Teach Like a Barista…Personalization Matters

Co-authored by Robert Harris and Thomas Martellone

While the following blog entry is not an endorsement of Starbucks over any of its competitors, or is it a criticism of the current state of educational practice, Starbuck’s business model contains some simple suggestions for school improvement.

Every morning, multitudes of educators across America flock to their local Starbucks and frequently wait in  long lines to pick up their favorite specialty coffee drink before the start of their school day. As a note, our individual coffee preferences just happen to be a grande Americano or a grande non-fat cappuccino respectively. 

Shared via http://more-sky.com/WDF-107869.html
Shared via http://more-sky.com/WDF-107869.html

While waiting, it’s impressive to see how adept the baristas are at customizing each person’s drink no matter how complicated the order may be. From a consumer’s perspective, customers look forward to drinking top quality coffee that is worth the wait.  They enjoy an environment that is welcoming with jazz or classical music playing in the background. They know that if they’re hungry or need coffee supplies, there are always additional items for purchase, and finally, they can sit comfortably at a table and take advantage of Starbuck’s free WiFi.

However, from our perspective as educational leaders, there are other valuable lessons we believe classroom educators can take away from the Starbuck’s experience.  In the same way that Starbucks trains its baristas to personalize each customer’s coffee drinking experience, educators should be trained to personalize the learning experience for each and every student in their classrooms. Educators should be learning about their students’ individual needs through daily interactions with them; and based on these needs, should be tailoring and delivering personalized instruction for them.  Collectively, educators spend countless hours interacting with students.  Think about the power of knowing what each student’s needs are, and as a result, personalizing instruction to help them succeed – academically, socially, and emotionally.

In the same way Starbucks hopes to gain customer loyalty by offering a high quality, personalized experience; educators should create high quality, engaging, and personalized instruction so that students look forward to coming to school every day. An engaging classroom  should have a ‘buzz’ in the air very similar to the atmosphere in a Starbucks. Students, like Starbucks customers, should be discussing the books they are reading, sharing their ideas and  theories, and refining their understandings about the world they live in by posing and answering critical questions.  

Shared via https://elearningindustry.com
Shared via https://elearningindustry.com

In the same way that Starbucks offers an array of additional items for sale, educators should provide students with curriculum extensions to support and personalize their learning experience.  Finally, where Starbucks provides its customers with free access to the Internet, schools should be providing students with easily accessible, digitally rich classroom environments. While the most important factor in advancing student growth is still effective teaching; in the 21st century classroom, effective teaching also requires using the right digital tools to personalize instruction.

The next time you’re waiting in a long line at Starbucks, think about teaching like a barista.  Is your student a “grande Americano” or a “non-fat grande cappuccino” drinker, and how will you personalize their learning experience?

Robert Harris is the current Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources in the Lexington Public Schools.  Thomas Martellone is the current principal of Fiske Elementary School in Lexington.

 

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Student Voice, Social Media & Modeling: How My School is Making it Happen For Kids!

I remember my first foray into social media as a young adult.  I think it was AOL, which would be a fairly primitive social media in this day and age.  It’s amazing to think of how much social media has changed, especially with the advent of portable devices.  Over the course of my lifetime thus far, I’ve seen communication go beyond anything I would have ever expected.  I can only imagine what our students will experience during their lifetime. As a result of these reflections, and my current work in education, I’ve been thinking a lot about the intersection of social media and students.

Image result for social media
Shared via https://www.rivaliq.com

I’ve always been a student focused educator, making decisions for students first and foremost, but over the last several years, I’ve really wanted to make sure that our students were engaged and that they have a voice in our school.  I think that this has particularly been important to me because of the period of educational change we’ve been living in.  Large scale focuses on accountability, public showcasing of school rankings, pressure on teachers to “perform”. It has just seemed like a great time to continue to place an emphasis on students and their learning, not on all of the other distractions we’ve been faced with in our profession. In particular, I wanted to be sure that students in our school were sharing out the positive things that take place for them every single day.  How else would a student have a voice, and where else could they share out what they are doing where it could potentially be seen by the world?  Of course, Twitter immediately came to mind!

