High-Tech Tools in Schools

Too Much Tech at School?

Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) is a popular trend sweeping schools this year. Schools with BYOD policies will be asking students to bring an Internet-Connected Mobile Device (smartphones, tablets, laptops) to school each day. Many educators believe that in the very-near future most books for school (textbooks, novels, workbooks) will be stored on a digital device instead of stuffed in a locker or backpack. This new movement is being met with some excitement, some trepidation, and lots of questions.

As with all new high-tech devices, there is an awkward break-in period, in which developers rapidly create new applications and accessories, users experiment excitedly with various functions, and society struggles to manage the consequences. It takes at least a decade for the dust to settle. Just think of the cell phone. It’s been around for twenty years, and people are still struggling with how to use it in a productive but healthy way. We still lack a standard set of “rules of the road” for cell phones. Since BYOD is just beginning, I would like to offer my own set of questions and concerns.

I own a MacBook and an iPad, and they are tremendous tools for me as a teacher and a writer. I use them daily, and they serve me well. They are not evil inventions. Far from it. As with every bit of technology, they are not immoral. The devil is in the details of their usage.

Whether it’s an iPhone, iPod, or iPad, it is a multi-functional devices that is not a simple educational tool. It is a video camera, a Facebook device, a YouTube player, a video game console, an email station, a texting device, a music and video player, among countless other fun applications.

Michael Simon, in his new book titled The Approximate Parent, says “Digital media is ever-present and incredibly attractive to teen brains — especially teen brains that register novelty, risk-taking and the feeling of connection as highly pleasurable. The Internet, gaming, and use of social media are addicting.” We need to realize that these devices are not just another tool in a line of educational tools, the way the VHS followed the film strip projector.

There is an age-appropriate time and place for these digital devices, and I believe it is our task as parents and educators to make those decisions for the young people in our care. This is no small task. In fact, Continue reading “High-Tech Tools in Schools”

Mister Rogers

I’m a huge Fred Rogers fan, so I was skeptical when I heard about the video remix recently done about him. I expected something satirical and mean-spirited, so I watched with my guard up. Instead, we have this.

There are so many things to learn about in this world and so many people who can help us learn.” – Fred Rogers

Thank you, John D. Boswell, for making this video. And thank you, Fred Rogers, for being a great man, a great teacher, and for leaving behind a great body of work for children throughout the world. Rest in peace, Mister Rogers.

Protecting Kids From the Inside Out

Unlike consumer products, parenting comes without instructions or guarantees. We all want our children to grow up happy, healthy, successful, and involved with positive-minded family and friends. However, our children live in a broken world, and it has a way of breaking young people, sooner or later, one way or another. But there is real hope because some young people do indeed grow up well. So, what’s a parent to do, in the face of the sinful human nature and a toxic popular culture, to raise a truly healthy young adult?

We tend to focus on what we can implement to protect our kids by setting appropriate boundaries, establishing positive activities, and providing safe environments in which our kids can grow. While those are all important aspects of raising “good kids,” they are not enough.

1 Samuel 16:7 says, “The Lord does not look at the things of man. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” Apparently, God is more interested in the inner life than the outer life, therefore we should be concerned primarily with the inner life of our children. Unfortunately, most parents focus primarily on the behavior of their kids – the outer life. Parents often react to symptoms, rather than causes. But outward behavior is not isolated from the heart of the child. Behavior is a reflection of the inner reality. Therefore, it is not possible to fix outward behavior permanently without dealing with the problems of the heart.

There is no formula for fixing problem behaviors in children, but an inside-out approach will be more effective than behavior management.

Growing Up Too Fast

A major source of the problem is that kids are growing up too fast. Continue reading “Protecting Kids From the Inside Out”

Stop, Look, Listen

Our kids, no matter the age, need us to be with them, explaining what makes one thing beautiful and another ugly, why one thing is important and the other trivial, and why this is quite right and that is all wrong. A relationship such as this is what makes the world a better place, one person at a time.

