Very, Very Mad World: The Hopes and Fears of the First Week of School

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What I hope for most for my children when they begin each new school year is that they will have amazing teachers. I want them to have teachers who inspire them, help them to see themselves, nurture their gifts and passions and help them with their struggles. I want teachers who care about my children and value them.

As a principal in a school, I wanted the exact same thing for every child in our care. I would like to believe that each teacher enters the profession with the same hope — the hope that s/he will influence, inspire, support, care and truly see the children before him or her. I know I have used this bell hooks quote before but this for me has always encapsulated exactly what our role is as educators:

To educate as the practice of freedom is a way of teaching that anyone can learn. That learning process comes easiest to those of us who teach who also believe that there is an aspect of our vocation that is sacred; who believe that our work is not merely to share information but to share in the intellectual and spiritual growth of our students. To teach in a manner that respects and cares for the souls of our students is essential if we are to provide the necessary conditions where learning can most deeply and intimately begin.

~bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress, p 13.

I went to my Friday morning spin class this week and one of the songs was Mad World by Tears for Fears (though it was more of a dance version) and although I have heard those lyrics many times (beginning when I owned the Tears for Fears album when I was 14 years old) today the lyrics struck me differently.

The lyrics in the second verse speak to the experience of so many of our students in their classrooms.

Children waiting for the day they feel good
Happy birthday, happy birthday
Made to feel the way that every child should
Sit and listen, sit and listen
Went to school and I was very nervous
No one knew me, no one knew me
Hello teacher tell me what’s my lesson
Look right through me, look right through me

For my own children, I believe they still come to school with the hope that they will be truly seen by their teachers. The concept of truly seeing another person took my mind to the movie Avatar. In this movie, the expression to show complete connection with another, beyond love, was “I see you.

Can you imagine that? Can you imagine if we, as educators, truly saw the students before us? We didn’t define them by our assumptions but by who they truly are — their hopes, dreams, experiences, fears, insecurities — if we had complete and utter empathy for them and assumed positive intentions? If we looked at a child in our class who is known for behaviour or poor performance and had a different narrative? What if we asked our students, What can I do for you? How can I help you reach your goals? What is inside of you that you want to explore and discover? And if we had that conversation with the child’s family…What do you want to see for your child? What are her strengths? What are his struggles? What would help her learn something new? What would engage him in learning?

I always get different reports from my children. My daughter has had a much more positive experience in school than my son has. Max has had a few teachers over the years who picked away at his belief in himself and at times in schooling in general. Now, thankfully, he has also had some incredible teachers over the years and we can use that to encourage him to always enter each year with the hope that maybe this year he will have the gift of a wonderful teacher but it really is getting harder to convince him. The good news is, it doesn’t appear to affect him as it used to when he was younger, but the flip side of that coin is that the reason it doesn’t is because he doesn’t believe in teachers or schooling the way he once did.

After attending his classes this week he brought home a series of behaviour contracts that I had to co-sign with him to indicate compliance with the rules. I don’t even think he read them. It is not as if he has a choice about signing them or not. There were three rules that held more weight than the other two.

  • Be Polite
  • Be Quiet
  • Be Seated

Each of these rules had subsections to clarify what would happen if the signee did not comply and an explanation of the rule itself. So apparently talk is allowed but only when “talking is permitted”. The third explains that the children are not allowed to get up from their seats without permission from the teacher. Can you imagine this? A classroom where talk is limited and a grade eight classroom where students can’t move.

Failure to comply with these rules will result in public humiliation that also has a list of instructions beginning with the student’s name on the board with the possibility of having your name erased if you change your behaviour. If you don’t change your behaviour you will get a checkmark, or two, or three and with each checkmark you get a longer detention and eventually you will head to the principal’s office.

Now tell me, if you were a thirteen year old, would this be something that inspired you? Would it move you to learn? Would you feel engaged? Respected? Passionate about learning? Would you feel seen?

