Friday, September 26, 2008

So here I am...

I have been very careful not to let slip a surprise set up for my sister by my uncle. In spite of the fact that she doesn't interact with the blogosphere or Facebook, I have avoided all mention. But now that I am here, and the surprise has been sprung, I can let you in on the secret.

My uncle generously used his voyager miles to fly me to South Africa for my sister's wedding.

The look on her face was worth the 22 hour journey (door-to-door, that is), even though I hate to fly.

Tomorrow is the big day. It has not been without its hiccups for both bride and groom as a dress disaster and the hospitalisation tonight of the groom's father have been difficult obstacles to cope with. But we hope that it will all turn out well for them tomorrow.

More details when I return to the UK and have access to something faster than a 57.5Kbps dialup connection!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

How far can we take this connectivity?

Recently a friend of mine died. He wasn't a close friend, and we were no longer in direct contact. But we had shared friends with whom we were both in contact and we kept track of each other that way. Most of my keeping in touch was done via Facebook.

Some years ago, a close friend of mine died of a brain tumour. She was in Cape Town. I was in the UK.

Many of our shared friends collected together in little huddles to mourn and grieve and remember and console each other, and then of course, they attended the funeral, where they were able to draw a sad line under a life that had been too short by several decades.

I had sent an email of sympathy to her husband, part of which was read out at the service. But I wasn't there.

I desperately wanted to fly 'home' to be among people whose hearts were aching as much as my own. But friends who hadn't seen me in years would be torn between taking advantage of the brief opportunity to spend time with me, and focusing on remembering Madeleine's brief life. I had no wish to upstage Mads on her final journey. I couldn't do that to her husband and young girls. So I sat here in the UK feeling sorry for myself.

On Saturday, my sister is getting married. My family and I spent three weeks in South Africa in April, a trip we booked a year previously, when the wedding had been scheduled for April. When it was postponed, we couldn't reschedule our flights without losing enormous amounts of money. And now that I am without a steady income, we can't risk the expense of another trip (at £800/per person). My parents, all my aunts and uncles, all my cousins will be there - with their spouses whom I have never even met, and their children (ditto). Only my own little family will be absent.

Have we reached the time when it has become appropriate to stream a wedding? Even a funeral? So that family and friends abroad can attend remotely. Greener. Cheaper. More inclusive.

I would have loved to join in the singing at Mads's funeral (we used to sing in the church band together, so I know her family would have chosen wonderful music). I would have loved to hear the eulogies, and wept a little weep that did not feel so very alone.

I would love for my family to be able to join in at my sister's wedding. She's had a rough journey and she's finally marrying someone resembling a human being. She will look stunning in her burnt orange dress as her son walks her down the aisle. Her eldest daughter will have done everyone's make-up to perfection. My aunts and uncles will sit around and catch up. My cousins' children will behave as children do at weddings, and my cousins will deal with them in a wide range of ways.

I would be glad of an image on my computer screen, so I would!

Sadly, my sister doesn't know anyone with the kit to make this happen, so we'll have to settle for the video and photos on disk when they finally arrive.

I've touched on the topic of web-funerals before, web-weddings are surely a variation on that theme. I just wonder why it doesn't happen....

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Sequel to an African tale

My recent participation in a blogversation caused a fresh trickle of traffic to a post of mine from some time ago, including a comment which brought this blog by Kobus van Wyk onto my radar. I would like to encourage readers to swing by and offer support and encouragement.

Friday, September 19, 2008

An unexpected gift

Many of you will already know that today has been my last day in the office. There is much I could say on that subject, but that will be for another time. What I have to say today is only indirectly related.

I like to keep an open communication with my sons' schools. If there is anything going on at home that might impact their performance or their behaviour, I feel it's only fair that the teachers should have an indication... even if the details are witheld.

You can imagine that facing the prospect of self-employment a little sooner than planned has caused some tension in our household. And it has proved to be a very unwise time to enter a period of economic uncertainty - although we didn't realise this when the (ahem) pumpkin first hit the fan.

So I phoned the school and left a message for my younger son's tutor to contact me so I could bring her up to speed.

