Technology as Distraction

Like many before this post started with a tweet….

Today most inspirational messages, books and challenges to schools are to “prepare them for anything” or “future ready” or “solve big problems” or “change the world”, all good and valid messages. I’ve already shared my concerns over an overemphasis on innovation. I’m not saying these things aren’t important but I think what’s missing is recognizing that student health and well-being needs way more attention, emphasis on “way”. If we look historically at the purpose of school, it moved from a primary mission of knowledge distribution to job preparation. Health was an add-on at best and mental health wasn’t even on the radar until the last few years. Technology has fostered the conversation about a broader definition of jobs and the future.

But the title I use here isn’t even specifically about that kind of a distraction but rather as a distraction among educators and leaders vying for our attention.  Despite some who say schools haven’t changed in the last 100 years, they have. The conversations around everything from personal learning to connected learning to making school more relevant and empowering is by in large what every school is moving towards. These conversations have been driven by technology. While that may not be the focus, that’s the reason the conversations exist. More and more we’re hearing messages and reading books that speak about innovative ways to make learning more relevant and powerful. This is good. But I’m just not seeing enough conversations that address the fundamental question of “How do we help kids to live healthy, happy, productive lives?” 

The smartphone became a dominant technology in 2012. That means students graduating this year have had this device since they were in 5th grade. Moving forward this means all our students will never know a world without it. Without all the stats and stories about the power, potential and ills of this device, my concern is that students don’t have a choice anymore. As one small example, consider the average teen trying to sleep at night. Their choice is a world of information, entertainment and connection versus the back of their eyelids or time thinking quietly. That’s not a fair choice. That’s a choice many people struggle with including myself. Yes, we need parents to intervene, yes this is not specifically a school problem. But this one problem is repeated in various forms all day long. Schools are mostly worried about student focus and bullying. But this is way bigger.  I’m not sure we can ignore it. We should be asking questions and teaching things like:

  • “How to be alone?”

  • “What does it mean to be disconnected?”
  • “How can we better appreciate the simple joys of life?”
  • “How do we develop habits of mind and body when the dopamine effects of these devices are so compelling?”
  • “What does contentment look like?”

Those questions are ones adults should be reflecting on forever. They are hard questions. But if you get them right, chances are you’ll live a rich life. One huge advantage adults today have is we remember a time without smartphones. Not to be overly nostalgic, but there were some habits and experiences we had that need to be revived.

Until recently schools’ exclusive responsibility was academic only. Social, emotional and physical well-being fell into the “nice by not necessary” column. That is changing somewhat but we’re still far from where we need to be. Schools have not traditionally been asked to care for student’s health beyond a mandatory few classes. This isn’t as exciting as helping kids become entrepreneurs, creating an app, getting a scholarship or even just helping them graduate. Talking about the power and potential of the technology is exciting and very palatable. I should know, that I’ve done this and continue to get invited to share messages that promote technology as a powerful tool for learning. I’m not going to stop but I have and will continue to embed hard truths and realities about focusing on what really matters. I don’t want anyone to be distracted by technology. I’m not a mental health expert. My little book on joy is about all I know. And while it’s far from a manual, it at least speaks to the value of living a life of wonder, gratitude and joy. That’s a start. Mental health is complicated, and messy and doesn’t translate well to data or even a story.  But our current level of focus and attention on well-being is pretty abysmal.  I’ve not even mentioned physical health which I believe is far underserved. If it were me, I’d be fine to trade in all the time we spend on Math and use it for health. That’s a simple solution but the bigger concern is what are we going to do about this? Unless policy, curriculum (thankfully BC and Ontario have started this shift but it’s really early in its implementation) and intent change, we’ll do what we always do, acknowledge it’s an issue and keep doing what we’re doing.

