Teaching and Learning – Four Weeks in China

It’s the start to a beautiful day in Brookside, NJ and I’m home at last after a long and arduous 4-week trip to China.  I had been teaching Chinese journalists, video journalism or new media as they refer to it in China.

I hadn’t fully realized how hard “teaching” really is until after these past four weeks.  To begin with, I was teaching a difficult subject – “how to produce and shoot short video stories”, to journalists at the “state’s” largest news and photo agency.  I had 4 days to teach 4 weeks worth of material –how to think and shoot in motion, edit video stories and upload them online. To make things even more difficult, everything I said had to be translated by my interpreter to my students, making the instruction take three times longer.

Each week my students amazed me by their eagerness to learn, despite coming to the class with the bare minimum in the way of  “tools”.  Some students didn’t even have cameras that could shoot video. Some had dated low res video cameras and no one had any audio gear at all.  When it came to the editing part of the program, their computers were under equipped to handle Adobe Premiere CS 5.5, which they had recently downloaded and installed on their PC’s. And yet, each class managed to produce a short story after less than four days!

This entire adventure was a lesson in collaboration. My students learned to collaborate.  Like most photojournalists they were used to working solo, so collaborating was a foreign concept to them.  But, collaboration is a common way of working when it comes to video and it was a necessity in China, because the students were lacking in gear.

I was part of a team of four teachers on this trip, so I too was working in a collaborative way.  That was equally tough, as I am used to working as an independent producer and accustomed to making my own decisions.  The other three photographers/teachers were also independent photographers, used to doing things their own way.  Egos collided from time to time within the group, yet we ultimately knew we needed to maintain the “group” in order to deal with the angst that came with doing this job. On top of that, our Chinese hosts wanted to control us.

I think we all learned a lot about each other in the process as this adventure played out.  I know I did.  But, I also learned a lot about myself. Perhaps, this was the purpose of this trip – to learn more about myself and grow from the experience.  Time will tell.

I can also say that I learned from my students.  There is always one student who feels that they already know everything, and usually tries to “stump the teacher”.  When this happens, I handle it with humility and thank the student for teaching me something that I did not know. I do not hide the fact that I don’t know everything.  And then I take the opportunity to relay to the rest of the class, that I never want to stop learning, no matter how old I get.  I tell them that in living this way, it has brought many rewards in my life and I encourage them to do the same.

I’m home now.  It’s a beautiful Sunday morning in Brookside, NJ and I’m reflecting on my last weeks, which remained an adventure until the end.  Chinese activist, Chen Guangcheng was on my flight from Beijing to Newark, NJ, seeking asylum in the US and making a new life for himself and his family.  As Chen adjusts to a totally new life in America, I’m happy to be home again with my freedom and liberties in tact.


Just Say Yes

This past weekend at ASMP’s SB3 conference in LA, a young woman came up to me and said that I had given her an “ah ha” moment.  I asked her why and she reminded me of what I had said at a panel discussion the evening before.  A photographer had just told a story of how he saw himself in very specific terms as to what type of photography he did – he saw himself as wearing one hat.  But a client came to him with a job that didn’t fit into his norm and so he turned it down.  Then the client came back a few days later in desperation and asked him to please reconsider and he did.  The job ultimately turned into a lucrative and regular gig and he learned a powerful lesson and that was to open his head up more to possibilities.

I was in the audience and the moderator asked if anyone had a response to this story.  I said that I was really into saying yes more at this point in my life and career and that when I did, the universe was opening up and really great things were happening.  I could go on to list a number of examples of some good things that have happened but the point here is that negative energy breeds negativity and positive energy breeds hope and change and positive results.

It’s pretty tough these days to stay positive, with the photographic industry in a state of flux and the lackluster economy but it’s not impossible.  Some things I have found that help me stay positive are simple to implement in your life and others take a bit more practice.

  • For starters, stay away from the groaners and moaners who spend their time complaining.  That negativity is contagious – so get as far away from those people as you can.
  • Find something you do like and cultivate that passion.  It will show.  You’ll start to talk about it and people will be attracted to you because of it.  That attitude is contagious as well but is an attitude that you want to “catch”.
  • Embrace learning.  Growth always has hope and hope will renew your spirit.
  • Learn to let go of the things that don’t work out.  God knows I have had to abandon many expectations but I try to move on and replace them with new ones.
  • You can’t control what others do to you but you can control how you react. Empower yourself with that thought.
  • Think good thoughts in those moments right before you drift off to sleep.  When you are sleeping your subconscious takes over and if you have positive thoughts running through your head just before you go into that subconscious state – that is what will be reinforced.
  • When you are feeling low and nothing seems to be working – find something that is working and be grateful for that.  And know there are certainly others in the world that are far less fortunate than you.
  • Always remember that life is the greatest gift of all.  Embrace it, cherish it and make every day count.

When you say yes, you at least have a chance at a positive outcome.  When you say no – you’ve closed the door.  My reward that weekend was knowing that I gave someone an “ah ha” moment. Who knows what may come out of that?  What a powerful thought.  What a powerful word.

There were all kinds of “ah ha” moments this past weekend in Los Angeles at the SB3 conference.  There’s another SB3 conference in Philadelphia coming up – February 25-27.  Come and join others who embrace the positive notion of growth, hope and change.

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