You see, our younger son is a worrier who assumes responsibilities and worries that are not his to take on. If you have been keeping up with this blog for a while, you will know that he recently changed schools and that he suffered terribly at the hands of bullies at his previous school. You will also know that he is a very insecure lad.

It doesn't help that he had a birthday a few days ago and - due to the economic climate in the Romeis household - we gave him a mere token and an IOU.

All these factors were bound to have him acting out at school.

Imagine, then, my sheer delight at being told by the teacher that she has seen no sign of anything untoward. That he has settled in well and made friends. That he is always courteous. That his work is always handed in on time. That he is always neatly turned out. That, in short, he is her dream student.

When your son's teacher tells you that she wishes she had a class full of kids like your son, that's pink cloud time. So, in spite of the fact that he didn't get a proper gift from us on his birthday, he inadvertently gave us a gift that every parent dreams of!

The lad is growing up. He's coping with this a lot better than I expected. A lot better than I am, in fact.

Do you consider your kids' teachers to be your partners? Do you discuss with them issues that you know of that might impact their performance at school? Do you expect them to return the favour?

Not everyone has a yacht!

Rant warning.

One thing I have noticed of late is a tendency to stinging retorts about how the erstwhile Lehman's employees will all be off in to the sunset on their yachts. This kind of fatuous attitude gets right up my nose.

Not everyone will have been a high flyer with a 6-figure salary package! Just because the senior execs command(ed) eye-watering salaries and enjoyed lifestyles that most of us can only dream of, doesn't mean that every newly jobless person is in the same yacht.

There must be a fair few people whose jobs were low on the food chain. People who don't have a fat cash cushion to fall back on. People with mortgages to pay, and kids to feed and overheads to meet. People like you and me... particularly me, actually, with effect from 4:30pm today!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Teachers - do we trust them?

Jeff Utecht was relating recently how much respect teachers are accorded in Thailand, something which is reflected in the form of greeting they are accorded within the culture.

I have long been concerned that teachers are largely disempowered in the UK. During my short time (2 years) in a further education college, I experienced deep frustration at the peremptory way the staff were treated - often over-managed and usually accorded less respect than the students. I kicked powerlessly against the lack of freedom to be flexible based on the requirements of my students. There was this thing called Curriculum and, whether or not it met the needs of our students, it had to be adhered to, since it had been developed by a collection of minds patently superior to our own.

Some of the learning materials prepared for the purposes of affording teachers professional development seem to contain the implicit message that teachers need to have everything explained to them , or they will never figure it out.

When I have raised the question: is it entirely necessary to explain this point? Will teachers not be able to figure that out for themselves? The answer is often rather arch and skeptical.

Which makes me wonder: if we have so little faith in these people, why are we allowing them to teach our children?

I think we should perhaps cut them a little slack. Give them a little credit.

I related in a recent post how people often speak to their children in a way that implies that we expect them struggle with or fail at a given task. I expressed the view that a healthier approach was to start from an expectation of success and to offer guidance that was couched in terms that aimed at facilitating success rather than avoiding failure.

Perhaps it's time we adopted the same approach with the people responsible for educating the future doctors, lawyers, L&D consultants, Prime Ministers, entrepreneurs... and teachers.

Failing that, fewer and fewer people with creative minds and extraordinary abilities will be attracted to the field and we will have on our hands a downward spiral of self-fulfilling prophecies.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Get a (second) life

Until quite recently, I have not had the connection speeds at home required to be able to navigate around Linden with any great success. .. and of course, such things are banned at work. I have long been curious about the possibilities opened up for learning. Because I haven't been able to explore what's on offer, I have had to depend on other people's feedback and have been disappointed to learn that, for the most part, it seems that people are using the space to deliver chalk-and-talk sessions in a virtual environment. New wine. Old wineskins.

Now that we have a fast enoug connection, I decided the time had come to find out for myself what was on offer. I have signed up for a workshop that George Siemens is running on Wednesday, but of course, I have no idea how to get to it or how to participate once I'm there.

One of my Facebook friends offered to show me around. She said I should log in at around 8pm my time last night and wait for her. She would send me an invitation, which would show up in the bottom right corner of my screen. I should accept this and the option to teleport to where she was. I waited, not knowing enough even to try to look for her. Nothing appeared in any of the corners of my screen.