Still Amusing Ourselves To Death

As much as I love the ability to connect with current practitioners and other smart folks around innovative and interesting ideas in education, we have a wealth of knowledge that lives in the recent and more distant past that is often overlooked. The bombardment of “new” through current media offerings tends to overshadow the truths that have been shared, considered and proven over decades and centuries.

When it comes to understanding media and communications, there are no better thinkers out there than Neil Postman and Marshall McLuhan. If you’re reading this and have never heard of these men, I would highly encourage you to seek out their writings.

I just finished re-reading Amusing Ourselves to Death, Postman’s critique of the impact of television on our world.

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one.

I suppose some might not be able to see the connection between television and the Internet and while there certainly are differences, I found the parallels to be glaring. Without doing a full review here, I simply wanted to focus on one of his major points. He looks specifically at the way TV news is primarily entertainment and journalism is secondary at best.

No matter where you look today, the pace at which news is delivered, the emphasis on sensationalism and the sheer numbers of outlets, has turned important information and conversations into banal and destructive natterings. Postman might have suggested the same thing with television but the Internet, like it is want to do, has amplified this.

Postman didn’t have a problem with TV being a platform for entertainment. He thought it was well suited to make people laugh and be amused. His argument was that it was not a format designed for serious topics that required depth and time.  Although I didn’t have the context I made a similar argument about social media. That post is almost 10 years old. It’s only magnified in truth today. The places (Twitter mostly) I valued as a place to get to know people has turned into a dumping ground for soundbites and flawed opinions. In general, I don’t think people are smarter or more informed and part of the current polarization and divisions in our world are a direct result of social media. Its benefits for me lie in knowing more folks and finding other spaces to do meaningful work.

As someone who embraced social media early on, I was able to see what it could do to benefit our world. I wasn’t oblivious to the downsides but encouraged its use as a way to connect to smart people. Blogging was a way to provide a voice to anyone with an internet connection. I still see it as a potential space for deeper thought, however, long-form blogging, in particular, is not all that popular. If I was smart enough, I might even be able to determine how many folks clicked on this link and how many have made it this far. <insert joke/fact about how my writing isn’t engaging enough> Today I’m much less enthusiastic about the potential of these spaces and Postman’s writing has unfortunately fostered less hope. We are much more interested in amusement than truth. This is not a conscious decision as Postman argues but rather as a result of the nature of these mediums.

“Our politics, religion, news, athletics, education and commerce have been transformed into congenial adjuncts of show business, largely without protest or even much popular notice. The result is that we are a people on the verge of amusing ourselves to death.”  Neil PostmanAmusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business

Trying to be a truly informed citizen today is almost impossible. As an educator, this is where we have an enormous challenge. My work and presentations have me dabbling at this and yet being frustrated by the cultural tsunami of trite, bias and untruths bites that flood our feeds.

“Television is altering the meaning of ‘being informed’ by creating a species of information that might properly be called disinformation. Disinformation does not mean false information. It means misleading information – misplaced, irrelevant, fragmented or superficial information – information that creates the illusion of knowing something, but which in fact leads one away from knowing.”  Neil PostmanAmusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business

Swap “Television” for “Social Media” and I think it’s still true.

At this point I have a couple of personal responses that I’m trying to deploy:

  • Talk less. I’m not likely to engage in any type of political discussion or even important educational conversations on social media.
  • Question everything. No matter what perspective or bias, assume it’s likely false. Hold your opinions until you’ve taken the time to investigate.
  • Utilize the right spaces for the right purposes. Social media, in my view, has always been best to socialize. This space has always been best to think out loud. Face to face extended times with the right people can be fruitful places for deeper discussions.

I’d encourage you to read something with some historical context because as much as we see the current age as so new, smart folks like Postman saw this coming a long time ago.

“To be unaware that a technology comes equipped with a program for social change, to maintain that technology is neutral, to make the assumption that technology is always a friend to culture is, at this late hour, stupidity plain and simple.”  Neil PostmanAmusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business

 

 

When Will We Get Serious about Teacher Stress?

