Thursday, April 17, 2014

How bringing back the rotary phone could save the universe

Recently I had a conversation with a friend about how everything is instant these days. Instant contact, instant information, instant forums and so on.  Many things have changed since we were kids.  The big one that we were talking was the rotary phone.  The rotary phone, in hindsight, was a great filter.  The madder you were, the more likely you would have been to have your finger slip out of the finger hole. Often you would have to compose yourself in order to be able to dial, because it was sooooo frustrating to have your finger slip out, have to hang up and start again.  If there were a lot of 9s in the number you were calling it would take a long time to dial, you almost dreaded calling Coquitlam numbers because they were all 939.  Oh the wait for the dial to return to its starting point!!! I do concede that there were probably some epic family battles over the phone and who was using it and for how long.  I will also concede that for some people with OCD tendencies that the phone chord could get twisted up in a bad way and drive those people nuts.  It was not perfect but it added a lot of advantages.  Often trying to dial mad on a rotary would become so frusatrating that the anger would be directed towards the phone and at least momentarily distract us from what had enraged us in the first place.  Trying to use one of those phones when drunk, forget about it.

So how would the rotary phone save the universe?  It was like this automatic filter we had, a filter we often do not seem to have any more.  If you left a person's home or were out with some friends and you became upset you would have to wait until you got home to talk to them.  There was no phone just sitting in your pocket.  There was no instant message or texting possible.  There was no possibility of sending emails or posting a message through social media at 2pm when you were fuming or perhaps a little tipsy...  You had four choices:
1) wait until you got home to talk to the person
2) wait until you had a chance to see the person again and talk face to face
3) wait and decide if you wanted to do something about and maybe realize that it was not a big deal at all, or think about how you wanted to approach it.
4) Go back to where you were and talk to them directly, but you had to wait until you got back to where you were.
No matter what, you were forced to wait at least a little bit before initiating contact.

If you were to wait until you got home you would have to hope that somebody else was not on the phone, as we all shared the one phone in the house.  If you had a family member who liked to talk, you might have to wait a while, and often someone in the house would notice you were agitated and you would talk it out with that person and be able to sort of some of your thoughts and emotions.  If you did not have the phone number memorized you would have to go and search for the phone book, look up the number and then call it.  All of these elements bought time, time to think, time to calm down, time to be able to rationally think about what it was that upset you.

There are now apps that are designed to give us the filter that we used to have in place already.   Just look at how many apps there are for people to use to stop themselves from drunk dialing or drunk texting.  There are also ones that are there to stop from texting and driving.  It is almost as though we no longer have the inate ability to stop ourselves or control ourselves from immediately contacting someone.  When did everything in life become so important that it could not wait until you got home?

The ability and the created sense of need to vent immediately is having very harmful effects on relationships, personal or professional.  The fact that we are able to immediately contact someone when we are at our most irrational state of mind is not a good thing.  We need to train ourselves to take a moment and pause as we no longer have that filter.  Sending a message in the heat of anger, especially when it is not face to face or at least over the phone is incredibly harmful to relationships.

One of the things we may need to consider is trying to instil questions that our students need to think about before texting when they are upset:
1) Am  I in a state of mind to be talking to that person right now?
2) Why am I upset with them?
3) Who am I upset with?
4) Is there another reason that I may be upset?
5) Is there something that I may have done to create this situation?

These are all questions many people would normally be thinking about as they were heading home, or asking ourselves when going to bed.  Perhaps that these are also questions that we may discuss with someone who lives in the home with us.  Whatever it is that we do, we need a way to limit communicating in a non face-to-face way when upset.  I say bring back the rotary phone.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Baby Steps