We used the IM feature in Facebook for a while, assuring each other that we were both logged in and that she had my avatar name right. Still nothing. After about 20 minutes of this, she declared herself baffled and gave up.

I tweeted my frustrations and a twitter friend of mine has offered to try to pick up where the other volunteer-tutor had left off.

I might not get a (second) life in time for the workshop on Wednesday, but I will get there in the end... "with a little help from friends, oh I get by with a little help from my friends." Take it away Joe Cocker (apologies to those who prefer the Beatles version)

Friday, September 12, 2008

A herd of collective nouns

Isn't English an odd language? I find it fascinating, of course, but (as my children assure me) I'm weird. For a non-native speaker, getting to grips with collective nouns is a nightmare. And what is the collective term for collective nouns anyway? Who knows why owls form a parliament, larks an exultation and sheep a flock? Why are geese a gaggle when they're walking and a flock when they're flying... and what are they called as they take off and some of them are airborne and others not?

My husband has been speaking English for so long that it has replaced his native Swedish as his first language. For the pedantic listener, though, there are clues that at least part of his English fluency was gained from non-native speaking parents.

One of those is that he refers to anaesthetic as if the 'th' were simply a 't'. His parents struggled to master the 'th' sound, and putting it straight after an 's' in the middle of a word like that was just plain rude! Mind you, they have no room to talk, the Swedes have an 'sj' combination that is likely to put your tongue into spasm!

The other is collective nouns. While he could probably do fairly well on a written test in which he had time to think of the correct collective nouns, conversational ebb and flow is another matter altogether. At some point he just gave up and started using 'herd' as his collective panacea. Thus:

  • as we drive along a country road, we might encounter a herd of sheep
  • when he is struggling against the flow of pedestrian traffic, he is barged by a herd of people
  • when we go on holiday, his sweet blood ensures that he attacked by a herd of mosquitoes
  • when the wheels fall off, he is faced with a herd of problems
But, best of all, when he heads downstairs first thing in the morning, he is preceded by a herd of cats.

See? It can be done. And, just in case you are one of the few people on the planet who hasn't seen the ad, yet, just because it's Friday:

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

One achievement - two perspectives

We had just dozed off last night when one of cats decided to subject us to an oration. She strode around our bedroom, giving voice. On and on it went and no amount of 'polite invitations' to her to "Shut up, stupid cat!" bore any fruit.

It dawned on me that she was probably regaling us with the tale of a successful hunt in which she risked life and limb to protect us from a marauding intruder.

I got up and switched the light on.

She was delighted.

"There. There it is see. I saved you. I protected you. Look at those fangs. See the dripping venom. What do you mean, where? It's right there. Are you blind, woman?"

I flipped back the corner of the rug and there it was.

A moth. About an inch from wing tip to wing tip.

I was unimpressed at the narrowness of my escape. Underwhelmed at the beast's ferocity. It's vicious fangs did not make my heart quail. Her tales of the danger to her own life and limb did not instil in me a sense of awe or wonder. My gratitude knew several bounds.

This was not the reaction Daisy had been hoping for and she proceeded to sulk.

I wonder how many other times I have been guilty of pooh-poohing what someone had thought was a great achievement until I came along to throw water over their campfire.


Signs of our times?

In the past two days I have seen two signs that made me wonder whether I was seeing a social commentary on the state of society.

Diversion: straight ahead
The first was actually a combination of two signs in tandem. They were the sort of temporary signs that sit on the road surface and look the worse for wear due to constant lugging about in the back of large lorries. The first said 'road closed ahead' followed by an arrow pointing right. Immediately behind it was one that said 'diversion' with an arrow point straight up.

Now I'm quite a smart cookie. I figured out the road that went off to the right was closed and they were giving me due warning before I tried turning in there (had I had any wish to do so). That instead, I should go straight and presumably at some point, I would be guided back to the route I had wanted to follow. I did wonder how obvious that might be to a new driver, but my mind was zooming off on more allegorical tangents (as usual).