I am reading a book about finding life’s great truths in the humblest of places.  The Power of the Powerless is about the lessons learned in a family that cares for a child that has no abilities.  The book affirms life in a profound way. What at first seems like a horrible family situation is revealed to be a wonderful place to grow up.  Here is an excerpt.

“The more a parent points out things to their children, the more the children will take it upon themselves to select, identify, listen to, see, embrace.

“I was brought up in a house where the extraordinary was always discovered in the ordinary. I learned to appreciate the sound of water slapping against itself because my father, each Spring, took an iron rake and walked to the small stream that divided our property in two. Each Spring he pulled sticks, rotting leaves, and stones up from the water that broke free the flow of the stream. ‘Christopher, listen to the water rushing.’ So I listened.

Life imitates life. Children do what adults do. If parents are readers, there is a good chance that their children will grow into the reading habit. If parents embrace the enchantments of the heart, there is a good chance their children, too, will laugh.”

Christopher de Vinck, The Power of the Powerless

Raising Boys to be Real Men

Boys are misunderstood.  Too often, they are disciplined and shamed by their teachers, parents, or grandparents because it is falsely assumed that good boys should act just like good girls.

Raising boys is a topic of numerous books, but one that stands out is Raising Cain, by Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson.  I had the privilege of hearing them speak at a conference, and their wisdom impressed me deeply.  Here are my notes and thoughts from two of their sessions.

Emotions.  Give boys permission to have an internal life. Give approval to their wide-ranging emotions, as long as they behave civilly. Their tendency will be to hide their emotions at every turn, but this is not healthy. Help them use words to express their feelings effectively, since it is not in their nature or in their culture to speak openly about their feelings. So, give respect to their inner life, and speak about your own inner life. Share your likes, dislikes, fears, sorrows, regrets, hopes, and weaknesses with each other.

Activity.  Accept the high activity level of boys as a healthy part of who they are. Give them a safe place to express their need for action. Embrace their physicality as natural, normal, and in need of channeling, rather than suppressing.  Boys need to learn to manage their physicality, but they do not need to be shamed for their exuberance.

Speak to them.  Talk to boys in their language – in a way that honors their pride and masculinity. Be direct with them. Say what you mean and mean what you say.  And when possible, use them as consultants and problem solvers. They will love feeling important to you. It is important to communicate with them in a way that honors their wish for strength and respect.

Re-define courage.  Teach boys that there is more to being a hero than physically defeating an enemy. Continue reading “Raising Boys to be Real Men”

The Power of No (Part 3)

Young teenagers often “cross the line.” It’s inevitable, so it should not surprise us. Yet, we should not just acquiesce to the lowest common denominator: “Boys will be boys.”

It’s our job as adults to help young boys and girls to live well and to move towards becoming young men and women. Adolescence should be a growth process, not a static state of being, or worse yet, a window of time in which to act like a dumb animal. Saying to kids, “No, you won’t do that,” is vital to a civil society.

Young men and women need adults to speak up, but it’s scary sometimes to be the bad guy.  For example, it can be intimidating for even a grown man to tell a teenage boy to pull his pants up, for goodness sake (click here for that story).

Being the bad guy is easier said than done, and as a parent, teacher, and coach, I often fail to hold kids to account. Continue reading “The Power of No (Part 3)”

Loyalty and Love Personified

John Wooden, the most-successful and most-revered basketball coach of all time, is a role model for so many men — and rightfully so.  To this day, as he approaches 100 years old, his character is so strong that the people around him want to be better because of his example.  Watch this, and you’ll get a glimpse of why he inspires so many people, near and far, with his loyalty and his love.

Let’s not forget that this kind of life is possible — and powerful.

We have a lot to learn from Coach Wooden.  Click here for more.

The Teacher’s Challenge

I recently read this piece about teaching on a colleague’s blog called Second Drafts.  Unfortunately, I see myself in this.  For there are some times when I am a really good teacher, and there are some times when I am just doing the minimum.  I wish I would bring my “A-game” everyday all day, but I don’t.  Nevertheless, I do enjoy the kids and all the challenges at school, and I do enjoy the thinking that goes with it, and so I teach.