As I watch my little boy grow, I start to look at the first steps he is going to go through.  Smiling, laughing, listening, understanding, talking, crawling, standing, walking,  running...  He will try all of these things until he masters them.  When he will be learning to crawl, how many times will he try and hold himself up, push himself to hold up?  When he is learning to stand, how many times will he fall?  When he is walking and taking that first step, 3 steps, 10 steps until he is finally walking?  What is it in a little kid that allows them to fail and fail and fail again until they are successful.  There we are encouraging him or her non stop. We are there counting the steps, measuring the distance or hovering around them and clearing a path.  Later on, when kids do poorly there are parents who are quick to criticize the letter grades, tests of essays.
When does this change?  When do kids start hesitating, or even worse stop trying?  When do we stop being a cheerleader? What is that we do as parents or society that breaks the spirit to fail and make failing not an option, or looked at poorly?  Failure is a big part of learning, it is about testing out ideas, ways of doing things and then doing it differently.  There is a reason why there are rough sketches, rough drafts and practices.  There are reasons why there are repetitive drills, exercises and edited comments.
At what age do children fear making a mistake?  where does that fear come from? Is there something that parents do to stymy that desire to overcome mistakes, or is it sometthing that we do that doesn't help them overcome the fear of failure? Is it society's mockery of failure that is at the heart of it?
Every single infant in the world will fail and fail and fail and never give up and so many adults quit or don't try.  Why?

Monday, October 28, 2013

Does Mr., Mrs. or Ms. make that big a difference?

I have had some interesting conversations as an educator with parents, neighbours, colleagues and others about "Kids these days".  It is funny how that phrase has been around for years and I sometimes wonder if you can draw that expression from the 3rd generation of cavemen when the little cavechildren were not picking up wood when they were 2 but their parents waited until they were 3 and the grandcaveparents thought the caveparents were spoiling the cavechildren.  Many are convinced that this upcoming generation is going to face some huge challenges in the "Real World".  Again, this point is interesting because I have heard this since the mid-nineties when I started my path to go into education.
They argue that yes, that there are still a bunch of outstanding and giving kids, but that there seems to be a greater number of children who are too much in control and too anti-authority. They argue that parents are too busy trying to be their child's friend rather than their parents and treating them like little adults rather than little children.  They feel that parents are sharing too much information with their children, giving them information that they are too young to absorb and understand.  Jesse Miller from Mediated Reality and Gordon Neufeld both talk about the parents needing to be parents and not friends in some of their respective presentations.
One person linked it to the fact that many adults do not want to be addressed as Mr., Mrs. or Ms but rather by their first name, because Mr., Mrs or Ms. makes them feel old, and that those titles belong to their parents.  The person in question had suggested by not going by title that it informally removed the adult-child relationship and created a sense of false equality.  When I was a child, parents were always introduced as Mr. or Mrs. and never by their first name.  The only adults that we ever called by first name were Aunts and Uncles, and we always included the Aunt or Uncle as a part of their name. Is that division of title important for a healthy adult-child relationship, or is it symptomatic of a blurred line between parent-child and friends relationship?
It is an interesting question and point for debate.  Has that line become blurred and do titles make a difference?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Identity Day Fair - building a school community and a school culture