As educators we have to consider what our messages are to our students. How do these messages impact students when they enter in our classrooms and schools with hope and are met with negativity? What culture do we want to create in our classrooms and schools? We need to always be asking ourselves these questions and if our actions don’t align with that vision, then we need to change our actions.

Thinking about my Writing

Whenever I write, I vet my writing through some wonderful friends and of course my family. I want to be sure that my message is clear and that it resonates with the reader in the way I have intended. As an educator, sharing my beliefs publicly, can be daunting. And yet, I feel that sharing my beliefs is something that I am compelled to do.

It is no surprise to me that I began writing a blog after I left a school. In school I had so many opportunities to share my vision — through my memos to staff, newsletters to community, public events, professional learning, our school improvement plan…the list goes on. But as a centrally placed principal, what I have found, is that my job is to support the board’s vision and sometimes, my voice gets lost in it. Unable to be one who “goes silently into the night” I have found that my writing and art have been an outlet for my expression that I longed for after leaving a school.

In no way is what I write intended to target any one teacher but to cause the reader to consider what I have shared with the hope that we can all pause and reflect on the decisions we make each day that affect the children in our care. That’s it really. What I write, I write because I believe in the power of education — not because I doubt it. The question is, how do we use this incredible power?

A friend of mine, Lisa Neale, the principal of Sir William Osler Elementary School in the Hamilton Wentworth District School Board in Ontario, Canada is one of those educators who I feel blessed to have finally met face to face though I have learned from her for some time on Twitter. At the end of this week, the first week of school, she tweeted this image from her front foyer at her school:

When we imagine what is possible and take actions to make it so, we weild the incredible power of education to do exactly what we hope it will do: inspire, engage, create, and care.

Dr Debbie Donsky, Principal: Learning Design & Development & the Arts-YRDSB

If you would like to see the original post and many others that Debbie has written please visit Debbie’s blog here.

Première journée… ouff…

Re-bonjour!

Aujourd’hui, je viens tout juste de vivre une première rentrée dans une nouvelle école, au sein d’une nouvelle équipe et d’une nouvelle communauté! Quel plaisir de vivre ses moments avec une équipe dynamique et dévouée. Déjà, je commence à connaître les gens et voir comment on peut travailler ensemble. Déjà, je constate le beau travail d’équipe, l’autonomie et surtout l’engagement à la profession! Je suis très fier de notre première journée. Une journée remplie de nouvelles connaissances,  des rencontres avec des parents, une visite du surintendant, des élèves pour qui c’était difficile d’être à l’école. Je suis vite retourné à la réalité!!! J’oublie vite les vacances, le golf, la piscine, la balle, les visites!

Plusieurs changements s’imposent déjà mais les gens sont prêts. Je sens que les gens sont prêts et ils l’expriment. J’exprime ma vision par mes actions et mes décisions. Les gens me questionnent et attendent de voir comment je vais faire les choses. C’est la période de connaissance, la lune de miel!

Même si la rentrée signifie de faire beaucoup d’heures de travail. Je les fais car je suis très heureux d’être là. Pour moi c’est un nouveau défi qui commence…qui continue!!

Jean-François Boulanger

Directeur

École élémentaire catholique Des Voyageurs

Using Sketchnotes to Synthesize Learning: Technology Enabled Leadership and Learning Institute 2016

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I had the good fortune to attend and be part of the planning committee for the Technology Enabled Leadership and Learning Institute organized in partnerships by the Association des directions et directions adjointes des écoles franco-ontariennes, Catholic Principals’ Council | Ontario (CPCO) and the Ontario Principals’ Council in August this summer.

The conference was a two day learning opportunity for principals and vice-principals across Ontario where we had esteemed speakers: Isabelle Fontaine, Tony Wagner, Anita Simpson and Garfield Gini-Newman. In addition to the amazing keynote speakers, we also had the opportunity to attend numerous learning sessions led by principals and vice-principals throughout the province on topics ranging from using social media as a leader to building a culture of innovation in your school.