When the side road is closed and the diversion is the road straight ahead. Hmm. That sounds a bit like JIT performance support to me. Instead of bucketing down a side road looking for a course to attend, I go straight ahead to the solution. But because this is a break from tradition, this is the diversion. Hmm again.

No pies
The second was just a few minutes ago. I was driving behind the delivery vehicle of a pie manufacturer. On the rear door of the van was the sign "No pies kept in this vehicle overnight". I had to smile. The time was once when no-one needed to put signs on the back of their van. Then we started to see post office vans and security comapny vans telling us that "No cash/mail kept in this vehicle overnight". This was followed by signs on shop doors telling us that the staff had no access to the safe. Obviously, in frustration at not being able to get our hands on this easy money, we started to steal equipment that we could fence, because we then started to see signs on vans telling us that "No tools kept in this vehicle overnight". Obviously this has got us so depressed that we must now seek solace in comfort food. Alas, even that avenue is now closed to the poor criminal!

We live in this high tech world, where data is the most valuable asset and people in the UK learn every week (it seems) of yet another case in which their data may have fallen into criminal hands due to ineptness on the part of some or other official. Yet in this same world we apparently have criminals who will break into a van, so great is their longing for pies. Perhaps it's because they're too busy hacking the government database to cook! Or perhaps it's a commentary on the increasing obesity of the British populace.

Somehow I think it will be some time before Gillian McKeith has to put a sign on her vehicle saying "No macrobiotic health products kept in this vehicle overnight".

Since you're alive to read this...

... I guess the universe didn't fall into a black hole after all. Have a look at this Hadron Accelerator rap from the scientists at CERN. Pretty cool. I reckon all science teachers should be taking the chance to cover something topical today and this seems like a good place to start!

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Google reader has gone mad!

Just wondering if anyone else is having similar experiences with their Reader over the past few days. Yesterday, the number of new posts showing against some blogs was unrealistically high. When I had identified that I had, in fact, already read all the posts on that blog, I would select 'Mark all as read' and move on, only to have that same number of posts listed against the blog within seconds.

This morning, my account is showing 496 new posts, including 9 from me. Bloglines, on the other hand shows 21.

Any suggestions?

Monday, September 08, 2008

Implications and expectations

On Sunday afternoon, we had coffee with our neighbours. They have an eight year old with a few as yet undefined learning difficulties, who is somewhat behind on his development. Nevertheless, his mother asked him to offer my husband a slice of cake from a large plate containing several slices. "Keep it level," she said, "Well done."

I was struck by the fact that (a) she started from an expectation that he would succeed and (b) she couched the guidance positively. Not "Mind you don't tip/drop/break it." What to do, as opposed to what not to do.

It put me in mind of the the things we hear people say to their children:

  • Mind you don't...
  • You're going to fall off there
  • Don't spill it
  • You're going to bump your head on that corner
  • Don't drop those
  • Don't mess
  • Don't splash
  • Put your shoes on or you'll cut your feet (a favourite in England, while we barefoot Africans wonder what on earth there is to cut your feet on in this green-and-thornless land)
We're always starting from an expectation of failure and warning against it.

I wonder how often we unconsciously even build that in to our learning resources for adults. Many of our clients seem to be trying to move towards a more positively couched, empowering design for learning resources, but even so, I think it sneaks in unnoticed. Think about:
This is an assessment that will tell you what you already know and where you need to focus your attention.
Wow! Personalised learning! But hang on. Suppose we start each module with a single sentence that says this module/section covers xyz and is aimed at users who abc. Maybe, just maybe the users are smart enough to figure out for themselves whether the module/section is something they need.
What you have learned in this section can be applied in xyz situations and will benefit you in abc ways.
Ooh! Skills transfer. Application. But suppose we asked the user to think about situations in which the material can be applied and what the benefits of these might be.

Just a thought.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

There are TWO of us?!

Okay, this is just weird! I have a Technorati search set up on my name, so that I can check out what I'm being quoted on/accused of.

Today, I discovered that there's another Karyn Romeis in the world! This one apparently works as a manager at a company called Panera Bread in the Oklahoma City area. As if one of us wasn't enough!