I’m privileged to work with some of the very best educators around the world. I’m continually inspired and in awe of their expertise, energy and commitment to their craft. They are true artists.  I marvel at these artists and the different ways they approach teaching and learning.

Of late, I’ve become acutely aware of one sad commonality among these very good people. Teachers are stressed. One could argue teachers have always been stressed but I’m sensing something new and disturbing. Today’s headline confirms some of my hunches. I’m sure some will read this article and suggest teachers are weak or lazy or manipulative. However, it’s the increase that needs to be noted. Perhaps teachers are taking better care of themselves and thus are taking time to recover rather than bringing their sickness back to the classroom. If that’s the case I see a problem in a job that requires employees to take that much time off.

In Ontario, mental health and well-being is now a mandated goal. While I applaud that move, several educators questioned the strategies suggested that are designed to deal with the stress the system itself created. “Try these mindfulness activities to deal with the crappy things we do to you”

Teacher mental health and well-being is a crisis to cope with stress or anxiety caused by work. As much as teachers are embracing innovation and new opportunities, these changes are happening as paperwork and demands are increasing as well.  Personnel challenges have always been part of any organization and education is no different. I would argue this might even be decreasing as many districts are recognizing the value of relationships both in the classroom and for the adults as well. If you need something to help combat stress, you can buy Delta-8 gummies for sale here. Visit an online D8 Super Store to explore various thc products. If you’re specifically looking for grandaddy purple strain vape cartridges, you may order them online at Grizzly Herb’s website.

I’ll suggest two areas that are perhaps the biggest contributor to teacher stress. First is increased bureaucracy. We’ve overcomplicated education in so many ways and have become obsessed with data collection. This falls directly on the backs of teachers and principals who would love to devote more time to teaching and learning and less time to data-driven initiatives. I can’t tell you how many educators tell me “If I could just teach…” Every new initiative inevitably comes with additional work. Embedded into this, is the curse of accountability. Along with the monumental task of designing innovative, differentiated learning environments for students, there continues an undercurrent of distrust manifested by a never ending paper trail. While many districts are working to alleviate the perception of this bureaucracy, the workload seems pretty universal.

The second contributor is the number of students with extreme behaviour and learning disabilities and the lack of support for teachers. Inclusion is a proud label districts adopt. They take a stance of being advocates for all children and suggest the way to best support every student is to have them spend as much time in classrooms as possible. While this appears to be the compassionate response, in many cases it’s the opposite.

Assuming every child should have the same experience doesn’t speak to differentiation at all. What currently passes for “inclusion” in many cases is a politically driven agenda that is less expensive and is positioned as the more humane and moral approach. Suggesting a student may not belong in a classroom makes you seem selfish and uncaring.

“There is something fundamentally wrong with a system that takes the moral high ground in terms of their implementation of extreme full-inclusion when it’s failing students, staff, and their families at an alarming rate.”

Read more from this mother of an autistic child.

Teachers should expect to work with and support a variety of children and their diverse needs. However, there are children whose extreme challenges and requirements mean that putting them into a regular classroom with 25+ other students is cruel and unfair to the child, the other students and the teacher. There’s no question we have more and more of these students.

This video shows schools making poor decision on how to deal with students with extreme behaviours.

While this is something most progressive educators would view with horror, I’m going to assume that the educators involved here are not evil but have become desperate. The reality is these students are in need of intervention. The intervention plans most schools have in place may be useful for many students but they don’t help all students and they students they aren’t able to help can cause the most damage to themselves and others.

I realize this is a pretty delicate and political topic. I’m not sure I have a solution but certainly, we need better options than assuming the best place for every child is a typical classroom with an educational assistant or aid. For those looking to explore alternative career paths and make a positive impact in the fitness industry, consider checking out the diverse fitness certifications available at https://www.americansportandfitness.com/collections/fitness-certifications.

