A quote from Nassim Nicholas Taleb's book ‘Black Swans’ describing our tendency to avoid randomness

Technology offers many opportunities. The challenge is sometimes how to make the most of these. Thinking of things from a system perspective, the desire to scale is often in contrast the reality of each school context.


Todd Rose opens his book, End of Average, with a discussion of the early fighter jets and the design of the cockpit around the ‘average’ pilot. He tells the story of Gilbert Daniels, a researcher who explored this problem in the 1950’s. Daniels measured ten dimensions, including height, chest and sleeve length. What he found, once he had averaged out all the measurements, was that an average pilot does not exist.

The tendency to think in terms of the ‘average man’ is a pitfall into which many persons blunder … It is virtually impossible to find an average airman not because of any unique traits in this group but because of the great variability of bodily dimensions which is characteristic of all men.source

Rose’s book unpacks this further, but again and again he comes back to the principal;

If you want to design something for an individual, then the average is completely useless.


Lately, my work has been focused on supporting schools with reporting and assessment. The application I support is very flexible, utilising Crystal Reports to produce the final product. Usually it is set up on a school-by-school basis, however we are deploying a multi-tenanted environment. With this comes the opportunity to create a solution that can be used for each of our schools, without having to go through the rigmarole of development from scratch each time.

My work has focused on creating a template that acts as a starting template of subjects and assessment items that feeds into the Crystal Reports. This was built on-top of the standardised configuration. The thought was that this would save users time in setting up their reports. It was easier to start with something, rather than build from scratch. However, the learning that has stemmed from setting up a number of schools is that no one has used this average starting point. There is nothing wrong with the underlying configuration, but it is often easier and quicker to build from the various solutions from scratch.

My first response to this was to create a second starting point that was dependent on the style of reporting that particular school was after. Although this alleviated the challenges associated with some of the differences, this still required somebody to add and delete various elements.

This all reminded me of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s discussion of anchoring in his book Black Swans. Anchoring is a bias used for working around unknown possibilities. It involves reducing complexity by focusing on a particular object:

A classical mental mechanism, called anchoring, seems to be at work here. You lower your anxiety about uncertainty by producing a number, then you “anchor” on it, like an object to hold on to in the middle of a vacuum.

In my case, this object was the initial setup. We have since started exploring a different approach, which instead focuses on users working with the various dimensions. The hope is to provide some constraint, but also flexibility within this, rather than assuming that all schools are alike.


This all has me thinking. Too often the conversation around technology is around efficiency – replacing work and saving time. However, my experience with supporting schools with setting up reports, timetables and attendance, and technology in general, has me feeling it often changes things. This touches on the reality that technology is a system. In saving in once spot, it often adds to another. As always, comments welcomes.


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This is the feature image including a quote from Tim Klapdor

Andrea Stringer recently wrote a post about the people who inspire you. Rather than write a list of names, which is often the way with such movements as #FollowFriday, Stringer summarises the characteristics of those who inspired her and who she aspires to be:

  • Successful without sacrificing integrity
  • Place people before profit
  • Generous with their time
  • Build relationships & connections (established & new)
  • Listen to understand, not to respond.
  • It’s not always about what you can do for them.
  • Genuine & Authentic. How they act in public is who they are.

Stringer’s post and list had me thinking about two things. Firstly, how I myself stacked up against those characteristics? How successful have I been? At what? Am I still generous? As my family has grown this has become a challenge. Being less active on social media and more focused on comments and my commonplace book, I would like to think I listen to understand, but I am never quite sure.

The second wonder was what it means to be connected today? I have long been an advocate of being a connected educator, however I am not sure what happened? In recent times it feels like things have changed. Maybe it is me? Leaving the classroom to work in an administrative role three years has changed my position? Or maybe it is just connected education in general? Maybe the focus around online communities of practice has changed? Maybe the platforms have changed? Maybe people have changed? Maybe people move beyond paywalls and closed spaces? All in all, it just felt like an itch I could not scratch.

