Thoughts about ‘An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth’


I have to admit; I am a fan of Col. Chris Hadfield (the first Canadian commander of the International Space Station).  During his time as commander of the ISS he shared a lot of his experiences on social media.  Here is one of his many short clips on YouTube:

I just finished his book ‘An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth’.  I found his book to be very interesting and thought provoking.  It is not my intention to do a structured review of the book or to summarize it, instead I wanted to provide some of his ideas that made me reflect and how they can be applied to education.

Idea #1 – Dream and then make steps to follow your dream.  In education we must have a dream, or a vision, and then work towards it.  Our mission and vision statements must be guides to us, not empty phrases.

Idea #2 – Always be prepared for everything.  Simulations for everything.  Sweat the small stuff.  In supporting students, staff, and parents in education there is a specific need to be prepared.  Honestly, I do not sweat all the small details that Hadfield pays so close intention to.  An astronaut may have to, but I am more apt to follow the concept of Shepherd Leadership: observe everything, overlook a lot, challenge some, and encourage all.  I know it sounds simple, but I need to thoroughly plan to perform all my roles.  I need to be prepared for the lessons I teach, the meetings I attend and lead, the problems I attempt to solve, the ideas I hope to implement, and the school I lead.

Idea #3 – NASA stresses education, not achievement.  Focus on the journey and not the destination.  Too often we get caught up in the measurements of learning or achievement and neglect to see the bigger picture of learning.  Just as NASA wants astronauts to learn, their life depends on it; in schools we must make learning the primary task because the student’s life does depend on their ability to learn.

Idea #4 – Astronauts invites criticism, even looks for it, to learn from mistakes.  Students and adult do not see criticism as a positive experience, but an attack.  Failure is often the first step to learning.  Failure, and having someone point out this failure, is a learning experience.

Idea #5 – Invest in other people’s success for your success.  Success is not individual, there is a team behind any success.  Just as there are literally thousands of people behind a space journey, there are many people behind the success of student learning.

Idea #6 – Find out everything that will kill a pilot/astronaut.   To better plan for the safety of astronauts, they asked what will kill an astronaut?  Likewise, we need to ask what will kill learning?  Once this has been answered, we can better eliminate the barriers to learning.

Idea #7 – Focus on what you are doing right now.  With the big picture in our minds, we must focus on the immediate task in front of us.  I cannot teach a class while trying to solve a problem in another part of the school.  When helping out a crying student, I must be focused on him/her and not the person waiting to see me.

Idea #8 – There are three types of people: -1, 0, +1.  Negative one are people that take away from the situation, zero are people that are competent, and plus one are people that add to the situation.  Strive to be a zero.  The more of a zero you are the greater the possibility of becoming a plus one.   Often we want to be number one.  I never say to myself, “I want to be competent”.   When I do see a lot of competent people come together on a common task, I see problems being solved and tasks being accomplished.  Maybe being competent isn’t that bad.

Idea #9 – No astronaut acts solo.  Just like astronauts, education is a team sport.  Educators no longer act alone, but in collaboration.  This is probably the most powerful shift in education that I have witnessed.

Idea #10 – Don’t assume that you know everything and be ready for anything. When you are a rookie, aiming for zero is a good game plan.  No matter your role in education or your experience, we are all learners and we can learn from anyone.

Idea #11 – The last thing you do on a mission is just as important as the first thing you do.  For this idea my reflection is more specific, the summary of a lesson is very important. Often in my lessons, or the lessons I have observed, there has been a lot of thought and planning into the motivational set, procedure, and assessment.  Likewise, there should be purpose to the ending, the summary of the lesson.  Today, we learned….

Idea #12 – Life feels better if you have ten wins a day, rather than a win every ten years.  Every year there are numerous challenges in education, but if you wander the classrooms of a school you will see many successes every day.  Cherish and celebrate the successes and do not focus on the long term challenges.

Although I do not agree with everything Chris Hadfield writes, many of his ideas were provoking.  For me, these ideas were my walk away.  Hadfield’s book will help me focus, or refocus, on being prepared, the journey, collaboration, learning, and cherishing the successes.

Greg Kostiuk

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