Thursday, September 23, 2010

"I can't remember all those letters...!"

... wails Zachary.  He had just asked me to spell 'want'.  I told him all the letters and that was his reply.  This is not an unusual reply for Zach.  He definitely believes that he won't remember those letters and previously, I had bought into that belief, suffering long iterations of spelling words separated by 20 seconds for him to run to the spot where his paper was located, write the one letter and run back to me.  Today, I decided to sell him on another belief. "Of course you can.  w..a...n..t, want.  Can you say that for me?"  Wouldn't you know, he bought it.  He didn't always remember all the letters, but he certainly remembered more than one!  He even seems to be enjoying reciting the spelling of words.

I could hear Iris in my head.  We are all buying and selling beliefs.  What belief do you have today?  Do I want it? I thought back to my second year teaching Computer Science to undergraduate students at the local college in Jamaica.  In my first year teaching, I taught something that was pretty familiar to me.  The programming language was one I was very comfortable with and I could code in my sleep.  The head of department was a professor that got into Computer Science via Psychology and Cognitive Science.  His segue was Artificial Intelligence (A.I.).  He had written a text book and he was the defacto A.I. professor... until for some reason he decided to pass that course on to me.

I had done 2 AI courses in my life and I'm really not sure how I passed either of them.  As far as I was concerned, I hadn't learnt anything.  I was almost totally unfamiliar with the programming language, and the thought process needed to write those programs was unfamiliar (and unpleasant) for me.  The HOD handed me his text book and his notes and ushered me into the room of final year Computer Science majors.  I had some choices.  One of them was about the belief I was going to sell.  I decided to buy the HOD's belief that I was capable of teaching the course because the other belief was leading to PANIC.  I decided to learn while teaching (duh!  what a novel concept!) and stay 2 lessons ahead of the class (sometimes I was only one lesson ahead).

What was funny is that it became one of my favorite courses to teach.  I taught it for 4 years.  The HOD segued to Computer Science from Psychology.  His course helped me segue in the other direction.  I loved exploring ideas about learning and intelligence with  the students.  I still didn't enjoy the programming language but the new belief opened a huge door for me to think about so many things, and to later, have a philosophy about motivation and learning before there was even talk about autism.

Lately, I have been tempted to hold onto some 'I can't ...' beliefs.  Many of these are pretty old, resolution type beliefs that start with "I will never...abc" or "I am not going to...pqr"  Those were different times, different circumstances and now abc and pqr look different, but the old beliefs beckon, reminding me of the resolutions.  Now, those resolutions are like prisons, no longer serving, but limiting.  It's time to go shopping for some new beliefs.

Some days I'll belief shop by going through a long exploration, like when I'm buying shoes.  It takes me hours to get a pair of shoes.  Too many factors for me to consider.  Nowadays, I'm tending to just try something on and see if it fits.  If it feels right, I'll go with it.  It was interesting to me how quickly Zachary switched from "I can't..."  to "I can".  Actually, I switched my belief pretty quickly too, when faced with teaching that new course.  When I'm  belief shopping, I don't have to walk around the store in the new belief, not sure if it will fit when I get home.  I can just leave and own that belief.  There is a great return policy.  I can always take it back.  There is no time limitation.  I should know.  I own the store.

Are you due a belief shopping trip?  Today is the day.  Go have fun trying some on.  One might fit.

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