So, about a year ago, I decided to try something which has been somewhat slow to catch on, but no worries; I’m persistent and I’m reflective.  I think constantly about how I can support my school, my students and my staff. So when I thought of creating a “Student Twitter Center”, I wasn’t fully sure of how it would work exactly, but nonetheless, I was willing to give it a try.  

The first thing I did was create the center outside of our school’s cafeteria, complete with some simple directions, some “tweet sheets” and a “tweet box”.  I then made sure to share the idea with staff, and then lastly, we shared it at one of our all school assemblies, modeling for students and showing them just how a tweet was created, how it was tweeted, and what Twitter was all about.  I’m fortunate in the fact that my staff places a lot of trust in me, and I’m enthusiastic enough that students are interested, or so I think, in what I share with them.

In any case, our Twitter center had a relatively slow start, receiving very few tweets.  I have to admit, I did find it a bit disappointing for several reasons.  First and foremost, I was a bit disappointed in the fact that students were not sharing the great things that they are doing every single day.  Seriously, we have great things happening in our school!  Secondly, I was disappointed because I wanted to capitalize on modeling for them how social media is used in a positive way.  There is no large scale digital citizenship lesson or framework attached to the Student Twitter Center, although I am not afraid to capitalize on a teachable moment with it, that is not the focus.  Appropriate use is woven in and modeled, with teachers being able to share out our school Twitter account and tweets with students.  Lastly, I’ve wanted to harness the power of social media for the benefit of my school.  I recently read, and have echoed, “If you aren’t telling your school’s story, who is?”.  Social media is one of the very best platforms that you can use to publicly share out the work of your school.  I dare say that any school administrators would be somewhat foolish to not capitalize on some form of social media to broadcast and share their school events, student learning, and all the positive things that take place in public education every day.

With that all in mind, I’ve come back again this fall with our Student Twitter Center, trying to think creatively on how we can give students voice, model appropriate use of social media, and publicize the great things happening in our school.

A colleague (Edward Cosentino, @PrincipalECos) shared with me this summer at the annual NAESP conference that he knows not all parents are on Twitter, so what he does is use Storify to capture tweets on Twitter and then emails that out to parents.  This helps keep them all informed, even if they don’t use that social media platform. You can check it out at the link below!

https://storify.com/TomMartellone/fiske-school-twitter-news-october-2016

Thanks to Ed, some creative thinking, and along with some slight incentivizing, we’ve got some movement going with our Twitter center. I made another attempt to share out with students at our all school assembly this past month how a tweet is made and what Twitter can do.  The students (482 of them) all got to see the live tweet get made and sent out to the world.  I then told them that we would pick one tweet per day, and read that on our morning announcements, along with picking one per month, which would result in the recipient being able to have lunch with me.  We provided Tweet Sheets to teachers and then waited!  

I’ve been amazed….we’ve gotten close to 100 tweets from students ranging from first to fifth grade over the past week.  It is so great to have them share what they are learning and doing in class.  It is also great to be able to model appropriate use of social media with them and show the world what we’re doing at Fiske School.  We share out their tweets with their initials and their grade.  When we publish the activity through Storify, parents can see their student’s tweets if they aren’t on Twitter. For those that follow our school Twitter feed (@FiskeSchool), they can view them live!

I know social media will continue to change for our students, and who knows what it will look like in the future.  There could be vast changes in the next year for all I know.  But, here is what I am sure of…Image result for social media future

Students can always learn, whether through social media or personal interactions, how to treat others and be good citizens.  We are always role models for students, and we owe it to those that we lead and work with to be exemplars of best practice and to have a mindset of putting kids first. Finally, we owe it to our profession and to our school communities to showcase the amazing work educators do every single day!  We can all spread the positives that take place!

Remember, if you aren’t telling your school’s story, someone else is!

Love and Loss in an Elementary School – Why Relationships Matter.

Peggy Marston: Veteran teacher, special educator, long time district employee, friend, free spirit.  Marie Twitchell: Veteran teacher, mother, special educator, supporter, friend, and believer.
Gail St. Germain: Office aid, mother, grandmother, multi-tasker, caregiver, friend.

