker for the conference.