I am proud to call myself a connected educator; however, I am not proud to say that being connected distracted me from my students… and my kids.
When I first joined Twitter in 2008, I was skeptical and was trying to use it to try to figure it out to help my wife use it for her business. Later that year, I found the power of creating a personal learning network and for the the next few years, I could not get enough of talking all things education on Twitter and through blogs. As a new principal, the people I connected with through Twitter we instrumental in helping me to grow and survive the first few years; however, I had trouble turning off and the phrase “power down, Wejr!” became quite common in our house.
I loved being so connected as there was always someone to talk and debate issues in education. Real friendships grew out of my interactions on Twitter and I would never ever question the value of social media in education and professional learning.
This past year, my word has been “FOCUS” as this is an area I have always struggled with. I currently have half of our large hedge trimmed, 2/3 of our patio rails painted, and only the back lawn mowed. My wife jokingly says I must have A.D.D. but I actually do have a significant struggle with focusing on one thing at a time. I am not good at being still; if there is a spare moment, I need to be doing something.
What I noticed this past year is that the “something” that I often needed to do when there was a spare moment was to check my social media apps on my phone. If the kids had to go to the bathroom, I would check my phone. If I went to do laundry and was not with the girls for a moment… I would check my phone. If I was walking down the hall… if I was waiting in line…I would check my phone.
I knew something had to change so I took all notifications off my phone aside from text messages. I STILL went and checked my phone… but instead of checking the notifications, I would actually open the Twitter or Facebook app just to check for replies or messages. As sad as this may sound for a “thirtysomething” to be doing this, you can imagine how hard it is for our students and teens when social interaction and connections are that much more important. To be clear, I would not check my phone when I was with the kids – I had the self-control to avoid that. The problem was that I would check when I had that spare moment and although I would put the phone away as soon as I was with the kids (or students), I often became distracted. I was distracted by a message or reply that got me thinking… and when the wheels started turning about a tweet or a message, I found myself absent from the next few moments with my students or family.
As we hit the summer, I wanted it all to be about my family. I decided to take the Facebook and Twitter apps off my phone and disabled email. You would not believe the impact this had on me. For the first few days of the summer, whenever there was a bathroom break for the girls (during the “Daddy.. PRIVACY” phase), I would think to go to my phone. That was a huge slap in the face to me about how often I would reach to check. I learned to be still. I learned to enjoy those quiet moments. For me to check my social media and/or email, I would need to open my laptop and at a time when my focus would be connecting online. This meant that when we were at the park, or on a walk, or away for a week camping… I could not check my social media. I realized that by connecting less, I was connecting more. I was not distracted and my focus was 100% on the people that were right in front of me.The reason that I want to share the story of my highs and lows of connectedness is that I think we need to find a balance that works for us, our students, our jobs, and our families. We are in a time where being connected is becoming less optional and I worry that with so many opportunities to connect, we lose the deeper connections with those directly in front of us. I am not saying that social media is a negative or a bad thing nor am I saying we need to avoid social media; my connections online have led to deep relationships with people that have had a huge impact on my life. I am also not saying that everyone needs to do what I did as most people likely have more self-control than me. What I am saying is that we need to make social media work for us. We do not need to be available at all times to all people. We need to be available to the people that are with us in that moment. We need to model effective, respectful, and appropriate use of our devices to our kids. We need to step back and reflect on our purpose.
Brene Brown wrote,
Connection is why we are here. We are hardwired to connect with others.
I truly believe in the power of connection. With access to so many people who are willing and able to connect throughout the day, it makes it that much more important to be reflective and purposeful in how and when we use social media and technology in our lives.
Thank you to the student in Jonathan Vervaet’s education class at Simon Fraser University that asked me the question, “Can we be too connected?” as my response led to this post. Thank you, too, to my wife for her constant nudging to “power down”.
Be sure to read my friend Dwight Carter’s post Disconnect to Reconnect as this had a large impact on me last summer.
Note: I realize that I can still access the web version of social media sites on my phone but for some reason, I was able to prevent myself from doing this. As I am now at work and have learned more self-control, I have added email back to my phone.