Shared via Linkedin
Shared via Linkedin

This week, I learned that a former staff member of mine, Gail St. Germain, passed away unexpectedly.  Gail was a constant in the Greene Central School office for many, many years.  She was known by the entire school community and she was a remarkable person.  There wasn’t a tear she couldn’t dry when scraped knees and hurt feelings made their way to the office, there wasn’t a job too big or too small that Gail couldn’t do, willingly I might add, and there wasn’t a day that she didn’t have a joke, or story to tell, or that she would take a minute to listen to a colleague, or a principal like me, that needed a good sounding board.  If there was s student in need, Gail would find them.  Boots, hats, mittens, you name it.  Large copying job, or supplies needed for a project, Gail was the go to person.  Somehow, at one point, she got the nickname “Hank”, which I probably laughed with her about a million times.  Gail was always there, for everyone, every minute of her day.

Peggy Marston was doubtful about my work initially.  She told me so in my office one day after I first started. It was hard for her to believe that we could hold a thoughtful IEP meeting that would only last an hour.  Peggy spent countless hours working to support special education students at Greene Central School, putting endless time into scouring over reports, calling parents, explaining test results, for the benefit of children.  Peggy felt that it was her job to not inadvertently label a child that wasn’t disabled, and she also felt that it was her job to support students and parents through the IEP process and beyond. Peggy also loved laughter. She was the loudest person in the room, and quite often, the funnest. This was evidenced through my interactions with her in building construction meetings, staff meetings, and when she came to my office after I worked in the school for a period of time and let me know I had proved her wrong, and that she liked how things were working out at the school.  She was a devoted colleague and often times, would provide much needed listening for friends and coworkers. It was a shock to me and her colleagues, getting a call at school letting us know that Peggy had passed away unexpectedly in her sleep.  A 26 year teacher, friend, and presence gone.

And then there was Marie Twitchell.  Marie worked with me when I got my first administrative job just outside of Augusta, Maine.  She worked with special education students, and many I may add, that sometimes not only had learning difficulties, but challenges in regulating behaviors as well.  Marie treated those students with the utmost dignity, especially after extremely disruptive and dangerous behaviors.  She held them in high regard, working to get them the help that they needed.  Afterwards, sharing a sigh of relief with me in my office, sometimes brainstorming another way to support, or just getting some much needed release after a tense situation.  Marie was the type of person that would send you a funny post card while on a trip, or would get you a quirky Christmas ornament for your tree.  I remember laughing out loud when she sent me a funny post card from her trip to San Francisco and had a clever closing in the note.  Marie’s colleagues appreciated her, as she was active in the school community, professionally, and personally.

When I left my job in Hall Dale, I did not realize the impact that my leadership had on Marie.  We worked together for four years, and my departure from the district, along with other changes, left her with a diminished feeling about her work.  After the passing of Peggy Marston, I called Marie to talk and I let her know that I had an opening, and shared the circumstances around the job.  Marie wanted to come back and work for me, and I was excited to have her join me again, supporting students and creating a school culture where students were valued, as much as the joy of teaching and helping others.

It wasn’t long after Marie joined me for a second time, that she began to not feel well, and after a series of medical appointments, doctor visits, and absences, Marie received bad news.  She had lung cancer, and the disease had progressed in such a way that it was not able to be treated and save her.  In late October of 2005, I sat down and wrote a letter to Marie, sharing with her my thoughts about our working relationship, and the friendship we had developed.  I had planned a visit to her home, and my intent was to give her the letter, asking her to wait and open it after I left.  I knew going into that visit that I could not be there when she read my letter.

Marie Twitchell: Colleague, Friend, Educator
Marie Twitchell: Colleague, Friend, Educator

In November of 2005, Marie Twitchell passed away, leaving behind a family, and history of helping students and colleagues.  Marie read my letter after I left from my visit that fall day, I got a call from her family asking that I be a pall bearer at her funeral and if I would be willing to read the letter during a gathering after the funeral.  I was touched, and realized that I had not known the impact I had on Marie, her work, and the lives of children.