Dai Barnes’ sudden passing brought this all to the fore again. I did not know Dai in person, our connection was online, yet he felt like an integral part of my personalised learning network. In particular, he came into my world through the TIDE Podcast. I listened to each and every episode. I was always left thinking, reflecting and wondering. The perspective that Doug Belsaw and Dai brought together always felt novel and refreshing. I once reflected that each episode was like going to the pub for a quiet Sunday session only to be surprised:

I think that TIDE is akin to turning up to a shabby pub on a Sunday afternoon, thinking that you are just going to have a causal conversation about this and that, only to discover a session of drinking craft beer. The session seems to drag on into the night and somehow evolves into finishing things off with a glass of top-shelf single-malt whiskey.

The particular memory that will stay with me is of Dai recounting a job interview for a deputy head position in Episode 117. A part of the process involved modelling a lesson. For this he looked at creating a social credit system in school. In a conversation towards the end of the lesson, one student touched on the problem where a student may have built up so much credit at the end of year that they could do anything. Dai recounted how he continued this conversation, suggesting that you could even jump on the table. The next minute he found himself caught in the moment and subsequently “jumping on the table like Jesus.” Needless to say, he did not get that job.

Link to audio

What I liked about Dai was his seemingly carefree attitude and openness. He would say it as he saw it even if it ran counter to sentiment. He was not wedded to any ideas and technology in particular. Thinking about various problems, I would often wonder what would Doug and Dai say?

If TIDE was a Sunday session that seemed to drag on without realising it. For me Dai’s sudden passing was like having a moment where one of the party vomits and you just don’t feel like drinking anymore. I will miss Dai dulcet tones and his unique perspective. As Tim Klapdor suggested:

Dai made a dent in the universe, its shaped just like his bare foot.


This has reminded me that being a connected does matter, but that I have probably need to thank those people in my community that I have come to take for granted. If there is anything to come out of this it is to tell those around you why they matter.


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The power of query in sorting out data in Sheets

One of the challenges we have within the project I am currently a part of is that we have never had a contextual reference point for school information. Although different teams have had various lists floating around, we needed one that we owned as a whole. Added to this, the lists were often kept in an Excel spreadsheet meaning nobody ever really knew if they had the definitive version. Being an organisation that uses Google, I suggested to a colleague that we work together to develop a spreadsheet in Google Sheets and share a link with colleagues. Here then are some of the steps we have taken in developing this:

Data in, Data Out

If there is one thing that I have learnt from Ben Collins’ work, it is the importance of cleaning up your data before you do anything else. This includes avoiding merged cells, an issue we had with older versions of the data. The focus was creating a dataset with each cell telling a particular story. Other than using CTRL+ENTER to separate the different parts of addresses and locking the header, there was no formatting applied to the core data.

We were also deliberate with how we collated the information. With 40+ columns, we spent some time splitting the data into four groups – details, contacts, administration and learning – with empty columns at the end of each in case additional fields needed to be added at a latter date. Although I wanted to use Google Forms to structure all this, we decided not to because of the fluid nature of the dataset. There are also times when we wanted to be able to update the data in bulk for various reasons.

Ranges, Imported and Named

So that people  were able to access the information, a second document was set up, with the data brought in via the IMPORTRANGE formula.

=IMPORTRANGE("https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz/edit", "CONTACTS!A1:CA500")

This meant that the wider team could have access to the content, without messing up the original data. Although we could have restricted access to the tab or range in the source document, I was concerned that this would be fiddly to maintain, therefore chose a separate document altogether.

With the IMPORTRANGE, I imported this into a sheet and created a named range to reference this.

MAIN!A1:BE500

I tried to embed the IMPORTRANGE within my formulas, but for some reason it would not work, even after I gave permission. Therefore, I resorted to simply bringing in a copy working with this. I also thought then there is only one external call running.

Different Data for Different Purposes

Once I had my data in place, I used a QUERY to reorganise it. In addition to having a single point of reference, my argument to my colleague was that we can represent this data in different ways depending on the purpose. As David Krevitt explains:

QUERY combines all of the capabilities of arithmetic functions (SUM, COUNT, AVERAGE) with the filtering abilities of a function like FILTER.

Using the QUERY formula I created a copy of the core data removing any blank columns.

