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When Accounting is Spelled, “Water…”




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Lofty ideas and ideals need to have a landing place.

Words and ideas need to become flesh if they are to have any value at all.

I am an educator. But I am also an innovator. I guess that makes me an educational innovator? Strangely, that label feels right. It’s something I actually want to wear. Perhaps it’s why I feel so lonely most of the time?

Did you know that only 2.5% of the population are innovators? Don’t take it from me. Take it from Simon Sinek, he’s a resident expert on all this stuff and explains well the law of the diffusion of innovation.

You can see his short but insightful teaching here:

Did you watch it? Where do you find yourself on the scale? There are only five categories so it shouldn’t be too hard to find your normal place of residence. Do you see why this kind of exercise is so important? The more you know about who and where you are, the more you will come to understand why you are.

But still, words and ideas must become flesh if the ideal is to become real.

In earlier blog posts I have dreamed large. I have shared an idea, an ideal, a vision for what our world and society might be… actually could be.

The words behind it are these, “I dream of a world in which all people live in freedom and the fullness of their potential and the hope filled power of education to actually pull this off.”

The equation behind it is this,

H = (P * F * Fp) e

Finally, the legend behind the equation is this:

H = Humanness
P = All people, everywhere
F = Freedom
Fp = Fullness of potential
e = Power of Education

But all this pontificating leads to an important question, “How in this world are we going to make it practical? How can we actually “flesh it out” so to say?”

I teach accounting. As an educational innovator who is teaching accounting, how can I create an environment which is a suitable response to what I have shared above? How can I teach accounting with integrity to a vision for what education could be, in view of a future that will be?

Use your imagination, “close your eyes,” and pretend you are a student taking ACC 121. Welcome to my accounting class…

One the first day, you will get what has become known as “normal.” Syllabus; schedule of class assignments, quizzes, and tests; overview of class and how it fits into a larger picture of business in general as well as accounting in particular, and an icebreaker time of mingling and getting to know other students so that a culture of group work can begin. Nothing unusual here.

I share my philosophy of teaching and how I am interested in creating an environment in which competency is the goal. I have flipped the classroom in an effort to move students from an emphasis and priority of content-only to competency. Competency and understanding is what I am after.

All assignments, the way I teach, quizzes, and tests are in response to this larger goal. I want to create an environment in which students have freedom, choices, consequences, and responsibility.

For some this is welcome, refreshingly so. For some this is scary.  They have not experienced this kind of freedom before.  They are used to being told what to do.  For all this is part of what it means to be human.

Where do you find yourself in all of this?

Now it gets fun. I share with you that I want you to pretend that accounting is water. Huh?

I share with you that I am going to do everything I can to present you with the most crystal clear, Lake Michigan version of water that I can. That is my responsibility. It’s something I have control over. Students get this as they know the beauty, the unequaled awe of the waters on which we live. So it makes sense…so far.

I share with the students that some of them will discover that in my attempts to present accounting as crystal clear water, they will find themselves leaning into this. It will just make sense. They will “get it.” It will come rather naturally.

I approach the white board, pen in hand, and say, “For you this class will be this kind of experience,” and I draw a great big smiley face on the board.

Then I share that the reason for this is because there is “fishiness” inside of them and that when they are around water, it is something they will naturally lean into. Fish and water go hand in hand, right?

I turn to the class and almost everyone is “getting it.” Students like simplicity. I am a student.

Then I share that for others, this class in accounting is going to be something you do not like. It will not make any sense, will be incredibly difficult and you may find yourself wondering why you took this class in the first place.

Again, I turn to the white board, pen in hand, and say, “For you this class will be this kind of experience,” and I draw a great big smiley face on the board.

I turn to the class to find a puzzled look upon the faces of many. “You meant to say, frustration face, right? You made a mistake, right?” That’s what they are thinking.

I then share that the reason this will be a great big smiley face is because they have discovered that they have no fishiness in them at all and that perhaps they have “monkey” in them and that all they need to do is find the subject matter where “trees” are being taught.

A slight laughter begins to bubble throughout the room. Everyone knows exactly what I mean. No one knows, including me, who does and does not have fishiness in them. But this serves to create a culture for the entire semester together.

During group work in the weeks ahead, students will constantly turn to me and share their own perception of their own fishiness.

Some will look at me with a smile and say, “There’s fishiness in me!” Most will look at me and share, “There’s no fishiness in me at all.” For all students a common ground, or should I say, “water,” is being formed.

Accounting has become a class in which an environment of discovery has been shared. Shame, fear, and competitiveness are gone. Freedom, responsibility and discovery are the pillars on which our time in class is being built.

An educational incubator environment is taking shape.

I have been doing this for three years now. The results have been very interesting. Words have become flesh and now have names and stories behind them. Janelle, Nora, Nick, Riley, Courtney, and Nick. These are some of the students, people, who have discovered their fishiness within.

This is so fun to watch and be part of. I can only equate it with being a midwife; less bloody for sure but being an integral part of birthing something.

Perhaps the distinctions between education and parenting are not as far away as we have been led to believe.

This is what drew me into education. This is what education can be. The Latin is educere and it means to draw out; to pour on. The implication is that something is already present inside a person. The true educator, like an artist, is then in search of that which is already present, inside, needing awakening, wanting to be released without.

Sounds an awful lot like good parenting to me.

If I were cool, I would say, “Hey, it’s how I roll in accounting.” I am not that cool.

Rather, I like to wonder. I wonder if other subjects could be approached in similar vein? Surely this cannot be limited to accounting. Is this same approach transferable? Are there transferable principles just waiting to be appropriately applied in all disciplines?  Could it be thoughtfully applied to any area of study as long as we have a common, larger picture in mind? I believe it could.

What would it be like if an entire system of education where built around this kind of thinking? Hmm…

Imagine all people, everywhere, with this kind of vision for education “unplugged.” I sense something big and much needed could be on the horizon.

Howard Gardner, in his book Five Minds For the Future, (A CIE “classic” which can be found in their lending library!) writes, “Education is inherently and inevitably an issue of human goals and human values. … I wish that this statement were mounted prominently above the desk of every policymaker…One cannot even begin to develop and educational system unless one has in mind the knowledge and skills that one values, and the kind of individuals one hopes will emerge at the end of the day.”

Does a two year community college have any business collaborating with the likes of Howard Gardner? I mean, he’s an icon on the campus of Harvard!

When push comes to shove, what kind of individuals do we hope will emerge at the end of the day? Whether Harvard’s Cambridge or NMC’s Traverse City, the real goal is humanness, right? We want all people to discover and simply be…themselves.

Much easier said than done.

Imagine the impact in a community if a college were to get this right. Imagine the impact in a community if a college were to become intentional about this. Imagine the impact in a community if this were to become the operating system, the “how we run” (maybe I am getting cooler?) of a college.

Some stumble into this by mistake. Perhaps fate has smiled on them. What could happen if all were intentionally “trained up” or educated this way? I believe our world would be much more…well…human!

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