Somehow, I never expected that. For a start, the spelling of my first name is rather unusual, although certainly not unique. Secondly, Romeis is not a common surname. It's German, and I came by it thanks to my Swedish husband. I know, I know. He had a German grandfather who lost all his money with the devaluation of the Mark after the first world war and fled to Sweden. Even in Germany, it's not a common name. Two unusual names together make up an even more unusual combination, and yet here's another one. In the USA of all places!

I'm pretty sure that there is a difference in the way we pronouce our shared name, though. I can't imagine what she does with the name I pronounce Rome-ACE, but I'm pretty sure she pronounces the first name to rhyme with Darren, whereas I pronounce it as if I'm talking about car insurance.

I know that Stephen Downes has a namesake, but neither of his names are that rare, so that's not entirely unexpected. I'll bet there are several Stephen Downeses out there, in fact.

This is weird.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

I hadn't planned to, but...

... my circumstances dictate that I must adopt this route going foward.
Thanks to Mark Oehlert for the pointer.

Thanks for the laugh, Dave!

I haven't received the email, but Dave Snowden reproduced it here. Read it and weep... with laughter.

Why did the chicken cross the road?

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

What do I want from a search engine?

My manager and I were having a conversation today about his experiences trying to book flights online. It took ages, because he had to explore each of the returns on his search parameters, and in many cases, he would be several minutes into the process of booking the flights with a provider that was £30 cheaper than the competition, only to find, that, as he worked through the process, the price increased with the addition of all sorts of hidden costs. Back to the search results and down to the next provider listed. Is their price higher or lower than the last one? Higher? Move on. Lower? Start the process of booking the flights, and watch the costs rise as the process continues.

Time was once when you (or your secretary if you were Very Important) would phone 3 or 4 travel agents and book your flight with the cheapest one. Now there are just too many providers to speak to individually. But tell me how the process that my boss had to go through was so very different.

Now I have deliberately not yet looked at or taken on board anything about Google Chrome before getting this off my chest, so I have no idea whether or not it represents a step (or the whole journey) in this direction, but what I want is search engine that can do all that blarge for me.

I get the opportunity to fill in my requirements, and the search engine not only trawls the net for flights to wherever whenever, but checks how they stack up against each other for two adults with X suitcases and such-and-such other specifications. Rather than just skimming across the top to match words required with words included in the content (Google my name and see how many returns include the name 'Karyn' and the words 'Rome is'), it dips down into the content to see if the match meets the specified requirements in a meaningful way.

So much for cloud cuckoo land. Now I shall go and see what Chrome is all about! Is it as shiny as the name suggests?

The Big Question: To-learn list

Eek! This month's big question nigh brought on a panic attack. Hand me that brown paper bag, quick!

Facing the imminent prospect of self-employment, I am realising how much I don't know. My to-learn list grows daily until it is so large that I'm not sure how I'm actually going to find the time to do any work that brings in money!

Here goes.

I need to learn (in no particular order):

  • how to customise this here blog to reflect the Learning Anorak's branding
  • how to create a website so that I can make myself more find-able online
  • more about the implementation side of things
  • to keep accounts in such a way that I can fill in a tax return (at the moment, I don't have to do that)
  • to fill in a tax return
  • to market my services
  • to invoice clients
  • the differences between a limited company and a sole trader, and the respective advantages and benefits of each
  • more about systems architecture
  • more development skills
  • more about LMSes
Can I stop now? I need both hands to hold the paper bag!

On being a maverick

I've touched on this subject before, but my recent turbulence has been a direct result of the fact that I appear to fall into the category of mavericks. I never set out to do that, and I didn't used to think of myself in that light, but this article in TrainingZone magazine resonates with me over and over again.

Take this paragraph, for example:

For example, mavericks have an overiding need to tell the truth. They feel that to do otherwise affects who they are and lessens their integrity – one of the principles that they hold dear. This is why communication can be fraught, their need to tell the truth far outweighing the need to not upset someone else. The trait not to upset someone is not usually as well developed as it is in others.
Absolutely! The thing is, it goes on to say:
This is generally because they have such high self esteem, there is little that will upset them and they naturally feel that everyone else is like them. (Do not assume, however, that they are unable to be hurt at work).
I'd like to say a loud amen to the parenthesis, but I'm not sure about the first bit. My pathetic yearning to be liked can't be consistent with someone who has "such high self esteem". Perhaps I'm not entirely typical. Then again - who is?

