Thoughtful Tech for Students & Teachers

I am on a serious podcast kick. My forty minute to an hour commute affords me ample time to consume almost a podcast a day. Vox editor, Ezra Klein, consistently refers to himself and his guests as “infovores” and while I wouldn’t dare put myself in a class with Ta’Nehisi Coates and Tyler Cowen, I would like to consider myself an infovore too.

Here’s what podcasts I’ve been tuning into lately:

  • S-Town – A strange saga of a small Alabama town and one of its eccentric denizens
  • The Tim Ferriss Show – Work and live smart, but don’t expect to be as successful or productive as Tim Ferriss himself
  • Recode Decode – Tech- and media-centered podcast featuring the incisive Kara Swisher
  • The Ezra Klein Show – The Vox editor interviews fantastically interesting and important thinkers and infovores (my personal favorite podcast)

Last, On Being with Krista Tippett has been a podcast and radio staple for years now. If you don’t know her soothing lilt and curious questioning, you should! Recently I listened to her discussion with Anil Dash, a serial tech entrepreneur turned thought-leader on tech ethics and purpose.

I was ignorant of Dash before listening to the podcast, and found it pleasantly surprising to come across an industry leader asking all the tough reflective questions that seem to go unaddressed each time a new iPhone iOS is released. Dash and Tippett cover the gamut too, including personal tech use and best practices, social media pros and cons, automation, self-driving cars and machine learning.

The whole conversation is worth a listen, but if you are an educator you should listen especially closely to the section where Dash describes his thoughts on how children should engage with technology. Below is a transcript of that section of their conversation:

MS. TIPPETT: So my children are, right now, 18 and 22. And even in those four years, there was such an acceleration. And it was interesting also in terms of the platforms they and their friends use completely shifted.

MR. DASH: Totally different tools. Yeah.

MS. TIPPETT: And I’m actually — I find myself being really grateful that I’m not a parenting — we were still in that window where I could say, “No, you will not have an iPhone until you’re 14,” or something, which I just don’t think you can do anymore, right? And so they were already kind of formed before all of the technology entered their lives. And I know it’s changed so much now in the meantime, and you have a 5-year-old. I mean, I wonder how are you thinking about that question.

MR. DASH: We don’t have a very intelligent cultural conversation about how kids engage with technology at all.

MS. TIPPETT: No. No.

MR. DASH: I think…

MS. TIPPETT: It’s like a guinea pig generation.

MR. DASH: Yeah. Well, it’s also — I also think of the concept of “screen time.” When you’re with young kids, you’ve heard this, right? “Do you limit your child’s screen time?” And it’s like, no. I engage

with what he’s specifically doing. I don’t limit his page time. I just choose whether he’s reading a book or a magazine or whether it’s something that’s like a bunch of — he’s 5 years old, so he likes poop jokes. But — how much of that and how much of, like, smart stuff? And so the idea that they’re both on pages and are therefore equivalent is absurd, and yet we talk about screen time that way. I’m like, is he playing chess on the iPad? Or is he watching funny YouTube videos of animals falling over? Which is also awesome, but different.

And so that really — that always sticks with me because I think it’s a very unsophisticated way to look at things, and then we carry that forward. And that’s when they’re very, very young, right? 2, 3, 4, 5. They first start seeing screens. And my son maybe spends 15 minutes a day on the iPad, and he loves it, and that’s all he gets. But that’s always been the rule for him, so it doesn’t matter. And I limit it mostly just because we limit everything. I mean, you just don’t let a 5-year-old do whatever they want, or you end up in hell.

[laughter]

MS. TIPPETT: Are you saying — so, this is a radical idea. You apply the same wisdom you apply to other things to technology?

MR. DASH: Yeah.

MS. TIPPETT: Yeah, well that…

MR. DASH: Well, that’s the thing. It’s part of your life. I think that was the thing. I saw so many parents — and this is not judgment. I don’t judge other parents. Other parents are fine.