Sketchnoting

I made the decision to bring one of my notebooks and a collection of markers to do sketchnotes rather than take verbatim notes like I usually do. Inspired by a colleague, Royan Lee, I started using sketchnotes last spring to synthesize my learning during presentations. He had told me about the research that explains that retention and understanding is much deeper when you write your notes rather than a keyboard. There is further evidence that doodling also enhances memory and understanding when note-taking. There are many websites and books available to support you on the path if you are interested in trying sketchnotes. Braindoodles has great content to get you started.

The first place I tried doing sketchnotes was during the Principals’ Qualification Course I was teaching for the Ontario Principals’ Council. While my students would present their seminars or take the group through a collaborative inquiry, I found myself creating sketchnotes to document my learning and to summarize and synthesize the big ideas. Slowly, I started to see others in the class try it out as well. It resonated with people but also made them feel vulnerable. Some tried with notebooks and pens while others used Google draw to create their images. Assignments began coming in using alternative formats: mind maps, diagrams, infographics, animated videos, posters — all bursting with original ideas, challenging questions and unique presentations.

The Institute

As I listened to each of the keynotes and attended my sessions, colleagues I sat with began to take notice of my note-taking. Some friends were there to help me when I missed a point (Thanks Monica!) but what also happened was that I made new connections (Lisa Neale and Beth Woof) which has sparked new learning. Isn’t that point of it all? Bringing us all a little closer in order to better serve our communities?

Since the Institute, and my tweeting the sketchnotes that I did, others have contacted me, asking me how to get started and what tools I use. Some have asked if I would give them a lesson and show them how to get started. I think it is really exciting that this new medium has caused such a response. I think that Sunni Brown explains it best in her TEDTalk when she shows the power of doodling (what I call sketchnoting) on our learning:

Sunni Brown says, “There are four ways that learners intake information so that they can make decisions. They are visual, auditory, reading and writing and kinesthetic. Now in order for us to really chew on information and do something with it, we have to engage at least two of those modalities, or we have to engage one of those modalities coupled with an emotional experience. The incredible contribution of the doodle is that it engages all four learning modalities simultaneously with the possibility of an emotional experience. That is a pretty solid contribution for a behaviour equated with doing nothing.”
Sunni Brown says,
“There are four ways that learners intake information so that they can make decisions. They are visual, auditory, reading and writing and kinesthetic. Now in order for us to really chew on information and do something with it, we have to engage at least two of those modalities, or we have to engage one of those modalities coupled with an emotional experience. The incredible contribution of the doodle is that it engages all four learning modalities simultaneously with the possibility of an emotional experience. That is a pretty solid contribution for a behaviour equated with doing nothing.”

The Sketchnotes and the Keynotes/Learning Sessions

So the point of all of this? The point is that I can go back and look at my notes and remember how I was feeling in the moment…what resonated with me…what I learned and most importantly, how I will change my practice based on that learning.

I have embedded each of the sketchnotes below with a summary of their talks or learning sessions. I hope it is as helpful to you as it was to me but it is actually more impactful for you to do it on your own!

Isabelle Fontaine

Isabelle Page2was a dynamic speaker who got us out of our seats, moving and engaging in the emotion that was evoked by the music, videos and talk. She shared her motto: “My caring is my power!” and inspired everyone in the room through her courage to deliver the keynote in both French and English, although she proclaimed her feelings of insecurity to do so in English. She was spectacular!

Tony Wagner

Page3Tony’s talk was done through Skype and yet he still managed to engage the audience through his insights and challenges to our thinking on many topics: the place of marks and grading in learning, inspiring teachers and their place in our schools, nurturing a culture of risk, and the importance of play, passion and purpose! He reminds us that “what gets measured is what matters and what gets tested is what’s taught!”