There’s no easier job in the world than being a bad teacher. It’s a cinch, with short hours and plenty of long vacations. The pay’s not always great, but as long as your standards are low, and all you’re looking for is an easy job, I recommend being a really rotten teacher. Be really awful. Cobble together some industry-standard lesson plans and re-run them every year; grade superficially and with an emphasis on numbers; kick back and watch the seasons change as the sea of young faces before you renews itself year after year. (Don’t ask me how I know so much about this) Continue reading “The Teacher’s Challenge”

The Reading Crisis

What and How Are Kids Reading?

Some recent observations have caused me to worry about what and how kids are reading, writing, and thinking:

1.    The English teachers at our school have been noticing a gradual loss of reading and writing skills in the last five years.  While the “above-average” students still exist in good numbers, there seems to be more students with “very-low” reading competency.

2.   My colleagues and I on the 7th grade team have noticed more students each year who are struggling with vocabulary and reading comprehension skills, so that even in math, they struggle with understanding the questions asked of them.

3.  Everywhere you look outside of the classroom, students are reading a lot, but it’s mostly text messages, instant messages, emails, teen-related blogs and websites. Teens are often seen viewing screens yet are very rarely seen reading a book. (Some are calling this generation of kids the “children of the screen.”)

Continue reading “The Reading Crisis”

Helicopter Parents

D.H. Lawrence, the literary giant, advised parents and teachers a century ago: “How to begin to educate a child. First rule: leave him alone. Second rule: leave him alone. Third rule: leave him alone. That is the whole beginning.”

At first glance this seems to be the worst parenting advice in the history of written words.  And to support that further, Lawrence had no children. However, there are situations in which this radical advice should be heeded: Helicopter parents. Paranoid teachers. Paralyzed administrators.

TIME magazine’s cover story (11-20-09) is a lengthy editorial, worth every bit of the 15 minutes it takes to read, especially if you are a hard-working, highly-committed parent or teacher under the age of fifty.  You may not be a hovering, smothering parent or teacher; however, you still might benefit from a good dose of reality about how we — sometimes in subtle ways — over-protect, over-nurture, over-schedule, and over-stimulate the kids in our care.

Sometimes, less IS more, when raising kids to be significant, successful adults.

Give it a read, and please feel free to leave a comment about it below (anonymous comments are welcome).  I’ll start it with my own comment.

The Growing Backlash Against Overparenting, by Nancy Gibbs, Friday, Nov. 20, 2009

Social Skills Needed: Apply Here

There is a social epidemic that has swept the nation.  While it used to be contained to young teenage girls, it is striking adults at an alarming rate in recent years.  It sounds like this: “Um, it’s kinda like, well, you know when you just can’t really, like, seem to just um say like what um you like want to say?   Like, um, do you know what I mean?

Rolling eyes

The epidemic is clearly some kind of communication disorder, but it lacks a name.  We need a good label.  How about Unintelligible Verbal Skills Syndrome?  Adult Communication Avoidance?  Teenage Verbal Nonsense Disorder? Arrested Social Development?  I think that one fits best – Arrested Social Development – because it’s really all about kids not growing up.

This communication deficiency is a sign of a larger problem.  It’s more than just the inability to make coherent statements with purpose and confidence.  It’s the larger problem of young adults not growing up in their speech, in their manners, or in other social skills.  It’s seen in adults who talk and act like immature teens, even preteens, in so many ways.

Historically, parents have taught young children to shake hands with adults, look them in the eye, and say something positive, such as, “It’s nice to meet you.”

Continue reading “Social Skills Needed: Apply Here”

Kids Need Community

No man is an island,” said John Donne, in reference to the ripple effect of the death of one man in a community.  Indeed, we are made for community; we are not meant to live alone.  By living and working with others, we enjoy many benefits.  By choosing to go it alone, whatever the endeavor, we give up countless blessings.  While mavericks make great movie characters, real loners miss out on so much. Unfortunately, there are more and more loners in our modern world.

