Cramming

 

ComplicatedWith our San Dieguito Book Club set for tonight, I’ve had a number of folks come to me with ideas and questions about the subject of our discussion, danah boyd’s book It’s Complicated.

My favorite comments have come from students, who have their own ideas about the issues raised in the book, and who shared their thoughts when I asked them some of the questions boyd uses to frame her argument about “the social lives of networked teens.”

With just hours to go, not everyone who has an opinion may have time to read the book, not even the free PDF of It’s Complicated, so I’ll use this post as a cram session of sorts, a shortcut to encourage folks to attend tonight, even if it’s just to listen.

Boyd uses these questions as the backbone of her book, building a chapter around each as she addresses the parents and educators who live and work with students.

 

  • Why do teens seem strange online?
  • Why do youth share so publicly?
  • What makes teens obsessed with social media?
  • Are sexual predators lurking everywhere?
  • Is social media amplifying meanness and cruelty?
  • Can social media resolve social divisions?
  • Are today’s youth digital natives?

 

One question that generated a great deal of conversation as I talked with students was the second, about sharing “so” publicly, and a couple of answers worth passing on came from thoughtful students who wrote:

I really think a lot of it has to do with social games, and comparing yourself to others. I am guilty of this too, which is why I limit my social media, hence not having an “instagram” or “facebook”, which to most of my friends is “absurd”. And even though many people might not have the intent to show off or be trying to impress or make others jealous, I think that’s a big subconscious reason. … Especially with teens, although I hesitate to admit it, we are all insecure, and in a way I think social media is a coping way for many teens and their insecurities. “I look good in this photo, so I’m going to post it”, the amount of times I have heard that exact line from friends, haha. It is really helping with their self confidence, yet like anything I also believe social media can have very negative impacts on confidence as well. That’s a whole different story though.”

This kind of thoughtful reflection is not the exception, but the rule with regard to the students I talked with. So too was a level of objectivity that might surprise someone who doesn’t work with students.

This question is unclear about what it means to share so publicly, but there are reasons why the younger generation shares so much of their lives to the world. The easiest, more generic answer would be, because they can. We are growing up in a world where we have, at our fingertips, a portal into the lives of billions of people online. And just like a kid who is newly born into the world, we are exploring the turf that we were born into to. In this case, we were born into a world that is connected by the internet. The reason teens share so much is because they can, without realizing that there may be consequences in response to the content that they are posting. But our youth is finally given a venue to express themselves, to share with the world what they have never been able to share so freely in the past, and that is, “look at what I can do,” “look at what I made,” “look what I’ve been, what I’m doing,” and the most importantly, “look at who I am.”

In addition to thoughts about the quantity of sharing, students were open to discuss the quality of what they shared. Some talked about the lack of importance of the information they put online, while others discussed context and the audience they believed would see what they posted as meaningful.

It’s Complicated author danah boyd has talked about some of these same ideas in interviews she gave when the book first was published. Three worth a look are:

http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/03/22/a-conversation-with-danah-boyd-author-of-its-complicated-about-teens-online/?_r=0

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marcus-t-wright/social-media-teens-and-a-_b_4934844.html

http://www.npr.org/2014/02/25/282359480/social-media-researcher-gets-how-teenagers-use-the-internet

So what will tonight’s discussion look like? I hope the students, parents, and educators who come will bring with them open minds and personal stories. I hope to put a San Dieguito face on boyd’s ideas, seeing how her more general observations from across the country jibe, or don’t, with what our students experience in this Mustang blue corner of the world.

If you’ve read the book, or even if you haven’t, I hope you might join us for conversation tonight, October 16, 2016 from 6:00-8:00 pm in our Media Center.

It’s Simple

ComplicatedWhat we do as educators and what we do as parents is support kids.

At our best, when stress, or anxiety, or frustration doesn’t cloud our actions, we approach that even headed wisdom of Atticus Finch, who told his boy: ““There’s a lot of ugly things in this world, son. I wish I could keep ’em all away from you. That’s never possible.” I’ve been a dad for a great many years and I seldom come anywhere close to living that kind of perspective.

Even so, it helps us all to reflect on our work with students and ask ourselves the questions that make us the best contributors to these young lives we can be. For me, that means reading books that challenge me, and engaging in conversation with others who care.

In less than a week a group of such kindred spirits will gather for our first San Dieguito Book Club of the year, when we’ll discuss a topic on many minds of parents and teachers of teenagers: technology.

Specifically, our discussion will center around It’s Complicated, a book by danah boyd (no caps, her idea) subtitled “the social lives of networked teens.” For any of us who have been around a teen with a phone, this is ground rich with relevance.