Gianna Helling

Page4Gianna Helling’s session was focused on Developing a Growth Mindset to Build Parent & Student Engagement. Much of her talk focused on the learning environment she created at her school and how to share that with parents and community in meaningful and authentic ways. Her willingness to take risks, publish online and model this for her students, staff and community was inspiring to many.

Garfield Gini-Newman

Page5Garfield Gini-Newman’s keynote was jam packed with ideas for critical thinking in our schools and classrooms. I found his question about “revolution or renovation” interesting. With so much talk about disruption and transformation, Garfield’s suggestion of renovation is one that values that work that is happening in schools and tells teachers that we value their work, their voices, the risk taking they do in terms of instruction and their willingness to play in order to best meet the strengths, interests and needs of their students. He cautions us that when we talk about disruption, we may shut down the learning of our teachers telling them that a complete revolution is what we need rather than incremental changes.

Anita Simpson

Page6Anita Simpson’s keynote took us through an experience of “what’s possible”. She encourages to recognize that when we can’t say “yes” we need to consider “yet”. Her optimism and passion were clear throughout the talk. As an arts person, I was thrilled to hear her refer STEAM rather than STEM. The arts are often left out of conversations related to 21st century competencies despite the fact that we know that creativity is a vital component of the key competencies for our learners. Her messaging about perfection also hit home for me. Years ago, when I was first introduced to Brené Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection, I learned the importance of that message. I am sure as you look through my sketchnotes you will see the scribbles and imperfections throughout. It’s what happens when you are taking the risk to share your ideas and thinking publicly! Anita also highlighted the importance of four key components to her culture of learning and innovation: permission, inquiry, voice and choice.

Lou Paonessa

Page7Lou Paonessa’s learning session was focused on creating collaborative cultures. He worked with the attendees to create a culture of collaboration by having us work together to build a structure at our tables and then invited us to share our thinking about what a collaborative culture looks like, sounds like and feels like. He shared the collaboratively constructed vision of what qualities a graduate of his school should have before leaving the school. Finally, Lou shared what he considers to be skills and practices of a digital leader.

 

Richard Erdmann and Monica Wand

Page8Richard Erdmann and Monica Wand, both colleagues of mine in the York Region District School Board, led a learning session on how to Power up your meeting! Their session had many practical tips that were integrated into our learning experience in their session. They took us through each of the tools and had us engage in each of them, providing clear examples of how each might be used with further suggestions as well. It was wonderful to have a session that supported our leaders to take small steps towards modeling digital leadership in meaningful ways.

I hope the outline of sketchnoting and the institute were helpful!

Debbie Donsky – Principal- Learning Design & Development & the Arts-YRDSB

If you would like to see the original post and many others that Debbie has written please visit Debbie’s blog here

#AGreatTeacherIs…

I saw a post on Twitter talking about removing the word “teaching” and simply replacing it with “learning”. I have to admit, I cringed at the thought.  That being said, I do believe a great teacher starts from the view point of a learner, not the teacher.  This is something that is a needed shift in the traditional norm of education. Starting from the needs of the learner, not the teacher.

That being said, with all of the change that is being thrust upon us so quickly in the world, great teachers are needed more than ever.  I asked the following question on Twitter:

Here are my thoughts:

A Great Teacher Is…

 

Someone who is a relationships builder.

Someone who shapes minds.

Someone who empowers learners.

Someone who cares about their learners.

Someone who inspires.

Someone who is a leader AND a follower, and knows when to go into each role.

Someone who knows when to stand in front and then knows when to gets out of the way.

Someone who is wise and shares their wisdom with others.

Someone who listens.

Someone who is continuously learning and growing.

Someone who shares what was, but inspires dreams of what could be.

Someone who both embraces and creates change.

Someone who is a constant innovator.

Someone who impacts people long after their time with them.

A great teacher is often all of these things and so much more.

P.S. Nothing here about test scores…

As I said earlier, teachers are needed more now than ever.  Change will be the only constant that we will deal with in our world, and it is happening at a rate faster than ever.  Educators should not only empower the next generation to embrace change, but will develop those who create it, making the world a better place.