=QUERY(MAIN,"SELECT B,C,E,D,F,G,J,K,L,M,N,O,P,Q,R,S,T,U,V,Y,Z,AA,AB,AC,AD,AE,AI,AJ,AK,AL,AM,AN,AO,AP,AQ,AR,AS,AT,AZ WHERE C IS NOT NULL ORDER BY B")

As I set the data up with space to grow, I used

WHERE C IS NOT NULL

This removed any blank rows. I also used

ORDER BY B

As this column contained the school numbers (i.e. E1234). In order to get this to work, we removed the E from the source document and used the custom formatting to add the E back to the number, while also being able to sort numerically.

In addition to the main list, I created a number of specific queries, focusing on things such as pay periods, business managers and applications being used.

=QUERY(ICON, "SELECT B,C WHERE X = 'Yes' ", -1)

I tried to make a query where the user would tick a checkbox associated with the information required, but could not figure how to create a variable associated with the SELECT function.

Custom Lookups

Another way of engaging with the data was to focus on a particular school. To do this I created a series of VLOOKUP formulas revolving around the E number which was strategically placed in the first column of the dataset.

=VLOOKUP(B$2,vLookup,5,FALSE)

In the cell above, B2 is the cell where the school number is entered and 5 is the column for the information to be displayed. I then repeated this formula for all the other information to be displayed.

Another use was to create a lookup for the business managers associated with the different schools.

=VLOOKUP(A2,BM!Z1:AH500,2,FALSE)

This involved making a new named range with the name of the business manager in the first column. I also used data validation restricted to the names in the dataset.

I also then combined this search key with the QUERY formula to display the list of schools and their core information:

=QUERY(MAIN,"Select B,C,E,J,AZ WHERE Z = '"&$A$2&"' ORDER BY B")

Mix and Match Formatting

In order to make the data a bit more friendly, I added some conditional formatting. The challenge was that I wanted different colours for different groups of schools. I did this using the school number as the reference:

=left($A2,2)=”E1″

I then used an even formula to break up the lists:

=ISEVEN(ROW())

By placing the even conditional formula at the top of the list, this means that it is prioritised.


I have included this all here as a reference. I am not sure this is much use to anyone. As always, thoughts and questions welcome.


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The more leaders focus their relationships, their work, and their learning on the core business of teaching and learning, the greater will be their influence on student outcomes.

Sometimes it feels like some work is more important than others, but at the end of the day it is all real work.


An old colleague and I were recently discussing work and he shared the joy of doing what he termed ‘real work’ with schools. I stopped him in his tracks and explained that I understood where he was coming from. Working with teachers has always felt more meaningful, that it has more of an impact. However, I pointed out to him that the work that I do is no less real than his work.

Supporting student systems and those in administration, I have come to realise how much we often take for granted in regards to how schools run today. I was speaking to a coordinator at a school the other day about the various services and subscriptions they use. He explained that when there is a new student they need to be loaded into six different services. Technology is more than just a tool it is a complex set of connections that builds up over time.

One of the arguments for ‘real’ work is the ability to impact student outcomes. As Vivianne Robinson argues in her book, Student Centred Leadership,

The more leaders focus their relationships, their work, and their learning on the core business of teaching and learning, the greater will be their influence on student outcomes.

Although it may sometimes seem like a challenge to link some of my work back to the core business of learning and teaching students, I still think it is possible.

For example, one of the elements of the project I am working on is to provide schools a data analytics tool that supports teachers and leaders in making informed decisions. The challenge with this is that there are a lot of dependencies associated with it. For example, there is a dependency on schools having a recorded timetable. Although this is common for secondary schools, it is not so common for primary schools. I have therefore done a significant amount of work to limit how long this exercise takes. In regards to learning and teaching, this has the indirect impact of then allowing schools to spend more time focusing on learning and teaching.

The work that I do has many focuses. Sometimes it is about supporting simple transactions, other times it is about everyday efficiencies. Sometimes it is about helping schools reflect upon particular workflows to ease their workload, other times it is about improving a process, such as the creation of timetables. All of this though is real work that ends up having some sort of impact on student learning in the end.

What do you think? Is there some work that is more real than others? As always, thoughts and comments welcome.


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In our bid to have happy kids, I wonder what we might be robbing from them later in life?

This is another reflection on the lessons learnt about education from being a parent. This time it is the importance of trust.