I suppose I should have spotted the irony that when I introduced the book, and the idea of living in an age when folks (not just teenagers) are glued to phones and other electronic devices, at a “Coffee with the Principal” it was a parent who raised her hand halfway through my talk to let parents know that they could get a copy of the book for free by downloading the PDF at http://www.danah.org/books/ItsComplicated.pdf

Point proven.

…and point expanded upon, as we all realized that this parent had not only underscored the idea that we’re all more connected than we’ve ever been, but that sometimes that kind of immediacy and connection is a very good thing. Heck, it just saved parents $10.95.

It’s Complicated takes an equally positive view of the “social lives of networked teens” as it describes the world our students live in, virtually at least, in a way that doesn’t alarm, but does inform.

The book’s eight chapters are formed around questions: “Why do teens seem strange online?” and “Are today’s youth digital natives?” to name two. They’re questions many educators wonder about and parents spend time struggling to find answers to.

As I prepped for Tuesday’s book club, I asked some of my students what they thought the answers were to the author’s eight questions. A sampling looks like this…

“Why do youth share so publicly?”

“We share a lot, but not a lot that is meaningful. That’s kind of the beauty of social media.”

“A lot of the time when adults see us on our phones we’re just communicating with another person, a private message to them, not social media.”

“What makes teens so obsessed with social media?”

“No more than adults. It’s just part of what we do.”

“Is social media amplifying meanness and cruelty?”

“It amplifies the negative and the positive. I go to social media for inspiration and find it.”

“People who are going to be mean or cruel are going to be mean and cruel in person too.”

These are just a few thoughts; I’m hopeful more students will come on Tuesday and be willing to share. As a parent and a principal, I found their points of view honest and thoughtful.

In addition to individual students, I was able to talk with a couple of classes about their relationship with social media, and the result was …reassuring.

Certainly social media plays a part in many of the students lives, often providing information, inspiration, and connections to friends near and far. There are downsides too, and they were quick to identify that seeing some posts made them feel bad about themselves, and that on occasion the anonymity of the internet allowed people to be negative in ways they wouldn’t if their name was attached to comments.

The thoughtful conversations I had with these students inspired me, and reassured me that kids today have more poise than my own generation had when we were in high school.

I look forward to our discussion next week and the possibility of leaving the evening a little more informed and a little more connected to people who are all working toward the same simple goal: helping students.

The San Dieguito Book Club will meet on Tuesday, October 18, from 6:00-8:00 pm in the media center. Students, parents, teachers, and all members of our SDA family are welcome to attend.

“Have a go…”

ComplicatedPart of a healthy school community is the ability (and opportunity) for parents, students, and educators to talk together about the big issues, ideas, challenges, and opportunities that swirl around our shared experience. Whether we’re moms and dads trying to help our kids navigate a world so different from our own growing up, students faced with a thousand choices every day, or teachers, counselors, and administrators dedicated to helping kids learn, we all benefit from time to connect with each other not in reactionary ways, but proactively identifying topics about which real conversation can yield positive results.

With this in mind, over the past two years I’ve had the pleasure of hosting book clubs at school that give all of us a chance to talk. Those opportunities for parents, teachers, and students have been informative, renewing, and fun. As this new school year begins I’m excited to announce that our first San Dieguito Book Club of 2016-2017 will be on October 18th at 6:00 pm when we’ll talk about It’s Complicated by danah boyd (the lowercase, ee cummingsesque choice of spelling her name is hers, and while the former English teacher in me cringes, I’ll honor it).

The risk of choosing to talk about a book, a real live book, about social media is that it will be outdated before it comes to print. It’s Complicated, however, smartly looks not at particular apps or social media platforms, and instead takes as its starting point the teens that use those apps and platforms. Writing with a great empathy and understanding of those adolescents, boyd presents and addresses typical presuppositions about “kids today” and does a nice job of speaking to issues of privacy, safety, and community.

It’s Complicated gives us much to talk about, but less to fear, and I’m looking forward to hearing what parents have to say about their own perceptions of their son’s and daughter’s online activity, what teachers notice about how social media and the rise of handheld technology has changed education, and what students believe about their own behavior online. These conversations are at the heart of our San Diegutio Book Club.

The New York Times book review captures the reason It’s Complicated is a solid choice for our first (of three) book clubs this year when it notices that “Boyd’s book helps us understand our new environment.” The interconnected online world is certainly different than what most of us parents and educators grew up with, and whether we agree with what boyd has to say a little, a lot, or not at all, It’s Complicated provides us with a great starting point for a discussion of the ubiquitous nature of social media in our teens, and our own, lives.