Share your blog posts or tweets to share what you think #AGreatTeacherIs.

Fifty years ago

 

3 Obvious Ways Twitter Promotes Literacy

What today's young people know is that knowing who you're writing for and why you're writing might be the most crucial factor of all.

It was an interesting day for me.  I spoke in the same district that I did my first keynote in by myself, and it was an amazing experience to reconnect and think about my journey over the last few years.  The person that asked me to speak over six years ago was still there, and we reminisced about our experiences over this time.

One of the conversations was going back to the idea of Twitter and does it actually promote literacy.  Thinking about, jumping onto Twitter years ago has led to many amazing opportunities for me, but I also think that it has led to tremendous growth in my own learning over time.  Since I first started connecting with others through the medium, I have written over 88,000 tweets, written over 1,100 blog posts, and one book.  I am a firm believer that if you want to become better at writing, the best way to do it is to write more.

Without connecting on Twitter, I truly believe that I would not have written in the other mediums.  I have started blogs before, but never made it past a few posts.  As for a book?  I doubt that was something I would have ever done without Twitter.  I am not the only one; so many educators that have connected through the medium have written and published their own books.  I have seen people criticize that so many educators are writing books now, and I think, “Wow! So many educators are writing books now!”  Educators sharing their wisdom with different audiences all over the world is a pretty powerful thing.

Yet how does Twitter actually promote literacy?  As I thought about it, here are three obvious ways that really stand out to me.

  1. You read more. Many educators start off with the idea that they are “lurkers” on Twitter.  They have access to learning and ideas that they might not get within their own schools or usual circles.  I am a big believer in “created serendipity“; the more connected you are, the more ideas seem to find you, not the other way around.  The amount of blog posts and articles that I have read in the last few years is seemingly more than I ever read in my time as a student.  It should be also noted that none of these articles were pushed upon me but it was an opportunity to read things that I was interested in, not articles that were pushed upon me by someone else.
  2. You write more. I googled, “How many characters are in your average book?”, and according to this site, it is approximately 500,000.  So let’s say that the average tweet has 100 characters, well then 5000 tweets would equate to the length of a book.  Now writing 500,000 characters of tweets versus writing in a book are not equally weighted, but simply put, you are writing more.  Getting on Twitter is not about writing a book though, but how often do students write this much on their own?

    Clive Thompson has an interesting take on this:

    “The first thing she found is that young people today write far more than any generation before them. That’s because so much socializing takes place online, and it almost always involves text. Of all the writing that the Stanford students did, a stunning 38 percent of it took place out of the classroom—life writing, as Lunsford calls it. Those Twitter updates and lists of 25 things about yourself add up.

    It’s almost hard to remember how big a paradigm shift this is. Before the Internet came along, most Americans never wrote anything, ever, that wasn’t a school assignment. Unless they got a job that required producing text (like in law, advertising, or media), they’d leave school and virtually never construct a paragraph again.

    But is this explosion of prose good, on a technical level? Yes. Lunsford’s team found that the students were remarkably adept at what rhetoricians call kairos—assessing their audience and adapting their tone and technique to best get their point across. The modern world of online writing, particularly in chat and on discussion threads, is conversational and public, which makes it closer to the Greek tradition of argument than the asynchronous letter and essay writing of 50 years ago.”

    Which leads us into the next point…

  3. You can find your voice.  If you go onto Twitter, there are many educators that are passionate about so many different things, both in and out of the realm of education.  If literacy is about how we communicate our ideas, we have to understand how we connect and share, and how an audience will interpret we are sharing.  This is crucial as it is not only about the message, but how it is delivered.  As I am a big believer in moving from engagement to empowerment, someone that feels empowered to share will most likely tend to share more.

