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This Time it’s Personal

Dad Childhood

Yesterday a package arrived in the mail. It was from my aunt who sent me some old photographs of my dad…along with a heartfelt note. My dad passed away almost eight years ago without warning, so receiving the pictures was like an instant connection to him.

In the note my aunt mentioned that, “The memory of her brother (my dad) would forever live on in her heart,” and she thought I would appreciate having the pictures of him.  She was right. I don’t have many pictures of my dad, so seeing him again yesterday was both beautiful and jarring.  The package included pictures of my dad as a young boy, his wedding, my wedding, and more. I must have looked through the stack of pictures a dozen times yesterday. 

I was chatting with my wife about the pictures as we were driving to get a sandwich for dinner.  I asked her if we had any printed pictures of our family (and ourselves) to give our children one day. She responded in partial jest, “This is the digital world…we have passwords to digital pictures and video for our kids.”  This got me thinking more about the digital world and the purpose of technology in schools. 

As educators, we need to be really careful about the purpose we implore.  We need to talk about pedagogy more often. (Not in short sound-bytes and 140 character bursts, but deeper dialogue.) I’m not naïve enough to think that my stated purpose for using technology should be your stated purpose. But we better be clear on our why each time we pass out paper and pencils, or digital devices.  “Why” matters.

The transformative potential of technology does not rest solely in its ability to convert images and experiences to digital media. The power of technology is in how it can bring us together if we are intentional about it.  Technology can support and amplify that which makes us uniquely human.

Through technology, our hurts and aspirations can become another person’s cause. The struggles that others share can activate our own empathy. Our ability to create, connect, reflect, wonder, imagine, innovate, express love, learn, share, and grow can be enhanced through technology.

If technology hinders any of these things we need to pause and reflect on the intended purpose. We’re hearing a lot about 1:1 initiatives as districts are striving to put a device in every student’s hand.  I get why this can be a good thing, but I believe the ratio is wrong.  The goal of any iPad or tablet initiative should be “1 to World” (or 1 to 7.4 billion people) because connecting kids to one another really does matter.

In addition to developing deeper connections and an understanding of others, technology can help us better connect to ourselves. I suppose this blog is a small example of reflection. Regardless, we need to better articulate the purpose and pedagogy for the technology we’re deploying. This brings me back to my dad.

There is nothing like holding a picture and touching the image of your dad.  Every fold, fade, and discoloration of the paper can transport a person to a different time.  There is a connection, for me, when I physically hold a photograph, book, or loved one.  It is distinctly human. We need to be giving our kids this same perspective and opportunity when they are holding their devices.

Technology mustn’t replace connecting with others; the power of technology is its ability to extend and enhance how we connect to other human beings. How is your school leveraging technology as a tool that enhances relationships and learning? What is your why?

Dad My Wedding

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Leaving a Mark

Cantaloupe

Elbows planted firmly on the kitchen table and hands clasped contentedly around a cantaloupe rind….my four-year-old son was loving life! As his big blue eyes scanned the room the juice from the ripe orange melon that he was devouring meandered down both arms. I was taking in the scene and noted how similar his beautiful eyes were to his mother’s. I also noticed a bright green mark on his arm. Actually, it was borderline neon.  I quickly connected the dots.

Rewind 30 minutes:

The innocuous request my daughter had made just a half an hour before preparing lunch seemed like a great idea at the time.  I was wrapping up a school project and she volunteered to make lunch. She also asked if it would be ok to “be creative” while making the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. How could I refuse?! We occasionally add bananas and honey to our sandwiches, and when we really want to live on the edge we cut off the crust and make sandwich-shaped butterflies. I never saw the green food coloring and candy-colored baking sugars coming!  Never-the-less, when she surprised us with a platter of somewhat soggy green sandwiches coated in confectioner’s sprinkles we tried to embrace it. Much to my wife’s chagrin, one of my mantras is, “A mess is evidence of fun.”

Food Coloring

Back to the Cantaloupe:

As we enjoyed the remaining cantaloupe (green arms and all) I reflected on all the marks in our students’ lives. Some marks are “evidence of fun” like grass-stained jeans from an epic recess soccer game. Other marks are unseen and might be attributed to anxiety over a disagreement with a classmate or the heartbreak and fear connected to a variety of possible family circumstances.

In each of these situations the relationships that teachers have with their students serve as the underpinnings of healing, safety, and eventual learning.  The painful truth of the matter is that some marks aren’t bright green and they can’t be washed off. Nobody understands this better than the amazing professionals in our children’s classrooms. This is where hope and love enter the equation.

Just like my son’s bright green arms…there’s a story behind every mark. The most humbling thing about working in a school is that we also have the chance to leave marks on the hearts and minds of our students and co-workers each and every day. These are the kind of marks that have the powerful potential to overshadow some of the darker dilemmas that our students may encounter. Kindness continues to be one of the most powerful forces in the world, and one that cuts through the dark like a brilliant flame.

More vivid than green food coloring, the mark of encouragement, unswerving love, patience, and time can impact the very trajectory of a child’s life. In all you do…leave this kind of mark.

Image Credits: ifood.tv and bonappetit.com

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