At the swimming centre where my daughters have lessons there are two instructors who walk around while the lessons are on. They serve a number of roles. Whether it be providing suggestions to support the development of the swimmers, coordinating lessons and overseeing the safety of those in the pool.

During a recent lesson, one of the instructors came and spoke with me about my youngest daughter. She said that she wanted to move her up to the next class. Out of interest, I asked her why. She explained that she felt my daughter would benefit from being with older students and no longer needed the shallow pool. She then asked if that was ok with that?

I was a little taken aback by the question. I was fine with my daughter moving up. I was also fine if she stayed in the group she was currently in. The reality is that in this situation, I can only trust those in and out of the pool. Although I may ask where my daughter’s development is at and whether there is anything my wife and I could do to support her, I do not feel there is anything achieved in questioning the decision of the educators at hand.

I feel the same way about the classroom. In today’s age of fear, we worry about the ‘best’ teacher and the effect size associated with the ‘right’ teacher. I remember working in country town a few years ago where parents would move their children to a different school if they got the ‘wrong’ teacher. The problem I have is that sometimes the best teacher is a supported teacher. My daughter’s classroom teacher will often spend more time with her than my wife and I. In my opinion hovering around a teacher or the school creates an situation of stress and anxiety for all involved. I love how Dan Haesler captures this in regards to protecting children from any sort of risk:

Dan Haesler's take on helicopter parenting

I think we need to trust teachers rather than moving students around the market. Maybe this is just me? Maybe in time I may change my mind? As always, thoughts welcome.


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What if you stopped thinking about your ideas as things you need to let out of you, but things you need to let in to you? Things you need to be ready to receive? Austin Kleon ‘It’s not inside you trying to get out, it’s outside you trying to get in’

Things have been a little quiet here of late. I have started jotting down a few thoughts, but never quite finished anything. This feels a bit strange having written nearly 400+ pieces since starting this blog in 2013. I have been wondering if this is simply about time and energy, as work and home have been a little hectic lately. Although, this has never stopped me before. I have been wondering if maybe this is a part of the development of the blog, with a move to collecting and curating, rather than longer pieces of reflection. However, a recent post from Austin Kleon had me rethinking my reason for blogging.

Discussing the work of Tom Waits and Nick Cave, Austin Kleon argues that songs are best understood as coming from the outside, rather than from within. The challenge we have is being open to receive the inspiration when it comes. Thinking about ideas in general, this had me wondering about blogging as an exercise of being open to the outside. For example, Clive Thompson’s book Smarter Than You Think, he talks about the way the same ideas have occurred to different people at the same time:

The things we think about are deeply influenced by the state of the art around us: the conversations taking place among educated folk, the shared information, tools, and technologies at hand.

These opportunities are there if we are willing to accept them.

Activities, such as #28daysofwriting, #Blimage, DS106 Daily Create, Ontario Daily Extend, Microcasts and #LookDown can be helpful in providing structured opportunities to let ideas in. However, it is also about being a flaneur. As Ian Guest explains:

The flâneur is more of a serendipitous explorer, receptive to whatever comes along. They are a combination of curious explorer (having no goal other than to experience city life), critical spectator (balanced analyst, seeing beauty, but aware of social inequities), and creative mind (an interpreter who renders the urban landscape legible).

Rather than worrying about letting blog posts out, I wonder if my issue lately has been a confusion about what to actually let in. As Kin Lane touches upon,

[Blogging] is an essential part of making sense of the world as it moves by me so fast, putting it somewhere that I can continue to reference and learn from in the future.

Moving forward, I think my challenge is not reading, viewing, listening and walking, but being open to ideas on offer. As I write this, I am reminded of Bjork’s song All is Full of Love:

Maybe not from the sources
You have poured yours
Maybe not from the directions
You are staring at
Twist your head around
It’s all around you
All is full of love
All around you

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The more we immerse ourselves in the unexpected – like visiting different grade levels or subject areas – the more we benefit and can see possibilities for our own “classroom worlds”. Amy Burvall ‘PD Walkabout’

When it comes to change and transformation, a strategy often used to support the process is the classroom visit. The question though is whether the greatest benefit of such walkthroughs and observations is the feedback provided to the teacher or what we learn as an observer? This post was prompted by David Hopkins’ #OpenBlog19 series.