I have long held the belief that we are slowly becoming illiterate if we do not keep up with these modern mediums, but my focus is not about how to keep up, but how to embrace the opportunities these mediums provide us.  If there is something that could get our students not only reading more, but writing more as well, wouldn’t we be crazy not to embrace it?

 

Are School Letter Grades a Form of Institutional Racism?

All y’all that know me have probably figured out that I find it darn near impossible to hide my disdain for North Carolina’s hard-right legislature. Since rising to power over the past five to seven years, they’ve spent the majority of their time together pushing through hateful legislation targeting marginalized populations.  The best part:  Pretty darn […]

Are School Letter Grades a Form of Institutional Racism?

All y’all that know me have probably figured out that I find it darn near impossible to hide my disdain for North Carolina’s hard-right legislature. Since rising to power over the past five to seven years, they’ve spent the majority of their time together pushing through hateful legislation targeting marginalized populations.  The best part:  Pretty darn […]

Screen time; Quality versus Quantity

Thinking through writing…

A question I always receive in workshops regarding the use of technology in the classroom is regarding the notion of “screen time”; what amount is too much (as you will never hear someone asking how much is sufficient!)?

Recently, “The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)”, changed their recommendations on the amount of screen time that it would suggest for a child under two (previously it was no screen time at all based on recommendations).  According to this article from parents.com, here are some of the AAP’s suggestions:

Treat media as you would any other environment in your child’s life. The same parenting rules apply in both real and virtual environments. Set limits; kids need and expect them. Know their friends, both online and off. Know what platforms they are using, where they are going and what they are doing.

Be a good role model. Teach and model kindness online. Limit your own media use. Attentive parenting requires face time away from screens.

Know the value of face-to-face communication. Very young children learn best through two-way communication. Engaging in “talk time” remains critical for language development. That can be face-to-face or via video chat with traveling parent or grandparent. It’s the back-and-forth conversation that improves language skills.

Families who play together, learn together. Family participation in media encourages social interactions and learning. Play a video game with your kids. Your insight helps children put their media experience into perspective. It’s also a good way to demonstrate good sportsmanship and gaming etiquette.

Do your homework on apps. More than 80,000 apps are labeled as educational, but little research validates their quality. Products pitched as “interactive” should require more than “pushing and swiping.” Look to organizations likeCommon Sense Media for reviews on age-appropriate apps, games and programs.

Set limits and encourage playtime. Unstructured playtime stimulates creativity. Make unplugged playtime a daily priority, especially for very young children. Tech use, like all other activities, should have reasonable limits.

It’s OK for your teen to be online. Online relationships are part of adolescent development. Social media can support teens as they find their own identity. Just be sure your teen is behaving appropriately in both the real and online worlds. Keep lines of communication open and let them know you’re there if they have questions or concerns.

Create tech-free zones. Keep family mealtimes tech-free. Recharge devices overnight outside your child’s bedroom. These actions encourage family time, healthier eating habits and better sleep.

Kids will be kids. Kids will make mistakes using media. Handle these mistakes with empathy and use them as teachable moments. But some indiscretions, such as sexting or posting self-harm images, should be a flag to look further into your child’s behaviors.

All very sensible and make sense.  The conversation is crucial.

So what does this mean for schools?  Is it really about the time students spend in front of screen, or the quality of things they do in front of a screen?  For example, there is a difference between a child watching Sesame Street, as opposed to a child watching Sesame Street and talking about it during the program with an adult. Still the same amount of time in front of a screen, but the quality has definitely increased in the latter example.

In many schools that are hoping to get access to technology when funds are lacking, what happens when a child is front of that screen?  Are the activities focusing on thinking and promoting some mindfulness, or are the student’s getting “lost” in the screen?  Consuming videos on YouTube can become mind-numbing in some ways, but creating a video to post on YouTube, can actually create a connection and reflection on content, that was not there when simply consuming.

A timer in front of screen is probably not realistic in schools, but being thoughtful of what you and your students do while having access to technology is crucial.

