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Creating Attitudes Worth Catching

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After Oliver's introduction, Bralver proceeded to mesmerize the attendees with 15 minutes of extemporaneous talk about her passion for education. The message she left with the audience can be summed up in these comments: "How do you make school fun? You get involved. ... It's a passion and commitment. It's a love I just have to do - if not, I'll just lie down and die." Bralver's energy, passion and devotion to her work was evident to everyone at the conference, which is why she earned a well-deserved standing ovation.

When she completed her talk, I gave her a hug as she walked past me. But Bralver did not just accept my hug with graciousness. Instead, she grabbed the back of my head and proceeded to kiss me on the lips. She then proclaimed, "I am not letting go until they take a picture of this." It was another 10 seconds before she let go - I absolutely loved it. When I walked back to the podium, still in the mood of the kiss, I remarked, "You can keep Halle Berry, I will take a kiss from Eleanor any day." (This is a reference to the 2003 Oscars where the winner of the best actor award, Adrien Brody, gave Berry, who announced his award, an unexpected and passionate kiss.)

Bralver exemplifies what my column is about - making life easier - but to a large extent this is a matter of attitude. This is an easy but sometimes glib statement to make, especially in the face of an attitude that is resistant to change. One of the real issues we face is how to change the mind-set of naysayers when it comes to implementing technology. That is, how do we help them develop the willingness to overcome all their "yeah, buts" when it comes to meaningfully using technology in their work.

The Power of Listening

One of the best solutions I've heard to help change this naysayer attitude came from Barbara Grohe, the 1998 National School Superintendent of the Year and current superintendent of the Kent School District in the state of Washington. At a conference where she was the keynote speaker, a technology coordinator asked Grohe how she would handle an assistant who was resistant to implementing a technology program in her school district. Grohe's response: "You let the tape run." She explained further that you don't argue or even try to convince someone of your point of view when they are resistant to even hearing what you have to say. What you do is let them communicate all their considerations, issues and disagreements without interrupting them to give your opinion. You just listen and acknowledge what they are saying, and you keep listening with genuine interest until the tape runs out. At that point, they will be more willing to listen to your viewpoint.

That same technology coordinator followed Grohe's advice. She immediately called her assistant and asked him to explain why he did not want to implement the technology program at their district. The coordinator listened with strong interest, refraining from interrupting him about his point of view as she had in the past. What happened next truly amazed her. After the tape ran out, he started to rethink his position and decided to give it a try. The coordinator was thrilled that she had helped change her assistant's attitude in just a few minutes, after being unable to change his mind for several months.

Colombian-born author and journalist Gabriel Garc'a Márquez, who won the 1982 Nobel Prize in literature, wrote, "It is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old, they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams." Let's not stop pursuing our dreams, let's help create the attitudes that are worth catching. This could be the real fountain of youth many have searched for. Eleanor Bralver has certainly found it.

Bernard Percy (former editor-in-chief of Converge magazine) is a noted educator, author, producer and Senior Fellow at the Center for Digital Education. Contact him at bcpercy@sbcglobal.net.

This article originally appeared in the 02/01/2004 issue of THE Journal.

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