I looked for that letter this morning and found it on my computer.  I’m sharing a link to the letter with you in this blog post. Although deeply personal, it only begins to underscore what I believe to be the importance of relationships in education and in life.  I had an impact on someone so great, that they wanted to work for me, even in the very last stages of their life.  You can read the letter HERE.

Because of these relationships, and the impact they had on me and students, there isn’t a moment during any given day, that I do not underscore the importance of relationships by being a good colleague, listening, and most importantly, rallying around the needs of students, our common cause.

Peggy, Marie and Gail you will continue to serve as inspiration to me. You were generous with your time, your kindness, and dedication to students and colleagues and you helped me, and still help me realize why relationships matter most.

Give More than What is Expected

shared via http://teganmg.com/wp/category/the-real-me/
shared via http://teganmg.com/wp/category/the-real-me/

For the past week and a half, I’ve thought a lot about my last school year.  It seems odd that students have been finished for about a week and a half, yet, I almost feel as though we just started.  In the short time I’ve been done, I have attended ISTE 2016, been home for a few days, and now I am getting ready for NAESP 2016.  I laughed this morning, while getting things ready for my upcoming trip, as I wondered why I had pushed myself into doing so much in such a short period of time, when I could have taken the time to just be at home, get some projects done, and relax after a busy school year.  

I know why I didn’t…and it isn’t martyrdom or poor “work-life balance”. In my early adulthood, I spent some time floundering with what I would do professionally, and after some marginal work experiences, I decided to enter the education profession.  For the past 23 years, I’ve had the great pleasure of working in a profession that I absolutely love, feeling like I have made a difference in the life of children every day I have gone to work.  My previous work experiences not only shaped my thoughts about how important it is to love what you do for work, but they also informed me about the importance of work being meaningful, in the greater sense of the word.

I’m also “wired” to love working.  For me personally, working a lot is actually the balance I need.  I’ve never been one to sit still for long, so even when I’ve not been working, I’ve had multiple projects going on at home, including gardening, painting projects, genealogy research, etc.  There has never been a lot of “down time” for me, however, I am not the type of person that needs that.  Keep in mind, I am not criticizing people who do need more down time, I’m just recognizing my own personal needs, which do not necessitate that. I also keep this in mind when working with colleagues and with educators in my school.

In my busy dasunsetys since school has ended (for students and staff, not so much for me), I’ve thought a lot about my work over the past year, where education is in general, how I can improve my work in service of students and teachers, and what I can do for the upcoming school year that will continue to add value to the field of education. I’ve also thought of the saying, “Give more than what is expected” and I’ve thought about how that may apply to my work.

As I reflect on my last school year, and then think about the upcoming year, there are some things I know I will do in the spirit of “giving more than what is expected”.  Here’s my “short list” of items:

  • Push myself to grow professionally in ways that I haven’t in the past, expanding my thinking and being open to new experiences, opportunities and learning.  This includes doing things that I think will be successful AND trying things that may not be successful.
  • Collaborate with educators to develop a climate and culture within my school and district where high levels of trust are built through professional working relationships, so that educators truly enjoy coming to work every day and are able to do their very best work.
  • Support principal colleagues to carry out the complex work of school leadership in ways that meets their needs as administrators and learners as a result of being my “best self”.
  • Continue to hold steady to my focus of placing students at the forefront of every decision I make.  All work must be related to providing the best experience for students, both academically and socially/emotionally.
  • Develop greater levels of trust and support with the greater school community around the work my school does to support students through multiple modes of communication which will meet the needs of many of our stakeholders.

While I am sure that many school administrators may have similar goals, I continue to think about the degree to which I will do these things as part of my “short list”, and how I can take each of these items to the “next level” and give more than what may be expected of me, as always, in the service of students.