But that being said…I know that sometimes I spend a lot of time getting lost on YouTube and Vine; I need a “check out” and watch some cats and dogs videos.  I sometimes need to not feel productive.  I thought about this fact as I read this article from a Meredith Bland titled, “Screen Time is Just a Part of Life“. This part resonated:

I’m not worried about my children becoming slugs because that is not something I will allow as their parent. My kids participate in after-school activities. My husband and I are constantly trying to find ways for us to be outdoors. I encourage a love of reading and a tolerance for school work. They love to swim and participate in martial arts. And, in addition to all of that, they also love playing video games. There doesn’t have to be an emphasis on one and a denial of the other. I don’t believe the answer is to limit our children to a half an hour of TV a week, but rather to let them explore all of their interests and enjoy all parts of life.

There’s little in this world that is all good or all bad, and I want them to know that video games and television shows are an enjoyable part of life that they don’t need to shun and look down on in order to be accomplished, worthwhile human beings. It’s we adults who saddle ourselves with worry about using our time effectively—children don’t need to be effective; they just need to be kids. They get enough of adults structuring their time and making sure it is used to accomplish something. (And usually, that is more about the feelings of the adult than the child.) So if my kids want to balance out their accomplishments with a few hours of video games, that works for me. Go grow some dragons and defeat the enemy troops. The world will still be here for you to explore when you get back.

Quote from Meredith Bland

Quote from Meredith Bland

What I think is extremely crucial in this conversation is the conversation in the first place! That people are thinking about it in the context of teaching, learning, and parenting, and finding solutions that work for their family and treating their children as individuals, and not as part of a study, is something that I believe it be important.  What works for one, might not work for another.

Technology should personalize, not standardize.  Our conversations about it should not be standardized as well.

P.S,  This article was written while looking at a screen and the opportunity to reflect and connect my own ideas, and share these thoughts with others is an activity that I would see as extremely beneficial to my learning…just noticed the irony before I was about to press publish.

Screen time; Quality versus Quantity

Thinking through writing…

A question I always receive in workshops regarding the use of technology in the classroom is regarding the notion of “screen time”; what amount is too much (as you will never hear someone asking how much is sufficient!)?

Recently, “The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)”, changed their recommendations on the amount of screen time that it would suggest for a child under two (previously it was no screen time at all based on recommendations).  According to this article from parents.com, here are some of the AAP’s suggestions:

Treat media as you would any other environment in your child’s life. The same parenting rules apply in both real and virtual environments. Set limits; kids need and expect them. Know their friends, both online and off. Know what platforms they are using, where they are going and what they are doing.

Be a good role model. Teach and model kindness online. Limit your own media use. Attentive parenting requires face time away from screens.

Know the value of face-to-face communication. Very young children learn best through two-way communication. Engaging in “talk time” remains critical for language development. That can be face-to-face or via video chat with traveling parent or grandparent. It’s the back-and-forth conversation that improves language skills.

Families who play together, learn together. Family participation in media encourages social interactions and learning. Play a video game with your kids. Your insight helps children put their media experience into perspective. It’s also a good way to demonstrate good sportsmanship and gaming etiquette.

Do your homework on apps. More than 80,000 apps are labeled as educational, but little research validates their quality. Products pitched as “interactive” should require more than “pushing and swiping.” Look to organizations likeCommon Sense Media for reviews on age-appropriate apps, games and programs.

Set limits and encourage playtime. Unstructured playtime stimulates creativity. Make unplugged playtime a daily priority, especially for very young children. Tech use, like all other activities, should have reasonable limits.

It’s OK for your teen to be online. Online relationships are part of adolescent development. Social media can support teens as they find their own identity. Just be sure your teen is behaving appropriately in both the real and online worlds. Keep lines of communication open and let them know you’re there if they have questions or concerns.

Create tech-free zones. Keep family mealtimes tech-free. Recharge devices overnight outside your child’s bedroom. These actions encourage family time, healthier eating habits and better sleep.