MS. TIPPETT: No, we’re all on this frontier, and we’re learning a language.

MR. DASH: But as we’re figuring it out, they treat it as if there is life — they say this — like, “This is real life, and then there’s computer world.” And I’m like, “That’s not the thing. That’s not how their lives are gonna be.” And I think I had an unusual perspective, in that I did start using computers before I was in kindergarten, just as my son has.

And he has way better programing tools. I was like, “Gosh, if I had these things.” He’s got — because we had to do these primitive blocky green graphics on the screen when I was a kid, and he’s got this Star Wars robot that he can go on the iPad and give it programming instructions, and it follows his directions to roll around the living room. And I’m like, “That is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.” Like, you wait until they go to bed so you can play with it.

[laughter]

MR. DASH: And that’s — no, he’s going to listen to this I bet. So — I don’t do that. I don’t do that.

[laughter]

MR. DASH: But the thing that I think about is that that’s part of his life. It’s not over there. It’s not an artifice. It’s not the virtual world. It’s just life. And I think about that with so many experiences where, when we were fighting for validating social media and social networking, saying these would be important, these would be part of our lives and there’s a reason to include it, it was about this idea that sharing makes something better.

I fully reject the argument — people say this all the time. You know, “I saw this young person in a restaurant on their own, on their phone, not interacting with anyone.” What do you think they were doing? They were talking to people.

MS. TIPPETT: [laughs] Right.

MR. DASH: They were interacting with lots of humans all at once. And it makes me furious because I’m saying they’re being deeply social. It’s not in the mode that you know, but it’s actually better than when they were sitting alone at the diner with a book. And I think there’s been this misunderstanding and this misapprehension about what the tech is doing. It is connecting us to people.

And there’s so much attention paid — and with good reason — to the bullying and the other things, the cyber bullying and all those. A general rule of thumb is anything that begins with “cyber” is a lie. Like, if you say “cyber bullying” or “cyber crime,” it was probably — that’s one of those rare areas where they — it’s a behavior that existed before, and the “cyber” is not the issue. So children being unkind to each other…

MS. TIPPETT: Right. So nothing happens online that doesn’t happen offline.

MR. DASH: Right. And so being able to integrate it — now it can be worse because of the network effects. It can be amplified by the immediacy and the fact that it happens in your home. But the principles can carry across. And it has to be an integrated conversation, and that’s the key. It’s like, how much time do you limit your child talking to their friends? I don’t care if it’s on the phone, on the computer on messaging, in real life, in person, out in public, whatever it is. If you have a set of rules, they apply across these things. But that demands a literacy and a fluency that I think takes a serious investment in time and understanding your child’s context. And that’s the hard part.

A few key takeaways:
  • Screen time versus quality time on technology is the tech equivalent of blended learning versus traditional learning. We get tripped up thinking too much about the amount of screen time or the specific innovative model of learning, and forget that quality is key no matter what we’re talking about. I have always thought that I would limit the screen time of my own children, and I probably still will, but now I’ll remind myself that the important thing is the quality of time spent on a screen or in the neighborhood, and both can be positive for children.
  • “Nothing happens online that doesn’t happen offline.” However, the tech affect can amplify an experience in certain ways.
  • Mr. Dash: “But the thing that I think about is that that’s part of his life. It’s not over there. It’s not an artifice. It’s not the virtual world. It’s just life. And I think about that with so many experiences where, when we were fighting for validating social media and social networking, saying these would be important, these would be part of our lives and there’s a reason to include it, it was about this idea that sharing makes something better.

    I fully reject the argument — people say this all the time. You know, “I saw this young person in a restaurant on their own, on their phone, not interacting with anyone.” What do you think they were doing? They were talking to people.”