Alexis Wiggins, the daughter of the late Grant Wiggins, shared a reflection on her experience of shadowing a 10th and 12th grade students across two days. The focus was not on providing feedback for teachers, as is often the case, but instead on empathising with the learner. Her revelation was that high school students spend a majority of their time sitting passively and listening. In response, Wiggins left with a range of thoughts about what she would change in her own classroom, such as providing time to stretch, offer brief mini-lessons and dig into personal experiences.

Approaching feedback from the perspective of leadership, Peter DeWitt discusses some of the focuses associated with walkthroughts. This includes cooperative learning vs. cooperative seating or surface level vs. deep level questioning. In conclusion, DeWitt suggests that,

Too many times the success of walkthroughs is a myth because they focus on compliant behavior, and making sure te huachers are covering curriculum. Walkthroughs will be much more successful if they bring about deep learning on the part of students, teachers and the leaders who are doing them.”

What stands out for me is that, like Wiggins, DeWitt’s focus is on learning for all.

Continuing with the idea of learning, Amy Burvall explores the opportunities to engage with and give feedback to colleagues from disparate areas. The intent is to open ourselves to the serendipity. As she states:

The point is I think the more we immerse ourselves in the unexpected – like visiting different grade levels or subject areas – the more we benefit and can see possibilities for our own “classroom worlds”.

Through such strategies as the ‘Wow, How, Now’, Burvall demonstrates the benefits to being open to others.

Exploring effective teaching, Jason Borton discusses how giving all teachers the opportunity to participate allows for ownership over their own accountability.

Raising the performance of our entire teaching team is the focus as well as each teacher taking individual responsibility for improving their implementation of quality teaching practices.

With different teachers released each week, the focus is on collective feedback. However, on the flipside of this, each teacher is then given the opportunity to learn and reflect.


As someone who visits a lot of different schools it is not my play to provide feedback as to how things are. Like a flaneur, I am instead interested the lessons I can learn. Sometimes the best feedback is what we learn as an observer and self-determined learner, I think this is where coaching is so powerful.

As always, intrigued in your thoughts and learnings. Comments welcome.


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Part of Social Leadership is not having the answers, but creating the space, and respecting those who do. Julian Stodd ‘The Price of Gratitude’

David Hopkins recently started a new blogging series focused on paying it forward. It revolves around the hashtag #OpenBlog19. Although I was not explicitly tagged, he opened it up for anyone wishing to participate. So here is my response to the provocation: The most valuable lesson I ever learned’


My most valuable lesson learned is that it is not about having the answer, but instead working towards a solution. It can be easy to get caught in a fixed mindset around ‘best practices‘ and so forth, but too often this overlooks the context at hand. For me this plays out in a number of ways:

In the classroom

In today’s day and age, it can be so easy to be ‘right’. Follow this, do that. The problem is when these beliefs are often different in the next classroom or the class up the corridor. This can create tension that often plays out in the background.

Within relationships

In marriage, there is a constant need for give and take. This is all compounded when family is added to the mix (see Austin Kleon.)

On a project

It can be easy to get caught up in what should have happened or how things should work. However, it is more productive in the long term to work towards a shared solution that moves things forward.


To be honest, this is one of those lessons I feel learned yesterday and am sure I will learn again tomorrow. I am not sure if I am alone in this? As always, interested in your thoughts and opinions. Maybe I have gotten this all wrong?


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If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. JD Salinger ‘Catcher in the Rye’

At the start of each team meeting somebody shares a few things to get to know each other a little more. Here are some notes relating to my contribution …


It is easy to get caught up in autobiographical stuff, such as why I am not really Aaron Davis or how I was born behind a bank, but like Holden Caulfield, in A Catcher in the Rye, I don’t feel like going into it. Instead, I would prefer to share ten characteristics and the situations that influenced them.

Service

Although there is no doubt about my mother’s influence on my life, it can be hard to think about what I inherited from her. I think it would probably by her commitment to service. I seem to find myself doing the work that needs to be done, rather than the work that I might want to be doing.

Context

So often we discuss the practicalities of education. It can therefore be easy to question the value of a Bachelor of Arts. However, I think that my study inadvertently influences a lot of what I do. In particular, the power and potential of context. As I continue to collaboratively develop different strategies and solutions, empathising with other situations is so important.