Kids will be kids. Kids will make mistakes using media. Handle these mistakes with empathy and use them as teachable moments. But some indiscretions, such as sexting or posting self-harm images, should be a flag to look further into your child’s behaviors.

All very sensible and make sense.  The conversation is crucial.

So what does this mean for schools?  Is it really about the time students spend in front of screen, or the quality of things they do in front of a screen?  For example, there is a difference between a child watching Sesame Street, as opposed to a child watching Sesame Street and talking about it during the program with an adult. Still the same amount of time in front of a screen, but the quality has definitely increased in the latter example.

In many schools that are hoping to get access to technology when funds are lacking, what happens when a child is front of that screen?  Are the activities focusing on thinking and promoting some mindfulness, or are the student’s getting “lost” in the screen?  Consuming videos on YouTube can become mind-numbing in some ways, but creating a video to post on YouTube, can actually create a connection and reflection on content, that was not there when simply consuming.

A timer in front of screen is probably not realistic in schools, but being thoughtful of what you and your students do while having access to technology is crucial.

But that being said…I know that sometimes I spend a lot of time getting lost on YouTube and Vine; I need a “check out” and watch some cats and dogs videos.  I sometimes need to not feel productive.  I thought about this fact as I read this article from a Meredith Bland titled, “Screen Time is Just a Part of Life“. This part resonated:

I’m not worried about my children becoming slugs because that is not something I will allow as their parent. My kids participate in after-school activities. My husband and I are constantly trying to find ways for us to be outdoors. I encourage a love of reading and a tolerance for school work. They love to swim and participate in martial arts. And, in addition to all of that, they also love playing video games. There doesn’t have to be an emphasis on one and a denial of the other. I don’t believe the answer is to limit our children to a half an hour of TV a week, but rather to let them explore all of their interests and enjoy all parts of life.

There’s little in this world that is all good or all bad, and I want them to know that video games and television shows are an enjoyable part of life that they don’t need to shun and look down on in order to be accomplished, worthwhile human beings. It’s we adults who saddle ourselves with worry about using our time effectively—children don’t need to be effective; they just need to be kids. They get enough of adults structuring their time and making sure it is used to accomplish something. (And usually, that is more about the feelings of the adult than the child.) So if my kids want to balance out their accomplishments with a few hours of video games, that works for me. Go grow some dragons and defeat the enemy troops. The world will still be here for you to explore when you get back.

Quote from Meredith Bland

Quote from Meredith Bland

What I think is extremely crucial in this conversation is the conversation in the first place! That people are thinking about it in the context of teaching, learning, and parenting, and finding solutions that work for their family and treating their children as individuals, and not as part of a study, is something that I believe it be important.  What works for one, might not work for another.

Technology should personalize, not standardize.  Our conversations about it should not be standardized as well.

P.S,  This article was written while looking at a screen and the opportunity to reflect and connect my own ideas, and share these thoughts with others is an activity that I would see as extremely beneficial to my learning…just noticed the irony before I was about to press publish.

Watershed Moments of Learning

I was chatting with someone the other day and the idea of watershed moments came up. Specifically, we reflected on watershed moments in our own learning and careers. Watershed moments are those occasions where there the lightbulb came on or something profound was shared or understood. They happen in various contexts no doubt. As I thought about my own I was instantly curious about other people’s experiences.

A few years ago I shared what about believe were seminal moments in edtech history but this is a more personal look at important events that transform my thinking and practices. I thought I’d share my watershed moments in the following format. Professional Learning event or conference, speaker or presentation, book, tool, and person.

PD/Conference:
I go to a lot of conferences and can be pretty critical. It’s a challenge to try and make an event have the kind of impact organizations plan. I’ve been to a number of really good events but the one that stands out is Un’Plugd. It took place in the summer of 2011 and was a one of a kind event. 40 educators from across Canada gathered for a weekend in northern Ontario to spend time writing … Read the rest