Spark that impulse…

Listening to others begins with self-awareness.

The longer I’ve been in education, the more I’ve come to understand that ‘worrying’ is just something we’ve always done.  Each generation of teachers has had its own conversation around what we are doing wrong.  If you are teaching in 2018, you’ve probably heard ‘screen time,’ spoken in that tone reserved usually for ‘root canal’ half a dozen times this month alone.

But let’s step back, and make room for a little balance:

Computers, tablets, and smartphones are multipurpose devices that can be used for lots of purposes. Designating their use simply as “screen time” can miss some important variations. The Common Sense Census: Media Use by Tweens and Teens identifies four main categories of screen time.

  • Passive consumption: watching TV, reading, and listening to music
  • Interactive consumption: playing games and browsing the Internet
  • Communication: video-chatting and using social media
  • ​Content creation: using devices to make digital art or music (keep reading here)

Experimenting with voice will make you more empathic.

The longer I’ve been working with blogging, the more I’ve come to see it as a tool for empathy. Students with blogs are encouraged to engage with content creation–they have a space to be creative, and a place to leave a trail of breadcrumbs for future learning. I’ve seen students build archives of poetry, piano practice, visual notes, odes to maths, photo galleries, and essays.  No, their blog may not always be a beacon of innovation.  Nor is my own.  Often this space is messy, ideas are fluid, and perhaps the seedling of an idea emerges not upon the date I click publish…but weeks later when I take the time to look back.  So what is this all about? It’s about experimenting with ideas, with listening to what I clearly still need to ruminate on. It’s also an exercise in self-awareness and design thinking:

Blogging can equip introverts and extroverts with a place to practice being conversant.

The old adage ‘think before you speak,’ comes to mind here: blogging is being more thoughtful about that conversation we might need to have with a boss, colleague, or student.  As someone who identifies strongly as an introvert, I see this blog as a dojo for my ideas.  This is a place for me to be curious, ask questions of others and self, curate reading, and give myself a chance to solidify (or rip apart) my opinions.  Often this dojo is what encourages me to speak up in a meeting or to not feel a need to be confrontational in disagreements.  Coming back to your own thinking month after month, year after year teaches you to be patient with ideas and concepts…and yourself.

Tonight I listened to Alan Alda talk about his new book on an episode of one of my favorite podcasts, Hidden Brain. You can listen to it here:

Alda has fantastic and funny anecdotes on his journey to better listening, and it is worth the 42 minutes.  He speaks of improv as a way towards more empathy: “The more empathy I have the less annoying other people are,” he says.  I think empathy is something we can learn, and I agree that we can train ourselves to strive for more empathetic lives.  In short, Alda’s advice is that we need to find different ways of connecting with others, different approaches to seeing others.  He wants us to notice more about one another.  In schools where  students and colleagues have made their reflection transparent, I’ve seen a dynamic shift, I’ve seen empathy sprout anew in places it wasn’t before.  Alda references ‘an impulse to pay attention,’ and I think when we are purposeful in setting out key opportunities to take snapshots of learning, we spark that impulse.

Ready to sink your teeth into some research on digital portfolios?

Here is a great place to start, and this is a wonderful follow up read.

You aren’t the future.

My colleague, Valerie, recently share a blogpost framing her thoughts for our recent graduating class.  I thought I’d add a little #kindling to that campfire:

Mike Rastiello Tracks
Mike Rastiello


Class of 2016:  you are not the future.  No, you are not the change-makers of tomorrow.  Nope.  Are not. Aren’t.

You are however the present.  You are taking action right now.  You are the today. Yes, yes, you are.

Think you need to wait for that degree, that job, that approval from another faculty? Think you need that internship? That scholarship? Think again.

You are as of 2016, as of today, the most connected group of graduates the world has ever seen.  You leave high school more informed, with more access, and by extension, more potential than any class before you.

You have tools that allow you to make, build, defend, support, or galvanize others. So many people will tell you right now that you need to go forth and find meaning. You have the means to make life meaningful today.

Often we speak to graduates as though they are in a suspended void of ‘what will be.’  I think instead you need to focus on what is.

So, class of 2016, what are you going to do today?

Because today, not tomorrow, you are leaving your mark, crafting your legacy, shaping the world of those around you.  Today you influence the day of those you come in contact with.  Your attitude, words, and engagement with your circle of influence either communicate a mindset of integrity, kindness, and empathy, or they don’t.  But you get to decide.  Hopefully the past decade of your education has given you access to rehearsing the fine art of decision making.  As my favorite (ever!) commencement address says:

“The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.”

(David Foster Wallace, “This is Water”)

 Your attention, and the way you spend it, conserve it, or dedicate it today is the most precious, most important choice you will make day in and day out.

As a teacher, that is something I hold myself accountable for: helping you be mindful about what you give your attention to.  Because your amazing gift of uber-connection in an uber-connected world cannot pay attention to it all.  But I promise you, whatever your definition of success is, there will be a direct correlation between that, and the things you neglect versus the things you consider.

The phrase ‘pay attention,’ is a call to understand that you have a bank of mindfulness. 

You make deposits and withdrawals from that bank a hundred times a day. And today, you will balance that budget, or maybe you won’t.  You make that choice, you make it today, not tomorrow.

Sound like heaps of pressure?  Remember, you have accountants to help you out: these people are your friends and family.  But they can only help you if you are aware, and open minded enough to reflect on your bank of ideas, thoughts, and mental/emotional expenditures.  And of course you too, are an accountant for someone else, or at least you could be if you wanted to.

You are the today.  You share that opportunity and responsibility with everyone in your circle of influence today.  Your choices are investments.  To quote Wallace again:

“…the most obvious, ubiquitous, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about.”

Be courageous with your mind’s capital today, be brazenly aware of others, finance this hour accordingly.

And if you ever need a quick accounting consultancy, don’t be shy, I’m always here to help where I can.
Warm regards,
Ms. Friedman
Thomas Hawk Decisions
Thomas Hawk


Thanks to Flickr for these fab CC images:

Mike Rastiello


Thomas Hawk