I believe all children can learn. And all means all. I don’t believe all children can learn in all conditions. I don’t believe all teachers can teach all kids. To assume so is both ignorant and arrogant. Creating those conditions, whatever they are, is the job of public education. To do it properly is not cheap. Right now, lack of funding has created increased challenges for schools and in some cases, districts are placing undue and this generates workplace stress on teachers.They leave feeling drained and guilty of not doing their job. It’s been great to see schools acknowledge that relationships are the key to great learning environments. Yet investing in relationships is much more challenging and taxing than investing in content. Teachers are embracing this shift but it’s come at a cost. The long-term impact of ignoring this issue is going to come at a great cost to districts, schools, teachers and ultimately students.

I’d love some comments on this. First, please share any ways in which your school, district is making intentional efforts to combat teacher stress and if indeed it’s working. Secondly, maybe my two examples aren’t your experience. Perhaps you think they are misplaced or maybe you see something else as being a contributor to teacher stress. Finally, if you feel your job has become less stressful over the years, I would be thrilled to hear your story and learn from you. My guess is you’re a rare bird.

My Back to School Speech

It’s interesting watching the various ways schools and districts kick off the new year. Some begin in a very low key fashion with staff meetings and prep time. Others start with professional development for large or small groups and some bring together the entire district in a pep rally atmosphere. I’m not sure there’s a right way or a wrong way but in most cases, leadership tries to convey a common, if not inspiration message to set the tone for the upcoming school year.

So I got to thinking, what message would I like to hear from leadership?

So I thought I’d write it out.

Good morning everyone,

I don’t want to keep you long because I know you have a great many things to do in preparation for the upcoming school year but I did want to be sure to share what’s on my mind. 

I hope you had a relaxing, restful summer because you deserve it. The more time I spend in education, the more  I realize how difficult the job has become. Teaching and caring for children with such diverse needs is taxing. The opportunity to refuel is a key component to doing great work in schools. 

Teaching is one of those rare professions where you get a clean slate every year. That always brings hope and possibility. You all expect great things from your students and we, in turn, expect great things from you otherwise we wouldn’t have hired you. Our job at the leadership level is to enable you to empower students. We want you to have the tools and resources you need to do great things. While we may not be able to provide everything you’d like, we feel responsible for doing all we can to support you. We trust that you’ll take ownership of your own learning in the same way you want your students to own theirs. As lead learners, we need you to model that with your students and just as you want them to ask for help, we want you to do the same. 

Public education can be a complicated thing. States/Provinces set certain criteria as well as local boards/districts/divisions. Then schools add their expectations and finally the classroom teacher gets a say as well. As much as we’d like all these to align perfectly, we recognize that sometimes they don’t. At the end of the day what is most important is what happens in the classroom and with students. Your voice and experience and your students’ voices and experiences are indeed most important and we want to honor that. Your learning goals and your students learning goals have as much value as any standard or outcome laid out by the powers that be. We want you and your students to pursue those goals. Those goals should be shared with colleagues and classmates who can support and encourage other. For too long your passions and your students passions have been often ignored and learning has been something that was done to students and done to you. That has to stop. Learning is personal and schools should help everyone discover their passions and build on their strengths. We need to stop spending so much time listening to the “experts” and instead recognize and listen to the experts that spend time in classrooms every single day. You indeed are those experts. 

I don’t need to remind you how important your job is. Many of these kinds of speeches condescend to teachers telling them things they already know. You’re bright, caring, capable folks. I’m sorry if we’ve not given you the trust and respect to do your job. This is what we as leaders need to do better. It’s the goal I’ve set for myself and you can hold me accountable.  

We know not every day will be awesome. We work with kids. They are much like us only at the beginning of their learning journey. It’s our wisdom and care that they need. If you don’t leave school the majority of the days with a smile on your face because you know you did good work, be sure you tell someone. Talk to your principal or talk to any of those supporting you, including me. If you’re not happy, it’s not likely your students will be either and that’s no way to spend 6 hours a day. My dream this year is that you and your students think of school as place  where communities of learners gather do interesting work that matters. I’m excited to hear your stories so please share them. In turn, I’m going to share your stories with anyone and everyone who will listen. 