Last spring, when we ready Julie Lythcott-Haims’ How to Raise an Adult, discussion ranged from parsing direct quotations from the book to heartfelt anecdotes from parents, who realized just how much we really aren’t alone.

I knew just how much we parents were connected by shared experience when we got to the point in our discussion about “grabbing the glue gun” during our kids’ elementary school projects. As parents talked about the successes and missteps they’d experienced helping their students gain independence, lots and lots of heads nodded. We’d all come to the book club caring, curious, and a little nervous, and had all of a sudden found ourselves surrounded by kindred spirits.

As we talked about the challenges of parenting, one mom who’d moved to our town from Australia mentioned the trepidation she saw in her kids’ friends and contrasted that to the more bold Australian attitude that looks at uncertainty and thinks: “Let’s have a go!” We have a long way to go before that spirit of adventure is commonplace, but knowing that we are part of a caring community can help.

book clubIn addition to the parents, many teachers joined the discussion. To hear them talk about the importance of students finding their own voices, gaining confidence, and being willing to take risks inspired us all to think a little more about our role in helping kids become adults.

And those kids… some came to the book club as well. Our parent foundation purchased a few copies of the book for our school library and those copies were checked out on the first day. The students who lent their voices to the conversation brought a richness that those of us who have taught English know can be profound.

I’m optimistic that discussion on the issue of social media will be just as rich, and I look forward to hearing perspectives as varied and passionate as we heard last spring.

Over the next few weeks I’ll share some articles about the topic and excerpts from It’s Complicated, and do my best to encourage us all to learn together, talk with each other, and feel comfortable enough in our shared adventure to smile. We’re not alone and one of the best things we can do is take a deep breath, find our community, and have a go.

Rock Star

He raised a finger, smiled mischievously, and told the crowd: “The next three days are going to be awesome.”

kevin…and about that Kevin Fairchild was right.

This June I went to CUE Rock Star Vista, a gathering of (mostly) teachers from around California interested in learning how to expand their use of technology in the service of learning. I knew (or knew of) a few of the folks organizing the event, and I appreciated from the start the exuberance and humor they brought to the week.

I’m a sucker for the beauty of an EdCamp un-conference, and it was a treat to see the presenters and participants bringing some of the same looseness and sense of play to CUE.

As a principal, I was in some ways an oddity in the crowd; just about everyone there taught or was a teacher on special assignment, true rock stars, but to a person everyone I met welcomed me as a peer, and the value I got from the sessions I attended is something I will bring back to my work in the fall.

I find that as an administrator I do best when I approach my work with the mindset of a teacher. I taught for thirteen years, constantly asking myself “is this good for my students?” It’s a question I try to keep front and center in my work outside of the classroom.

I loved that from the first session I attended I was shown tools that could help me right away. Daniel Bennett introduced me to Adobe Spark, and by the end of the first day I’d made a video about construction on campus that I could share with my school community through social media.

construction time.jpg

Day two was just as good, a highlight Natalie Priester’s session on “Growth Mindset Grading.” While I don’t have a classroom of my own, the ideas from that session will inform conversations I have with the amazing teachers at my school.

A highlight each day was a two hour working lunch, the first half dedicated to making meaningful connections and the second half, after a delightful break for ice cream, an opportunity for us to slip into a little EdCamp style fun.

Our organizers set up a link where we could suggest topics, much a the board that begins every EdCamp, and we had an opportunity to gather in classrooms and talk about topics as diverse as Twitter for newbies, digital portfolios, and Breakout EDU.

The final day I sat with a group of thoughtful and fun teachers and talked about using inquiry to drive instruction. With Tara Linney leading our discussion, we spent time learning more about how we might use our students’ sense of wonder to help them learn. I left inspired, particularly around work I can imagine doing with my parent community.

IMG_5316As important as the information I took away from CUE Rock Star Vista was the feeling of renewal that came from being surrounded by passionate educators who care deeply about what they do.

It would be a fib to say that I’m not looking forward to some time off in July, but I can think of no better way to end June than three legitimately awesome days at CUE.

Smart Phone

20-Blade_Runner_AtariThe world imagined by 1982’s Blade Runner does not exist. Beautiful little details, like the neon advertisements for Atari and Pan Am, which added such verisimilitude to the movie proved to be anything but prophetic; Atari went under before the movie was ten years old and Pan Am followed suit in 1991.