And yes, I should be packing for my trip to NAESP 2016 tomorrow, and yes, I have a lot of other projects lined up, however, I can’t stop thinking about giving more than what is expected and how that will enrich the lives of my students and create better educational opportunities for everyone I work with in both my immediate school community and the greater educational community.

shared via beingsuperwoman.com
shared via beingsuperwoman.com

So if you are like me, and you are still working, or if your personal needs are different and you are taking a short break, I am wondering how will

you give more than what is expected for the upcoming school year.  What will it look like?  Will you rely on immediate colleagues, a PLN, classes?  No matter what you do, there’s no doubt that giving more than what is expected will result in a better experience for you and others, whether learning through successes or through situations where you’ve failed.

Be sure to reach out to me via e-mail (tommartellone@gmail.com) or via Twitter (@tommartellone) if you’re thinking about giving more, trying something new, or wanting another thought partner in education. I’m definitely interested in creativity and risk taking!

 

The Power of Teacher Led Professional Development: How 700 Educators Learned Together

On November 4, 2014, something pretty amazing happened in the Lexington, Massachusetts schools.  What could have been any other professional development day on any given day in our district or any other school district turned out to be something extraordinary for educators across our school system.

Shared via: http://www.roe17.org/
Shared via: http://www.roe17.org/

Having educators and teachers provide professional learning opportunities for colleagues has a myriad of benefits.  First and most important, it develops leadership within staff and builds on their own expertise in an area or subject.  Secondly, it sends a message that staff are valued for what they know and lastly, you would never get the range and amount of topics you could get from staff for basically FREE.

Up to that point in November, several schools in the district had held their own “un-conference” types of professional learning experiences, trying to find ways to engage staff in sharing their skills and expertise with one another.  Lexington has developed a very strong professional development program for teachers over the past several years that has received national recognition. The desire for something that felt more “organic”, along with a handful of dedicated educators resulted in professional learning experiences that educators greatly benefited from.

Assistant Superintendent Carol Pilarski, and Leonard Swanton, K-12 Professional Development Coordinator of Special Projects, along with the district’s professional development committee, set out to change the way professional development had been taking place during day long professional learning experiences.  A call was put out to staff members seeking their willingness to present and provide professional learning experiences for colleagues across the district.  All staff, no matter their position, had the opportunity to volunteer as presenters.  Central Office staff and the professional learning committee waited nervously, wondering if they would get enough interest across the district to support learning for 700 educators.  What if enough presenters did not sign up?

LexingtonLearnsTogether

Amazingly, prior to November 4th, 92 topics were presented to the professional learning committee that would result in 141 individual sessions led by 174 educators!  Our district had far exceeded what it expected for proposals! Our professional development day was called “Lexington Learns Together”, and the district moved quickly to prepare for the day.  Staff members across the district had the opportunity to sign up electronically for the 75 minute long classes, some which had limits on how many people could be in attendance. Learning proposals outlined what staff members needed to bring with them for each class, and staff participated in classes that ranged from First Aid, to Garage Band to Twitter and beyond! Participants got to attend sessions as well as present in them.

The Lexington Learns Together event was held at the high school and learning sessions took place in rooms around the campus.  Wi-fi was enabled for access to the event by our technology department and all staff got to have lunch provided by the district through our food service provider. Additionally, several staff members on Twitter quickly worked to come up with a hashtag that could be used to capture the day’s events (#lexingtonlearns).

The sessions I taught (Twitter) were well attended and a number of people have gone on to establish Twitter accounts and become “regulars” on the educational social media scene.  Staff from my school reported to me on the day after the event that they felt it was some of the most meaningful and best professional learning they had participated in on a district professional learning day!

Shortly thereafter, Lexington Public Schools happened to be named as one of the top places to work by the Boston Globe.  The Lexington Learns Together event is just one of the things that makes Lexington a great place to work.  In all, the event showed the creativity, enthusiasm, and dedication to learning that staff have and their desire to bring that learning back to the classroom to improve the experience of their students.  It also showed the commitment our professional learning committee and central office administrators have for providing meaningful experiences for staff and their commitment to leadership across all levels of the district.

Another result of that day was that many building based principals went back to their schools and replicated this professional development event with their staff.  For the upcoming school year, I am holding two of these events during the year for staff to showcase their expertise and share their learning with others.