A large social study in 2006 at Duke University illustrated “a sobering picture of an increasingly fragmented America, where intimate social ties — once seen as an integral part of daily life and associated with a host of psychological and civic benefits — are shrinking or nonexistent.”  Click here for the article We’re not saying people are completely isolated. They may have 600 friends on Facebook.com and e-mail 25 people a day, but they are not discussing matters that are personally important.”

teen in hall alone

It’s nothing new to learn that many people find it extremely difficult to live with others.  They find themselves in all kinds of trouble when they have to work with others at length.  They hurt people’s feelings, and they get hurt.  They annoy and they get annoyed.  They both get jealous and cause jealousy.  So, they do the logical thing; they take the path of least resistance and withdraw from others.  They become independent, vowing to avoid the problems that people cause in their lives.

After all, it is much easier, in the short run, to look out for yourself and take care of your own business, steering clear of other people’s business.  But easy is not always good, especially when it comes to relationships.

Robert D. Putnam, a professor of public policy at Harvard and the author of Bowling Alone, wrote his famous book about the same problem – increasing social isolation in the United States.  He believes that people must make deliberate steps to join and remain in small communities; otherwise, they will suffer great long-term consequences.

Continue reading “Kids Need Community”

Just Believe in Yourself

“Just believe in yourself, and you can achieve anything.”

“Pursue your dream, and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it.”

“If you dream it, you can be it.”

Countless movies, songs, TV shows, and motivational speakers have preached this message.  And countless teachers, coaches, and counselors preach the same message.  Parents teach their children the same.

So, why would any young person ever doubt it?  Most believe it 100% — until they experience enough reality that they realize that it’s a lie that adults tell to make children (and themselves) feel good. It’s just like the Easter Bunny, Santa Clause, and the Tooth Fairy.  It’s something that feels good and right at the time, but eventually, life reveals that it’s just not true.

basketballHow many boys have spent hours each day playing basketball in the driveway because they knew that they could one day play in the NBA?  How many make it?  How many can even reach the simple goal of dunking?  I know I tried everything to dunk, only to find that I was just not able, no matter how much I believed, how much I practiced, or how much I learned.  I wasn’t good enough to play in college either.  I wish someone (or several people) had told me something a lot more truthful, such as, “Quit trying to dunk and spend more time shooting because your only chance at playing in college is as a shooting guard.  But don’t count on it, since the odds are extraordinarily stacked against it.  Studying is much better for you than playing so much basketball.”

How many girls have spent endless hours singing in order to make it in the music business.  How many make it?  How many can even reach the simple goal of getting the lead part in their high school musical?  How many high school musical leads get a recording contract?  How many girls will be the next Miley Cyrus or Beyonce?  What percentage of American Idol contestants succeed in getting fame?  For millions of girls, it just doesn’t happen — no matter how much they believe in themselves and practice and learn and believe some more.  It’s a fantasy.

It hinders kids to tell them that they can do whatever they put their mind to.  And that’s in addition to the fact that it is a lie.  It may be easy, feel-good advice, but it’s not true and it’s not helpful.

So what’s the solution?

Continue reading “Just Believe in Yourself”

Training Up Independent Kids

Embracing Mistakes; Developing Problem-Solvers

Thomas Edison believed that failure was not a bad thing; it merely directed him closer to success.  He embraced his mistakes as opportunities to learn, and he ultimately succeeded as the greatest inventor of all time.

The truth is that you want your children (or students) to learn from their mistakes, which means that you are going to have to be okay with them making mistakes.  You want them to learn that they are capable of creating solutions to their own problems.  You want them to struggle with fixing their own troubles.  And you want them to know that their parents, teachers, and coaches are sources of wisdom and help along the way.

“So at the heart of good parenting is the conviction that the mistakes and failures of our children are not the enemy
.” (Silk 51)  In fact, mistakes are often the greatest teachers.