Predicting the future is an inexact science, fun in the hands of creative writers, but often good for little more than a retrospective chuckle. HAL in 2001? I’m sorry, Dave, I’m afraid we can’t (yet) do that.

So without an accurate crystal ball, how should we as educators think about the digital world our students will grow into?

Theirs is already a life enmeshed in technology in ways that make our own childhood (folks like me, anyway, old enough to have taken a typewriter to college*) seem quaint. Mine is the generation who got tangled up in the cord when talking to potential dates on the phone mounted to the kitchen wall.

As technology changed around me, I entertained the truth of that Philip K. Dick quotation:

There will come a time when it isn’t ‘They’re spying on me through my phone’ anymore. Eventually it will be ‘My phone is spying on me.’”

Maybe, though any fears of sentient machines have (so far) proven unfounded.

So too, I think, are some of the fears we educators have of students and technology, particularly social media. Certainly dangers lurk online, as they have lurked at malls and in the places young people have always congregated.

Educating students to become digital citizens (or whatever the most current term might be for navigating a life online) is in many ways an extension to helping them understand how to live in the brick and mortar world we all share no matter what kind of cell phone is in our pocket.

There are lots of resources out there to help educators do this, some better than others, but it seems to me to boil down to a few simple ideas:

Present the best you. The one that doesn’t swear or show off tattoos. The one that doesn’t make that face that says: “Never hire me, trust me with your children, or let me go to your university.”

Don’t share too much. Share the right amount of information to show the world that “best you” that you want to be your introduction, the first impression before you make your first impression.

Think before you talk. If you wouldn’t blurt it out in class or at the dinner table, or if you shouldn’t, then don’t online.

Be nice. Be nice.

Know the rules and follow them. …and know the etiquette too. Learning how to be a positive contributor to an online community isn’t dramatically different than being a positive contributor to your school or in your neighborhood.

Don’t live in fear. Cautious, sure; fearful, no. You look both ways before you cross the street, but you do eventually cross it. Being safe online means being online, and bringing common sense with you just makes sense. Should I say “yes” to this friend request? Would you invite that person to meet your parents in person?

Be smart. Be as smart as you can be. We all make mistakes, and digital goofs can last forever, but thinking twice before posting and keeping the long view of things can help a lot.

Do we need to include digital literacy as part of our school curriculum? I think so. At the same time we need to show students that we believe they can make the right choices. This means showing them how to curate their own digital footprint and not blocking access to the tools they use to create that footprint.

mannySchools use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media platforms to tell their stories, and the best schools do so to great effect. Students should have the opportunity to do the same.

Educating students about technology means showing them how to use it effectively, not shielding them from it at all costs.

Sure, students are on their phones …a lot, but then again, many of you are reading this post from a similar rectangle of plastic and glass. I know this. Your phone told me.
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*For any younger readers, a typewriter is a machine that allowed users to print words, letter by letter, by pounding on keys and hoping not to make a mistake. Don’t even get me started on whiteout.

Up, Up, and Away

He roots for a different ballclub than I do. He taught science and I taught English. He never wanted to be a site administrator and as a principal I’m happy as a the proverbial clam. Different? Yes. And…

I’ve met few people as passionate about teaching and learning as Kevin Fairchild.

Kevin is leaving our district to start a new adventure up the highway a few miles. That I’ll miss him is a difficult reality I’m choosing not to write about, not after this sentence anyway. He’s off to do great work in a new position, and while I know how rewarding he found what he did when he was under our banner, this new job allows him to stretch his professional wings and make a difference in the lives of teachers and kids. It was, as Vito Corleone might say, an offer he couldn’t refuse.

photo (2)This change in my local Professional Learning Network (PLN) comes, ironically, on the week the #YourEdustory blogging prompt reads: “Say thanks to a member of you PLN for inspiring, encouraging, and helping make you a better educator.”

I can think of no member of my PLN who has done all three of these things more.

Years ago, a friend who was serving as an assistant principal with me kidded me about my not being on Twitter. Clueless, I nodded. Twitter? …and then I called Kevin. Kevin came out and asked all the right questions. He didn’t walk me through Twitter; he prompted me to dive right in and learn about it for myself. That I’m still tweeting is a testament, at least in part, to the possibility he helped me see.

Over the next few years, Kevin introduced me to EdCamp, encouraged me to blog, and inspired me through his own work on our district’s tech blog. With a smile and resonant laugh, Kevin showed me technological doors that have opened into opportunities I never would have dreamed of.

His work, on my campus, in our district, and all over this interweb thing have made a real difference time after time after time.