As you can see, the idea of teacher delivered professional learning has far reaching, positive effects on schools unlike other forms of professional development.  If you are interested in how our district coordinated this event for 700 staff, please feel free to contact me, Carol Pilarski (cpilarski@sch.ci.lexington.ma.us) or Leonard Swanton (lswanton@sch.ci.lexington.ma.us) for more information.  We’re always happy to share our work and promote learning for educators!

 

Common Core: Have We Met our Responsibility as Educators?

Over the past year, I’ve seen numerous posts, pictures, and articles about states thinking they would pull out of PARCC Testing and CCSS (Common Core State Standards).  Each time I’ve seen these articles and posts, I’ve wondered to myself, “Despite our working hard to implement them within our school districts and schools, have we done a good enough job of educating the public just what CCSS are and how they differ from curriculum?”.

I ask this after seeing the same picture many times on friends’ Facebook pages and in other social media. When I see it on Facebook pages, I often take time to respond to the picture trying to educate the person posting about Common Core State Standards, curriculum, and the difference between the two.

Shared from madworldnews.com
Shared from madworldnews.com

Have we failed the general public by not sufficiently educating them on what I believe could be a powerful tool in education that would level the playing field for many students and school systems across the country?  In our hurry to implement, did we not provide enough reasons for stakeholders in government, business and most importantly, parents, so that they would know what the CCSS stood for and could do for their children?

Additionally, have we not responded enough, or placed too much emphasis on specific content related skills, such as close reading?  My guess is that if you don’t know much about CCSS, you’ve probably at least heard someone talk about close reading, or you’ve probably seen the picture of the math test I included above in some type of Facebook or social media feed.

In a recent article by Karin Chenoweth (September 2014) Wait — Can You Tell Me Again What Common Core is?, she points out that there is not a lot of common understanding about what students should learn when, and further more, although parents think educators understand this, they in fact, do not.  This was shown through an example she provided about math, related to the teaching of decimals and fractions with fifth grade students.   

Wouldn’t parents and governing education institutions want teachers to know when to teach what specific skills to maximize student learning? Additionally, do parents understand that CCSS expect students to know fewer topics that are taught in greater depth, rather than teaching many other extraneous topics that will not lend themselves to maximizing student learning?

Shared from councilforeconed.org
Shared from councilforeconed.org

States and local school districts continue to have the ability to exercise decisions around curriculum.  Curriculum being what is taught specifically (units on animal adaptation, electricity, etc.).  Common Core State Standards provide the roadmap as to where curriculum takes students.  Each district has its own ability to determine the route they will take to get to the outcomes (standards).

I get nervous when I see pictures like the math test I shared earlier being referred to as a Common Core math test.  That test was created by a teacher or a school.  It was not created by Common Core and therefore, is not proof that Common Core is eroding how children are taught mathematics.  The test created a poorly constructed problem(s) that are now being used by educational extremists to paint the Common Core State Standards in a negative light.

PARCC is not helping with the public’s general misunderstanding of Common Core State Standards either.  Across the country, there is already an existing anxiety about the amount of testing and types of assessments students participate in during the school day.  Pearson’s push towards states implementing this assessment is helping to “fan the flames” of general discontent around Common Core and assessments in general.

So, you’re reading this and thinking to yourself, “So what? We’re already into Common Core State Standards, what can I do now?”. Each and every educator that has a connection to the Common Core standards is responsible to help educate the public, in my opinion.  This may look different for the particular role that you have, however, we are all educators, and that does not just include educating children.

School districts should be providing information to parents about what Common Core State Standards are and what curriculum is.  They should also be pointing out to parents what process they have gone through to determine their curriculum.  This would be a great starting point.  It will be easy for districts to say they offered opportunities for parents and no one attended.  That is an excuse.  There are many forums which parents access information on a regular basis.  Shame on school districts if they think that holding one night time forum on this will reach families.

In addition to educating families, first and foremost, districts need to be educating staff.  If the teachers do not understand the difference between Common Core and curriculum, it is the district’s job to make sure that happens.  This should happen through staff meetings, district wide professional development, and through mentoring and coaching.

