Data Use, Technology, and Educational Leadership

Love, slowness, technology, and school leadership

Here’s a video of Jonathan Safran Foer’s recent commencement address at Middlebury. One of doc students shared it with me upon reading my post before the weekend wondering about what mobile devices mean for our human experience and for our society as a whole. It’s thoughtful, engaging, and thoroughly worth viewing. I can’t do it enough justice in this space — watch it! [Min. 4 begins the tech stuff]

Something I can do, however, is add a little bit of “yeah, but what does this have to do with school leadership?”

At a basic level, it matters if organizational learning and PLCs matter. People need time and space for reflection. The theorist Paul Cilliers talks about the importance of a certain “slowness” to developing rich understandings of the world, to separating important stuff from noise. This kind of thinking is also throughout Karl Weick’s work. People are constantly making sense of and processing information about their worlds — how well this happens, and thus how well we do work together, is connected to things like mental space and relationships with others.

flickr: @Doug88888

flickr: @Doug88

On another level, it matters if schooling and education isn’t just about book learning, but also love. They are about coming into dialogue with the world, learning to love it and to make it a better place for others. Yes, I’m a firm believer that technologies can facilitate these processes. In fact, I write about this in Supervision (co-authored with Sergiovanni and Starrat). But I think that something worth further thought is teaching students the appropriate time and place for “checking out” into a device. Given how many adults still text and drive (despite its obvious dangers) or who flip through their phones while their kids ask for attention, we haven’t exactly figured this stuff out. This might be complicated by the potential for social media to alter our brain chemistry, making us want to keep checking in.

People who believe in the “powers of multi-tasking” think that because people can do a few things at once, that it’s possible to develop the ability to do them all well at once. For example, flying a fighter jet in combat is really hard, but people do it. The issue is that this sort of example  isn’t analogous to good teaching or good school leadership. Faced with more to do, brains make short cuts to get the job done.  They often serve us well enough, but they can be faulty. “Friendly fire” incidents are an awful reminder for what happens when those heuristics lead us astray. As teachers, how many of us have missed an important “teachable moment” or failed to attend to a student’s personal troubles because we had too much on our minds at the moment? For those of us that still scold kids, ever accidentally scold the wrong kid?

My research is about how educators use information to do their jobs better. With technologies that deliver enough to overwhelm, that can be engaging enough to distract, I’m beginning to wonder about how we can better manage these interactions.


3 comments on “Love, slowness, technology, and school leadership

  1. Matt Renwick
    July 8, 2013

    Dialogue, to me, is the most important part about being connected. Even though the concept of connectedness has expanded and become more complex, the chance to interact with others is still our purpose. So the question remains, as you state, “How can we better manage these interactions?”

    I have started by taking tech sabbaticals once a week. I don’t go as far as William Powers suggests in his book “Hamlet’s Blackberry” (his family takes the whole weekend off, and shuts off the wireless). I just make a decision to not check my feeds and focus on the personal connections with my family and friends. As I reflect, I find that my face-to-face interactions are that much richer. A bonus is that when I do get online the next day, I appreciate these connections more having been away for a day.

    Terrific post, Vinny. You are so right, that we need these gaps to reflect on our learning. To do this we need distance from the things that may distract us. Thank you for sharing your thinking on this.

  2. vinnycho
    July 8, 2013

    Matt, you’re inspiring me to put my phone on “car mode” or some other sort of self-limiting setting when I’m with my daughter. The email, the googling odd facts, etc. aren’t worth it.

  3. Anna Nolin
    July 10, 2013

    Learning community does matter; learning community shifts depending on what you’re doing in different aspects of your life. Your family is one community, work is another, potentially church another, etc. Technology can augment connection, but it’s only as good as the frame for learning users put around it. Quick fixes of connecting without learning leave you wanting more, using the technology more, and not hitting deep learning. Developing your family’s “learning ecology” is a primary leadership task.

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