It's comforting to know that, after the closing paragraph of this post yesterday, I am not alone, after all!

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Professional practice

Views expressed on this blog recently got me into seriously hot water and resulted in a watershed experience in my life.

Only time will tell if that turns out to be for good or ill.

The inevitable subsequent email exchanges with friends and family generated some interesting views on professional practice. One such exchange I thought worth sharing here.

My cousin is a GP. He was educated in South Africa, where he spent the first several years of his career in private practice. He is now living and working in the UK and chafing at the bit under the NHS. From time to time, he also gets into trouble by rocking the boat with his independent thinking and approaches.

As he says in his email (language warning - partial censorship is mine):

Sometimes it does not matter that you do the right thing but if it is not done according to the sometimes very stupid rules, one gets into sh*t. Your private opinions of course do not mean that you cant do a job according to the rules - that is being a professional.
His own experience is that of patients saying:
thank you for being personal

Thank you for helping

You are the first doctor who has examined me in the last 1/10/100 years - delete which ever is applicable. Imagine that - a doctor who is more like a witchdoctor able to diagnose and decide from the safety of his chair and computer and not lay a hand on the patient . . . . . .
I sometimes wonder about professional practice, about the different views of this indefinable concept. I wonder if the outspokenness that have gotten both him and me into trouble are familial traits or cultural mores. South Africans often cause gasps and winces in the UK, but others seem to have learnt to hold their tongues a lot better than I have.

I'm not very good at subterfuge. I cope much better in an environment where all the cards are on the table and spades are called spades. I don't understand the need for poker faces and secrets - and can't see how they equate to professional practice. Perhaps I have a mild form of Aspergers!

I consider it far more professional to say, right, this is where we are, warts and all, and this is what we plan to do about it. Am I alone?

Looking again at performance support

Jay Cross's recent post about performance support got this topic swirling in my mind again. It's one that he and I have discussed before. Yes, I know that the term has fallen into disuse and I have mixed feelings about that, but it's the concept I'd like to look at today.

I'm in favour. Just by the way.

But I'm not in favour of an automated self-help system if that's all that's going to be on offer. I think that many organisations who went down the route of EPSS (electronic performance support systems) were disillusioned because the result was not highly efficient, highly motivated, low-maintenance staff.

My view is this: people are high maintenance and there are no short cuts. Deal.

Putting an electronic system in place and expecting to be a cure-all for flawed, insecure, arrogant, assertive, shy, you-name-it human beings is doomed to fail.

I like the idea of an online, on-tap resource which people can interrogate at will to find the solution to the challenge they face right-now-this-minute in the workplace. I like the idea that performance support tools will provide me with the answer to "What do I do now?" "How do I do that?" I like it even more when the system answers the question "Whom shall I ask about...?" and includes a photograph, an email address and a telephone number.

But what if the challenge is that they are being harassed at work by another employee? What if the challenge they face is that they have been passed over for promotion... again? What if the challenge they face is that they think they're doing exactly what the system tells them to do and it still won't *&^%$ work?

In those situations, there is no substitute for people with skin on. And it's pointless saying they need to get a life or grow a spine. The challenges they face are very real to them and until they have figured out how to face them, it's going to have an impact on their state of mind, the people around them, the quality of their work.

Performance support is not just about making sure that people know what to do, when to do it, how to do it. Performance support tools can take care of all those things. What they can't take care of is human needs.

I am somewhat inconsistent in my attitudes towards Maslow's hierarchy of needs. There are days/situations when I consider it to have value and then others when I roll my eyes (like everything else, it is not a panancea to be mindlessly trotted out in every situation). This is one of the former. If people's fundamental needs are being deprived or threatened by conditions in the workplace, their performance will suffer.

Now I'm not advocating that the organisation needs to take on the role of a wet-nurse, but there are reasonable provisions that can be made. My own observation is that people want to be heard. Providing them with a safe space in which to be heard by someone who is able to make a difference in a way that an electronic system cannot goes a long way toward ensuring that people are in a position to do enjoy their jobs and do them well.