I am in a K-5 school in the middle of a large amount of rezoning and building.  It would be fair to say that within a 5 block radius there are probably close to 300 new homes completed or in the process of being completed.  Of the 370 students here, if I include kindergarten students, roughly 230 were not here 3 years ago.  One of the challenges that we have faced as a school is the fact that the school has changed drastically in many facets, but size in particular.  Students are coming in at all grade levels and face the task of having to meet and make new friends.  Some students have made a lot of friends really quickly, others are struggling.  It used to be that the kindergarten and grade 1 teachers knew all the kids in the school because they had gone through their classes and they are struggling to know all of the students.  We needed to find a way to help the kids connect with one another, get to know each other and hopefully find ways to connect with one another.  It is also important to create as many opportunities as possible for the kids to find adults to connect with.
When children have attended the same school for their whole K-5 experience, so many teachers know the kids.  They have had them in their classroom, seen them in platooning situations, done buddy classes, collaborative class projects and so on.  As we are all missing that experience we needed to find a way to start that process happening.  Last Spring, as we began planning the upcoming year, we wanted to find a way to help connect the kids to each other as well as with a few significant adults.  As our school is one that is becoming more diverse we thought about doing something around multiculturalism and celebrating that diversity, but we decided that as friendships and getting to know each other was our number one priority, we needed to find a way to celebrate uniqueness and similarities all in one go.  As we continued this conversation I began to think about the Identity Day Fairs that I read about from posts by @gcouros and @ChrisWejr. This fair would accomplish celebrating uniqueness, diversity and similarity all in one go.
We modeled out I-Fair after a Science Fair format that the school had done a number of years ago.  A criteria sheet was sent home 3 weeks in advance with a signed page for parent's to return.  Much of the work was designed to be done in collaboration with family at home, with support given from the classroom.  The criteria was quite wide open, especially the presentation format.  There were poster boards, powerpoint presentations, video montages, pictures, paintings, drawings, instruments, a bearded lizard, lego and all kinds of great ideas.  There were pictures of family cabins, pets in all shapes and sizes, vacations, family, trips, special places and special people.  They brought in mementos of hobbies, family heirlooms and extra-curricular achievements.  It was amazing to see all the unique talents that the students had that we were just learning about.  Three of our grade 5 students chose to show off their art passion by bringing in some of their art work.  I was blown away!  Hockey and soccer medals, medallions and ribbons from dance competitions, rock collections, ski trophies, pictures of them doing some great feat!  It was really cool to have a chance to celebrate each child.
The morning before recess was spent setting everything up and then between recess and lunch the students had a chance to visit every single class and look at the different projects.  For the afternoon, our community was invited to come and be a part of celebrating 370 students unique amazingness.  There was such a warm and positive vibe that came from the school.  All of the students were engaged, the staff was enthoused as well as the parents, grand-parents, siblings, aunts and uncles and everyone else that came out.  It was such a fantastic way to celebrate community.  By bringing in so many parents it was also their first chance to meet all the new parents in the school, meet the new friend that their child has come home talking about and come in and experience a positive school culture building project.
We are not certain that we will be doing an Identity Day Fair every year, but the wheels are definitely turning as to how to do another community project.  This was a huge success!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


Which predators do we need to teach our children to be wary of, the ones outside and around us or the ones who are online predators.  When I was child we were allowed to go to the park unsupervised, walk to school as 5 year olds and just go out with our friends riding our bikes.  We were taught to ask strangers for help if we were lost.  I remember biking with my brother and running over an underground wasp nest and without worries or concerns knocking on a nearby stranger's door asking for help.  We seemed to be thinking of ourselves as a large community.

It seemed like everybody on the block knew each other and trusted each other and then Clifford Olson happened in 1980/81.  He shook our world to the core and parents suddenly overnight changed the open boundaries that were once given and suddenly our outdoor world became a little more confined. The trust in the community seemed to have dissapated overnight.

10 years later the abduction of Michael Dunahee happened and parents became terrified to let kids out of their sight and that seemed to have forever changed the freedom that parents were willing to let their children have.  Gone were the days of randomly heading out the door and promising to be back by certain times or waiting to hear your mother holler your name and that it was time to come home.  Once that happened children began to be limited to the confines of their yards and their bedrooms, it was also around this time that video games began to take off and become main stream in homes.  Stranger Danger became a common phrase in schools and in homes.  Don't trust strangers became the new expectations of children.

Video games seem to have almost answered parents questions, how to keep children busy and safe at the same time?  Shortly thereafter the internet began to shape our new world and parents needed to start worrying about online predators.  Children were making friends with random strangers, ones that they had never met, seen and had no idea who or what they were.  The kids were "befriending" strangers, when did this become OK?  Why was it OK for them to befriend online strangers but don't you dare talk to random people on the street.  Children were befriending adults pretending to be kids, boys and girls chatting with men pretending to be girls.