Perseverance

In my first teaching position, I was the fifth teacher in the role and wrote my first set of reports after five weeks of teaching. I could understand why others had left, double Year Nine English to end each Friday never helped. However, sometimes what is most powerful thing is persisting through and looking back at the lessons learned.

Inequality

I spent a year at an indigenous school in country Victoria. The experience gave me insight into the inequality often inherent within systems and an insight into my own privilege.

Difference

Although originally trained as a secondary English and History teacher, I have managed to balance my time between both the primary and secondary classrooms. I was lucky enough to teach at a P-9 school for quite a few years and it really emphasised the difference in practice and thinking. The biggest challenge I found was agreeing on some sort of shared vision of learning and teaching that allowed both sides to have a voice.

Solid Foundation

For quite a few years I balanced life between the classroom and administration. It taught me that successful schools are build upon a solid foundation. Whether it be the way people are made to feel as they enter a school or having clear processes in place. Often it is said that the business manager rules the school. Maybe a different way of putting this is that the administration team often lays the groundwork for success.

Meaning of Success

Ask many about the Ultranet and they will mention dancing girls and the misuse of funds. I was a lead user and am always disappointed when people are unwilling to look beyond the failures. Although the platform itself failed, I feel the Ultranet itself brought about a lot of positives, especially in regards to collection of data and students. What the project therefore taught me was that success is sometimes in how you consider something.

Compromise

I have been married for ten years. In that time I have learnt about the importance of compromise. Sometimes it is for peace, other times it is for sanity. The fact of the matter is that nothing moves forward if there is not a little bit of give and take.

Chaos

There are some who argue that having children has made them a better teacher. I am not sure that this is true, but it has definitely provided perspective and taught me to live with the unexpected. I think Austin Kleon captures this situation best in his discussion of the complexities of families.

Team

My current work has taught me about the importance of team. It is the first place job I have worked in where I am truly dependent on the collaboration with others to solve problems. Although I have always worked in teams, it always felt that if you worked hard then it was possible to get things done. This is not possible when you are part of the complex system.


So what about you? What would you constitute as the ten influences which led to now? As always, comments welcome.


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The flâneur is more of a serendipitous explorer, receptive to whatever comes along. They are a combination of curious explorer (having no goal other than to experience city life), critical spectator (balanced analyst, seeing beauty, but aware of social inequities), and creative mind (an interpreter who renders the urban landscape legible).

This is both a reflection on my one word for 2018 – Intent – and my new word for 2019 – Flânerie.


For a couple of years now, I have been focusing on one word, rather than goals or resolutions. This was inspired by Kath Murdoch:

The word provides as a kind of ‘tincture’ to the year – its purpose being to regularly nudge you along a path of your choosing – a path that strengthens you in some way.

My word for 2018 was ‘intent’. This involved:

Although this was a useful focus, I felt that as the year went on I was becoming too black and white about things. Too clinical. Too methodical. Yes to this, no to that. Moving forward I felt I needed a means of engaging creatively within constraint.

Initially, I was inspired by Tantek Çelik and his efforts to regularly post positives. I wondered if my new word might be something like ‘solution focused’ or ‘happiness’. However, the more I thought about this, the more concerned I came about what such a focus might imply.

I moved to thinking about small things. Although I feel I pick up on things, I do not always act upon them. Julie Beck argues that unless we do something with what we have read within 24-hours then we often forget it. This got thinking about Ian Guest and his work in regards to flânerie. As he explains, the flaneur is a:

serendipitous explorer, receptive to whatever comes along. They are a combination of curious explorer (having no goal other than to experience city life), critical spectator (balanced analyst, seeing beauty, but aware of social inequities), and creative mind (an interpreter who renders the urban landscape legible).

What I liked about this was that it was not about merely observing, but also actively producing.

So far I have used Alan Levine’s new plugin to create an ‘On This Day’ page. I am also going to return to posting reflections more regularly. I did this a few years ago when I tinkered with the idea of a ‘What If‘ site. I hope that being more active will also help in extending my ‘serendipity surface’.

So that is me, what about you? Do you have any thoughts and suggestions? Do you have a word that you are focusing on this year? As always, comments welcome.


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