Yes, yes, I know we've entered into the pink fluffy world of HR here. So go ahead and roll your eyes, but the bottom line is that we have got to care. The faceless organisation can't do that. The systems can't do that. The processes can't do that. The training provision can't do that. The performance support tools can't do that.

That leaves the people. You. Me.

The whole point of social media is that they put people in touch with people. It's not about the media, it's about the people. All these wonderful whizzbangy new systems we have these days aren't worth squat if people feel overlooked, ignored, unappreciated, undervalued. But this is the danger. We implement all sorts of systems to make things smoother, easier, but we tend to expect too much of them. They are just systems. They are designed to support processes. To support people takes other people. And part of a person's ability to perform in the workplace is an acknowledgement of their humanity.

Okay, I'll get off my soapbox now. Thanks for sticking with me!

Shattering the crystal ball

In January 1998, I dropped my elder son off for his first day at 'big school'. I was very good and didn't cry until he was out of sight.

He was six-and-a-quarter, average sized for his age, with very blond hair, knock-knees and thick glasses. Like many children who wear glasses from an early age, he had a tendency to screw up his nose all the time to keep them in place. Anyone looking at him would have labelled him a nerd on the spot.

They would have felt vindicated watching him settle in to school life in those early months. Unlike most of the kids, he could read and write. I know that in countries where kids are packed off to school aged 4, kids are able to read and write much earlier, but in South Africa, where school starts in a child's seventh year, we never saw the rush. He had pretty much taught himself.

His general knowledge was unparalleled, and he tended to prefer conversation with adults to that with his peers. He would ask me with a pained look on his face why the kids at school called him 'weird' and 'freak'.

South African schools are big on sport - every child is expected to play one winter and one summer sport. My son was one of those kids who was keen to try everything, so he signed up for cricket and tennis in that first summer term, followed by rugby and (field) hockey in the winter terms. Watching him on the sports field, you would not have been impressed with his prowess. His efforts on the tennis court were purely cognitive. He had seen people play tennis on TV, and he aped their actions. On the cricket field, the coach called him Jonty Rhodes, not because of his skill, but because of his enthusiasm. His rugby skills were a joy to behold: 29 little boys would be crowded around the ball down one end of the field with utter disregard for positional play. At the other end was one little boy lying on his back trying to do a shoulder stand and touch the ground behind his head with his toes. My son.

Early in the second quarter of the year, he had to give up hockey and tennis to attend occupational therapy classes in an attempt to bring his motor skills age up to his chronological age.

Chess was on offer from grade 3 onwards. My son asked the teacher if he could join. She was a bit nervous about setting precedent, so she set him to play one of the regulars to see what he was made of. He won and became the first grade 1 child to play for the school team.

His idea of fashion was the top T-shirt on the pile paired with the nearest pair of shorts or jeans. Colour? What did that matter? They fitted didn't they?

Like I said: nerd.

Today I dropped off my 16 year old son at the station for his first day in 6th form - the optional two years that follow compulsory education in the UK. He is almost 6 feet tall, with a 6-pack. The glasses were abandoned in favour of contact lenses when he was 10, and that changed his life. The contact lenses were abandoned a few years later.

He is Mr Popularity with the kids of his own age. The girls drool over him. He no longer plays chess, because only the nerds play at school.

He throws javelin and sprints 200m for the county. He plays rugby with fierce determination and no shoulder stands. He bowled for a men's local cricket team from the age of 14. One of his GCSE subjects was PE (including sports theory). If there is a sport on offer, he'll have a go.

Before leaving for school this morning, he styled his hair with my straighteners and checked his appearance carefully in the mirror. And as I watched him walk from the car to the station, I noticed a much older woman admire his rear.

So I've learned not to set too much store by early predictions. He's still the same person on the inside in many ways, but the early predictions of where he would excel and where he would fail have been proven so very inaccurate.

Do you have a learner who struggles to start with? Are you ready to give up on them? I suggest they might surprise you, yet! Just hold fire with those labels - you might need to print off a different set at the end of the day.