Anonymity became the new identity.  We became a community of strangers where it has become acceptable to chat with people that we have not met, who were separated by at least 2 degrees of separation.  We were friending friends of friends without knowing whether or not our friends actually knew them or had befriended a random stranger.  Suddenly strangers were being given information about smaller communities and tremendous amounts of personal detail.  We still seem to be teaching not to trust thy neighbour but are failing in doing so online.  It almost seems as though by protecting our children from outdoor predators we have opened a Pandora's Box for online predators.

When I am talking with parents at my school they talk about meeting their child's friends' parents before they are allowed to go over and play.  Parents who register at a new school after their children have already done a few grades at a previous school sometimes discuss how hard it is to get to know the parents of the other kids in the classes because many tight knit groups are formed amongst the parents in kindergarten and they are reluctant to allow their children to go and play with the new kid because they don't know the parents.  Why is so much care put into this world but not the virtual world?  Is the problem become too complex? too convoluted?

There was a simple strategy in place when it came to protecting kids from outside predators, which was don't talk to strangers.  While Stanger Danger had its detractors at least there was a firm strategy in place.  Why is it that we are not able to come up with one for online predators?  There is no simple strategy that works in today's world.  Parents can be screenless at home and not have a computer, but then there child would probably just go to a friend's house and use it there.  There are other families that may turn off the wireless router at night, but the problem is that sometimes neighbours have unlocked WiFi or the child has their access information and have unlimited access to WiFi.  Some may think that by giving them only an iPod vs iPhone that they may be limiting their access to the web as well but there are so many establishments that now offer free WiFi that doesn't work anymore and many of the chat apps now can be used like phones, sharing info and so on.

The funny thing is the solution at the heart of the matter is quite simple.  We need to find ways to help our children establish their own real friendships again versus virtual ones, find common activities that take them away from the computer, establish strong lines of communication between parent and child that is built on trust and openness.  Parents also need to be parents and not friends.  There must be ground rules in place such as where they can access the technology, when they can do it, being screenless at night, sharing with their parent what they have posted and loss of the devices when they have been misused.  Simple basic groundrules will go a long way to limiting the possibility of stranger danger on the internet.

If we try and go bigger there are too many other questions that would need to be addressed such as:

How would we define online predators in terms of stranger danger?

  1. Sexual predators looking to lure children away from their homes?
  2. Predators looking to have children expose themselves for their own gratification or for blackmailing?
  3. Anonymous trolls who post racist, cruel comments and target children's social/emotional well being
  4. Anonymous trolls who find compromising pictures/information and decide to share it for the purpose of humiliation.
  5. People who use the internet to make comments and jokes that they would never dare to in person?
  6. socially detached individuals who cannot see the harm they are causing or simply who don't care?

What are the reasons for the adults failing to address this?

  1. Are parents afraid of tackling technology?
  2. Are parents unaware of what their children are doing with the technology?
  3. Are we failing to teach students the skills they need to be safer at school?
  4. Are children hiding their virtual friends in the same way we hid friendships from parents in the past that we knew they could not approve?
  5. Is there a sense that nothing will happen?
  6. Is technology changing so quickly that we always seem to be a step behind the kids?
  7. Have we buried our heads so deep in the sand that we are scared to take it out and acknowledge the world that is out there?

Why are children failing to report this?

  1. they don't know the trouble they are in until it is too late?
  2. the information age is too fast to be able to contain the problem
  3. the social networks are too large and too vast?
  4. they feel as though nothing can be done about it?
  5. the definition of what a friend is has been transformed or has become blurred?
  6. the number of strangers who follow you is now seen as a status symbol?