Continue reading “Training Up Independent Kids”

Discipline vs. Punishment

Heart-to-Heart Connection

A long time ago, in a land far away, I was the principal of a small elementary school.  One of my first disciplinary problems was with a 12-year-old boy who was riding his bike aggressively on the playground and sidewalks after school, which was against the rules.  He continued to disobey the orders of a teacher to stop, and he was sent to my office.  I called his mother and told her that he would be punished for directly disobeying the rules and the authorities.  I felt confident that I was doing the right thing, but this mother flipped out.  She agreed with me that he was wrong and deserved a negative consequence, but she could not believe that I was using the word punishment.  She lectured me for ten minutes about why punishment is not appropriate with children and how we should be disciplining children in love, and that if I didn’t know the difference between the two then I had no business leading a school.

I was stunned by her outrage.  I was amazed that she could be so passionate about what seemed like a very minor difference in word meaning.  It’s not like I was going to beat the child at the whipping post or anything.  What was the big deal?

Well, now that I have 13 more years in education, I see that she was right.  There is a huge difference between punishment and discipline.  Punishment is all about behavior change.  It works on the outward behavior first and foremost.  The hope is that enough punishment for bad behavior will force the child into a pattern of good behavior.

Punishment can be delivered without any love at all.  In fact, it’s meant to be rational, impartial, and free of emotion.  Take the criminal court system as an example.  The judges, jurors, and jailers don’t make the laws (legislators do that).  They don’t enforce the laws (policemen do that).  They punish lawbreakers who have been caught by the law enforcers.  The goal of the justice system is to objectively apply a punishment to fit the crime.  It’s about destroying the will to do that negative behavior again.

Continue reading “Discipline vs. Punishment”

Heart-to-Heart Connection

Parenting, teaching, and coaching are mutual pursuits.  At this stage in my life, I am involved in all three, and I firmly believe that the daily problems I face, the skills I develop, and the lessons I learn are parallel.  So, when I recently read a book on parenting, it actually spoke more to me as a teacher and coach.  The book is Loving Our Kids on Purpose: Making a Heart-to-Heart Connection by Danny Silk.

At first, I was not impressed because I had pre-judged the book by the back cover; however, the more I read, the more I found it to be insightful and helpful.  I kept thinking about my behavior as a classroom teacher – how there are so many times when I win the battle but lose the war with kids.  PunishmentI began to see more problems with my behavior, and I eventually gained both inspiration and vision to change, along with some excellent practical advice for parenting.
This will be the first of a four-part series related to the book, in which I comment on some its most profound truths.

The Power of Connection

The goal (of parenting) isn’t to get them to clean their room; it is to strengthen the connection to your heart. We will deal with the room, but if we lose the connection, we’ve lost the big stuff.  We may win the battle, but we’ve lost the war.” (176)

Continue reading “Heart-to-Heart Connection”

Embracing Interruption

Today was the first day of the school year, the day when the hallways of our middle school are jam-packed with beaming 12-14 year olds.  They are beaming with delight at being reunited with their old friends, beaming with suntanned faces full of braces, and beaming with shiny new school supplies, locker decorations, and fresh-out-of-the-box Nikes.
back to school
It’s pretty exciting, really, even for a guy who has socks older than these kids.  The buzz is real.  You can feel it all day long.

And on day one of school, it feels right and very innocent.  Every one is curious all day, going from classroom to classroom, anxious to discover who they will be with all year.  Teachers feel the same way about it, checking out the kids, seeing if we might know their parents or siblings.  We are all trying to get a feel for what the whole year might become and trying to make the best of the fact that there is a year of hard work ahead.  There is great hope that this might just be the best year yet.

I had that exact thought this morning just before school started.  This might really be the best year yet, of all my 16 years attending the first day of school as a teacher.  Then, just before the apex of this blissful moment, I was interrupted by the piercing bong of the PA system and an excessively loud announcement, which was irrelevant to about 998 of the 1,000 people on campus (myself included).  I hate that PA.  Buzz killed.
Continue reading “Embracing Interruption”

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