TITLE: It's Not About Me AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: January 25, 2007 4:52 PM DESC: ----- BODY: Our dean is relatively new in his job, and one of the tasks he has been learning about is fundraising. It seems that this is one of the primary roles that deans and other to-level administrators have to fill in these days of falling state funding and rising costs. This morning he gave his department heads a short excerpt from the book Asking: A 59-Minute Guide to Everything Board Members, Volunteers, and Staff Must Know to Secure the Gift. Despite the massive title, apparently each chapter of the book is but a few chapters, focused on a key lesson. The excerpt we received is on this kernel: Donors give to the magic of an idea. Donors don't give to you because you need money. Everybody needs money. Donors give because there is something you can do. For some reason, this struck as a lesson I have learned over the last few years in a number of different forms, in a number of different contexts. I might summarize the pattern as "It's not about me." Donors don't give because I need; they give because I can do something, something that matters out there. In the realm of interpersonal communication, the hearer is the final determinant of what is communicated. Listeners don't hear what I say; they hear what they understand me to have said. The blog Creating Passionate Users often talks about selling how my book or software is about empowering my users -- not about me, or any of the technical things that matter to me. The same applies to teachers. While in an important sense my Programming Languages course is about the content we want students to learn, in a very practical sense the course is about my students: what they need and why, how they learn, and what motivates them. Attending only to my interests or to the antiseptic interests of the "curriculum" is a recipe for a course almost guaranteed not to succeed. Let's try this on. "Students don't learn because you think they need something. They learn because there is something they can do with their new knowledge." They learn because the magic of an idea. That sounds about right to me. Like any pattern taken too far in a new context, this one fails if I overreach, but it does a pretty good job of capturing a basic truth about teaching and learning. Given the many forms this idea seems to take in so many contexts, I think it is just the sort of thing we mean by a pattern. -----