Byron's Babbles

Empowerment Triggers The Approach System

IMG_7712There has been a great deal written about student agency, student choice, and empowerment. In fact, just yesterday I was working with teachers on how to empower student in such a way to get to a self (student) managed classroom. Student agency and choice refer to learning by doing activities that are meaningful and relevant to learners, driven by their interests, chosen by the student, and often student (self) initiated. As a teacher, I loved giving students a stake in choosing from opportunities provided for them; or many times letting them come up with options. These opportunities might include giving the choice between doing a project, making a presentation, writing a paper, creating a product, or other activities. This ability to choose, or have agency, empowers the students, which leads to greater investment of interest and/or motivation.

25066556._SY475_Like I said, I used student agency for years as a teacher and promote it as a major tenant of project based learning. It seems that this is really brain-based. Yesterday, I finished reading the great book Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self To Your Biggest Challenges by Amy Cuddy. While this was not an education book, the principles of empowerment and powerlessness triggers that apply to our presence as a leader, also apply to the way we engage students.

In the book, Cuddy explained the approach and inhibition systems of the brain. This explanation came from the 2003 study of psychologist Dacher Keltner. The approach system is made up of regions in the brain that promote curiosity, being adventurous, and trying new things. The inhibition system, promotes cautious behavior. Too much of this causes us to see threats where others recognize opportunities. In other words, it stifles us. Think about these two systems both from a leadership standpoint and a student engagement perspective.

Keltner argued that empowerment triggers the approach system. In other words, if we believe we are empowered we are able to be more curious, adventurous, and willing to try new things. Doesn’t this sound like how we would like our students to be every moment of every day? Conversely, Keltner posited that powerlessness triggers the inhibition system. As was explained earlier, this causes cautiousness. Think about this from a leadership or educational perspective. When we empower others and give them autonomy this triggers our approach system, and contrarily when we take power and agency away and add constraints we trigger inhibition. Remember, power is the ability to change something. Do we not want our students and team members to be in a position to do this?

Bottom-line: the approach system will respond to rewards and opportunities and the inhibition system responds to constraints, threats, and punishments. Really if you think about this it is pretty simple. These two systems in our brain exert powerful influence over our actions, motivations, and emotions. How are you empowering? How are causing powerlessness? It could be as simple as giving student agency removing constraints, or not have having team members go through a bunch of compliance hoops of approval. Let’s keep these triggers in mind as we navigate 2020.

366 Page Best Selling Autobiography

In the past few days there has been plenty said and written about New Year’s Resolutions. Why do people bother? I even saw (notice I didn’t say “read”) a blog with 15 steps to keeping your resolutions. Really! Why do we put ourselves through that process for failure.

If I was going to have a New Year’s Resolution, however, it would be to appreciate my friends every day and catch more fish. Pretty doable, I believe. And, unlike where we do things like get an accountability partner (which, by the way, just adds stress to someone else’s life) this resolution is fun for your friends. Who wouldn’t want to go to lunch and catch up, or go fishing?

In my morning motivational message, that I tweet and post on LinkedIn (notice it’s not an email I force people to deal with – it’s a choice for someone to go look at it) each day, I said, “Today is the first blank page of a 366 page autobiography. Make it a best seller.” I really believe if we approach every day as a page to a best seller we could write a pretty good book.

Best selling and Pulitzer Prize author Robert Caro says, “I have to produce every day.” Caro has written massive volumes about Robert Moses, New York City shaper, and President Lyndon B. Johnson. He will tell you these books are not about the men, but about power – getting it, using it, becoming abscessed with it, and abusing it. I have read The Power Broker and it is awesome. I am planning to start the series on Lyndon Johnson this year.

Many have asked Caro over the years about his work habits, and there have even been interviews. Therefore, even though he was not done with the last volume of his books on Lyndon B. Johnson, he took time to write Working. In this book, which is a great read by the way, he outlines how he goes about doing the work of writing these in-depth books on power. What stuck out to me was when he wrote that he writes 1,000 words per day. Then at the beginning of the next day he reviews and revises the writing of the previous day and writes another 1,000.

See where I’m going here? What a great metaphor on this New Years Day! We need to approach this New Leap Year as a blank pad to write 1,000 words per day for a 366 page best selling autobiography. Each day we can reflect on the previous day, but then get to work on the next 1,000 metaphorical words that are our life. So maybe, just maybe it’s this simple: produce every day.