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Age of Misinformation

A simple click and that contest on facebook has been shared.  Another click and that amber alert somewhere in another state or province has been shared.  With all of the information available in a few clicks and seconds away we still seem to propogate a whole bunch of junk. Bogus contests, fake reports on deaths of famous people (a la Bill Cosby for one), fabricated amber alerts, speeches that were never made and so on.  Why are we so willing to click and forward without even looking if it is real?
I know when the reports of Bill Cosby dying came about I took the time to look up more information, but I cannot remember if it was to see if it was real or to see what happened.  This being said, there was an amber alert, supposedly out of Quebec, that came my way and I immediately forwarded it without thinking.  A friend of mine on Facebook shared a link with me showing that this was a hoax, and one that had resurfaced on several occasions.  Another one was a piece that was supposedly written by Ben Stein about the White House use of the Word Christmas Trees.  I liked what was written but it was not the author it was reported to be. I still shared it without checking.
The ability to start and share rumours, make up stories, share false information or hatred in this day and age is shocking.  There is more and more a pressing need to teach not only our students, but also the general population about needing to filter the information being shared.  There is a tremendous need to change our mindset and not assume that because it is on Facebook or Twitter that is must be real.  Deaths of celebrities and amber alerts are usually top news items in google, which are easily verfied.  Contests by Disney and Costco are easily checked on their websites.  Why don't we do it?  Are we still stuck in the thought process that if it is written then it must be true?  How do we break ourselved out of this mentality?  Is it pure laziness, or based on false assumptions? How do we stop sharing junk, lies and misinformation?  It has to become second nature to question all information and to cross reference it before we reference it.  If there was ever a day and an age to be mindful about what information we are distributing, it is now.
If only those fake contests and stories werent so appealling!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Tears are not enough, what happens after a tragedy?

I have been thinking and wondering about all the conversations that I have been involved in, listened to, seen on the internet and read on Twitter about the tragic loss of Amanda Todd.  There is a lot to think about, especially based on the publicity, the presence in social media and the reporting in all the media.  The ones that have struck me the most have been under the #RIPAmanda hashtag on twitter.  I have seen so many people sharing the story, saying how it reduced them to tears and being emotional about how the story impacted them.  This has stirred some fear in me and a question, what happens when the tears stop flowing?
As I started to think about a "What next?" question, the Northern Lights song "Tears Are Not Enough" popped into my head and it struck a chord.  Crying over something but not doing anything about it unfortunately accomplishes very little.  What are you going to do differently?  How are you going to act differently?  How are you going to treat people differently?  If we do not learn as a society, and more importantly as individuals from this, then unfortunately we risk to have it continue.

We must become the person that doesn't add to the mess.  It is time to do something about the tears that have been shed, the bad memories that have come back, the thoughts that we could have done something or just the feeling of hopelessness.  There must be a phoenix to rise from these ashes.  There will be programs brought in, speakers hired, panels set up and other ambitious goals will come out of these conversations.  There are all important steps to take, but not everyone is able to do something on a big stage.  In my opinion it starts much smaller.  Every person who has been touched by this story needs to do something small.

There is a small group of middle school students who have approached their principal, with request for anonymity, with a goal of doing random acts of kindness for students that they know are struggling.  There are high school students who are making an extra effort to spend some time at middle schools doing after school sessions specifically targeting at risk students.  Everyone can do something.  It means doing something extra, doing something different.  It means talking to your friends who are making one person the butt of their jokes.  It means cutting out the cutting comments.  It means not losing it on the poor telephone service operator who in all likelihood had nothing to do with your cable not working.  It means not making a rude comment when some poor person is digging through their wallet or purse trying to find the money to pay for the groceries and you are being inconvenienced by a few minutes.  It means taking the time to listen to that family member who can be a drag to listen to but that you know really needs someone to listen to them.  It means take a few minutes of your time to make someone's day a little better, not worse.

Tears are not enough for this tragedy.  There must be a significant shift in behaviour.  The phoenix that must rise is how we respond to what has happened by altering our actions, our attitude  our treatment of others and the respect we show ourselves, others around us and the environment we live in.  Let's take a memory of a tragedy and do something about it to have some positive light come from this.  It would be great to move from #RIPAmanda to #InMemoryOfAmanda and then mentioning some small deed you did to make the world a better place.