Teachers are also a direct line to families about what happens in the classroom.  Often times, more direct than district offices.  My district offers a Back to School Night in the fall which is often well attended.  What better forum to share information with parents?

As I’ve written this blog post, I’ve wondered if I have done enough as a principal.  The good news is that I am reflective in my practice.  The not so good news, is that upon reflecting on what I have done, I feel I have contributed to misunderstandings about Common Core State Standards by not offering enough professional learning opportunities for parents.  I’ll use some of my monthly Principal Chat opportunities at school to provide more information to parents about Common Core State Standards, and I will also provide information in some upcoming monthly news articles as well.

We all have a responsibility to be educators.  That realm does not only exist in the classroom, but extends beyond to families and school communities.  Reflect on the work that you’ve done to educate the greater school community and ask yourself, “Have I met my responsibility as an educator?”.  If you haven’t, no worries.  We’re all learning and growing, and it’s not too late to start.  

I’d be interested to hear what you have done to help parents and the school community understand Common Core State Standards.  Below are two great posts by Karin Chenoweth that are great resources.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/Karin-Chenoweth/wait—tell-me-again-what_b_5758846.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/Karin-Chenoweth/common-core-standards-examples_b_5574390.html

Technology and “Lost” Communication

I recently was riding the train back to my home just outside of Boston and I made some observations about technology and how in some cases, it not only impedes communication, but that it robs children from opportunities to learn if not used appropriately or at the right time.

Communicate
Clipart shared from http://cxjourney.blogspot.com/

Anyone who knows me has a pretty good idea of how much I love technology. I’ve got gadgets (iPad, Nexus Tablet, smart phone, Chromebook, iPod, etc.) and I use them all for different types of jobs, for different types of communications, and for different reasons. This blog post is not about disliking technology, but quite the opposite, it is about using in meaningfully.

Across the aisle from me on the train, there was a young parent with his daughter, who was probably about four or five years old. As the train took off from the station, the little girl quickly got into her seat and sat close to her father, who like many others on the train, had his smart phone in hand. As the train took off, the father periodically interacted with his daughter, however, he primarily spent his time engrossed in his phone (my guess was Facebook or another social media).

While the train moved along, I enjoyed watching the young father’s little girl look around the train in what clearly was a sense of amazement. She gasped as she saw her reflection in the opposing window when we were underground and she quickly peered around when we came out into the open near Bunker Hill Community College.

Now, I’m not saying that his father totally ignored his daughter, however, the smart phone was the focus of his attention. There were some great, but missed opportunities to be talking to his daughter about what a reflection is, the construction that was taking place outside the train, or the huge tents that were hosting a visiting Cirque du Solei performance in Somerville. Those moments not only are precious in nature and can never be recaptured, but they also provide children with opportunities to hear language, develop vocabulary, ask questions, and hear answers. That father could also have used his smart phone to show is daughter a reflection or to take a picture of the two of them on the train and talk about their ride together.

This wasn’t the only instance I have seen where technology, instead of increasing communication, decreased it. I often seen parents of all ages very engrossed in smart phones and iPads while youngster’s toddle around them or older children appear to go unnoticed. I have even been guilty of reading my Facebook updates or looking at my Twitter feed when I could have been more engaged with those around me.

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Clipart shared from http://www.mom365.com/

Parents have a responsibility, as do other adults, to model appropriate communication skills for children.  That isn’t just how we communicate in writing or verbally, it is also how we use technology to communicate, to stay connected, and to navigate the world around us.  Children are quiet observers, taking in our moves as we text, Skype, conference call, facetime, Facebook post, and Tweet.  To help raise a generation of children that are strong communicators, we need to provide them with opportunities to learn how technology can help communicate, not detract from it.

Ultimately, in our effort to stay connected (to ourselves and those around us), we need to make sure that we don’t miss out on opportunities to engage in what would have been considered traditional communications (speaking and listening) and writing. Technology allows us to speed up communications, to reach more people in faster ways, and to streamline our communications. As our global community shrinks through improved technology and communications, we need to be sure that our ability and opportunities to communicate don’t shrink too!

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