For that I thank him.

And now this man in the Cardinals cap flies north.

The good news is that a PLN in 2016 isn’t constrained by geography. That he tweets and blogs from a different zip code matters not at all. Heck, one of the first things I noticed on the day after he took the new job was a question about screenshots sent to him through Twitter by one of my teachers. Of course he answered it.

So I say “thank you.” Thank you for the inspiration, encouragement, connections, humor, and support. I wish you luck making a difference in the lives you’ll touch. You certainly have made a difference in mine.

…and it’s not like you’re headed to Mongolia. I’ll see you at CUE!

When Surrounded by Stormtroopers

I looked up from a cup of tea in the easy chair by my fireplace to realize that I was surrounded by stormtroopers. Scores of the little plastic menaces looked up at me from the hearth, an end table, and where they lay scattered across the rug like a scene from the battle of Agincourt.

photo 5Busy, distracted, or focused on other things, I hadn’t noticed the steady infiltration of white helmeted soldiers. Yet here they were.

It’s like that sometimes with change, the lobster boiled as the water in the pot goes from cold to hot. We don’t always notice how different things are until we blink hard in surprise at what we see around us.

In education I’ve seen this myself with regard to technology, professional growth, and even the culture of pressure that looks to overwhelm our campuses. I haven’t always been the first to notice changes, though I do work to wake up to the changed world around me.

That technology changes comes as no surprise; at one point technological advancement was a lice infested Viking pointing and grunting: “Hey, Thor made a spoon!” What can sneak up on us, however, are the new uses of technology, which sometimes come on ninja feet to scare us with their suddenness. Waking up to the potential of technology, or seeing others use technology in new ways, challenges us to make changes ourselves. We may be late to the party, I was with regard to Twitter, for instance, but we can move beyond our familiarity and expectations and see the advancements as a way to transform what we do.

The SAMR model articulates this well, urging that we not simply do the same things without paper, but do different things. This can be more difficult to put into practice than understand. I’m a principal now, but on the occasions that I have to develop lessons and teach classes, I find that it’s easier to use technology to support my preconceived ideas than it is to act on the potential of technology to unshackle me to try something entirely new. “Mind forged manacles,” Blake would call them. Stormtroopers.

photo 4 (2)As transformative as technology is, it accounts for just some of the difference in the professional lives of educators. Many have written more eloquently than I about the changes in culture that have brought teachers out of their isolated classrooms and into greater collaboration. For some this is PLCs, for others the emergence of Twitter and other online professional communities. I was never a teacher in the interconnected world of social media, but as a principal (who came to Twitter just a few years ago, late to the party, really) I’m continually amazed at the inspiration and information available around the clock.

Not only has blogging and using Twitter allowed me to access other points of view, it has also led to meaningful connections with educators around the country and around the world that make my practice richer.

If I were isolated now, it would be by choice, and not a very good choice. It’s being aware the world of education looks different than it did five or ten years ago, and that if I changed to embrace it I would have opportunities I couldn’t have had before, that has made a huge difference in who I am as an educator. No teacher or administrator has to think she is alone. We can find support, kindred spirits, and ongoing inspiration at the click of a mouse.

But not every change leads to greater connections and reassurance. About three years ago I looked up and realized just how much the pressure my students face has increased with regard to college admissions and academic success. Discussions about “too many AP classes” and the “Honors or no honors” debate aren’t new, but I realized that while I’d been busy with building a career and dealing with the day to day business of running a high school the world my students lived in had transformed into something very unlike the high school I knew as a kid.

Parents and students feel the pressure to succeed, and respond with good intentions and sometimes disastrous results. Defining where the pressure comes from is a tricky job, and one that may not have a certain answer, but what I did realize was that as a site administrator I needed to pay attention, take inventory of the true lay of the land, and get about the work of trying to help.

That I wasn’t on the forefront of technology, social media, or recognizing trends in adolescence wasn’t a damning failure, but could have been had I not recognized that I needed to adjust to new reality.

It’s okay to come out of our caves and look around. No one worth listening to will judge us for blinking in the light of the new day and trying to catch up with a world different than the one we grew up in.

If it is a little scary –the kids all have phones and they expect to use them in class, and on top of that my principal seems okay with it– there is no reason to panic.

photo 1 (9)The stormtroopers never win, at least not until they take off their helmets, hijack a TIE fighter, and try something unexpected, dangerous, and different.

Change.

It’s a reality full of potential, full of opportunity, and no more alarming than we let it be.

When you realize that you’re surrounded by stormtroopers, try something different.