So go help kids to learn, smile and belong. Ask hard and interesting questions. Try new things. Share what you’re learning. Ask for help. We’ll work at providing the infrastructure and human capacity to make that happen. Defend your students and empower them as we’ll do the same for you. It’s time for some new stories of great learning. It begins now. Go be awesome.

With permission, Willis ISD from Texas turned my speech into a video (beginning at 2:09) for the opening day.

Stop Following Your Passions…the Celebration of Work

As a parent, I’ve struggled with the advice I give to my children. Growing up I was never told to “follow my passions.” I don’t remember any specific advice my parents gave me but I think it was pretty much like most people my age: Get a good education, get a good job, retire as soon as you can. My wife and I have made the transition as most my age who became parents to encourage our kids to follow their passions. Hopefully we’ve provided an environment that allows them to explore and experience many different things that help them discover what those passions might be. If you asked my kids, I’m not sure, even though 3 of them are adults, that they really know what their passions are. I’m not sure that’s a bad thing or particularly unusual. 

I’ve been fortunate that I’ve fallen into my passion over the past several years and even more fortunate to be able to make a living off of that. I think that’s a message we need to stop placing on our kids and students. Not only is it a lot of pressure but also suggests that finding work that supports your family that may not be your passion, means your life is lacking. The shift I’ve made of late in terms of talking to my own kids is not to suggest they don’t pursue their passions but to not necessarily tie their passions to their vocation. It’s great if you’re able to go to work at something you really love but that doesn’t have to be the case. My daughter is an artist but has decided that she doesn’t want to make a living as one. For many reasons, including the idea that mixing work with your passion often takes the joy out of it, she’s chosen to teach. She seems to be enjoying that but certainly views it much more as work than a passion. I think that’s okay. 

Sidebar: Those of you who are educators reading this are likely pretty passionate about teaching. Perhaps you’d define it as your true passion/calling. I’m not convinced and don’t believe it’s necessary all teachers fall into this category. It would be nice to assume but the reality of it is that many teachers do it because it’s a job and that doesn’t mean they suck or are bad teachers. And if we want more teachers to be passionate about their jobs, the biggest thing we need to do is change the profession. 

I have many friends who have regular “jobs” like accountants, railroaders, engineers, and even those who occasionally try their luck with things like keputusan 4D. If won the lottery tomorrow, they would quit those jobs. That’s not sad, that’s the reality. Part of the reason you might feel sad is because of the way we’ve demeaned work as something to be avoided. In a culture devoted to “me” and “self-esteem” it seems incongruent to spend 8 hours a day doing something you don’t really love. Many think you should only do work you really love. How selfish is that? People work for many reasons and working to support a family, survive, make a contribution to your world is not demeaning. The more we as educators and parents tell kids how important it is to find their passion and tie that to their vocation the more we are telling the bus driver, the janitor, the waitress and the gas station clerk that they are failures. The problem with our schools remains that they are largely designed to train students for university, to get “good” jobs. In navigating these complexities, Addressing discrimination in the workplace is essential to ensure that all individuals, regardless of their occupation, are treated with fairness, dignity, and respect.

A few years ago I attended a career education conference and heard Kristin Cummings, a career counsellor says, “Stop asking kids what they want to be and start asking them, how do you want to live?” That’s a great question and takes the emphasis away from vocation as they way to pursue passion and lifestyle. This blog post was inspired by a link sent to me by Dr Joan McGettigan from Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs who also works for Discovery. There were a few things in his talk I might question but I do like the notion of celebrating work as opposed to passions. Work, hard work, dirty work needs to be elevated. Passion and work aren’t necessarily the same things. Watch the talk.