    This whole section gives me pause, because I’m not a digital native, nor do I desire to be. I want to leverage technology to serve me as a human, not the other way around, and maybe, just maybe, help create a technology that serves HUMAN learning, not machine learning. This leads me to bifurcate my life between the virtual, online world and the “real world”. While I realize that these two worlds are already indistinguishable in many respects, and I recognize that Dash’s son’s generation, the generation of my 2nd grade students, are going to see tech as a fully integrated part of life, I’m not yet comfortable with that. And I don’t know what this means for me as a teacher and ed tech user.

    Please let me know your thoughts on this tech educator dilemma if you can relate. And, if you know of any great and compelling education podcasts out there, please do share!

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New Teacher Job Interview Do’s and Don’ts

COP Interview Tips

Jennifer Gonzalez and her Cult of Pedagogy site is one to follow on social media. Her YouTube Channel is full of great and immediately usable how-to videos ranging from classroom management strategies to the Jigsaw Method. She recently published a series of interviews with educators in various administration positions that have extensive experience in the teacher hiring process. I was very interested to listen to the podcast and follow the transcript of the conversation for a couple reasons.

First, I am going to be interviewing for my first classroom teacher position in about a year from now. While I have had my own ESL classroom in Guatemala, Colombia and South Korea, I have not been certificated and charged with my own elementary homeroom class yet.

Second, it’s no secret to those who know me personally and professionally that I aim to lead a school community one day as a principal. While this is a long ways off and ultimately contingent on my professional development and competency as a classroom teacher, it is my long-term professional goal as an educator. Thus, I am always interested in hearing about different administrators’ scouting, recruitment and interview strategies.

As a bilingual instructional assistant (paraeducator) in a Seattle public school, I sat on many hiring committees, including those interviewing vice principal, head teacher, classroom teacher, special education and paraprofessional candidates. Therefore, I have some of my own insights about best practices in educator interviews, both from the hiring perspective and the interviewee perspective. Many of my own ideas jibbed with what I heard from CoP’s group of administrators and some of their advice was novel. Below I have included my favorite quotes from this interview series along with some of my own commentary in italics.

Chris Nordmann (@ChrisNordmann), Academic Dean at the Kaleidoscope Charter School in Otsego, Minnesota.

“….just their willingness to continue learning. What are they doing to better themselves? How can they inspire others around them, students and staff, to improve themselves as well?”

“Also somebody who values what other people do within the building. For example, we had someone who was talking about, you know, a lunch lady was gone and they went back and served lunch for the day. Somebody who was willing to go above and beyond to do something outside of their responsibility for the good of the school. I think that’s– If somebody has those things, I can overlook some experience.”

I think being a teacher who is also a lover of lifelong learning themselves is essential. Honestly, I don’t know why you would be in the profession if you aren’t a lover of good books, new information, intellectual exploration and personal growth.

I also just love Mr. Nordmann’s emphasis on valuing all the little things that different school staff members provide to the school community. When I taught an after-school poetry and soccer club in Seattle, the night janitor would often walk in to our classroom in order to do some cleaning or maintenance. I made a point of introducing him to the group of students, asking them if they knew what he did for them each day, and explicitly clarifying the importance of the janitor’s role at the school. You’ve got to model and teach that every life has value, but you’ve got to see and believe it for yourself first.

Penny Sturtevant, Principal at Big Walnut Middle School in Sunbury, Ohio.

“We’re looking to see that you’re pliable, you’re open, you’re willing to collaborate and be a piece. So I think they can relax and say – It’s okay to say, “You know, I’m not an expert in that.” And give that honest response. Take that off your weight that you have to be the expert.”

“They’ve shown the initiative to know our school, and maybe just something about our community. That they felt it was important enough that they spent, invested their time to go and find out, and maybe even know a little bit about who’s interviewing them if they have that opportunity.”

“They talked about the enthusiasm they were bringing that a beginner would bring, but they had that experience of someone who had been in the field.”

“So I would encourage them to pause, think their response, speak their response and not worry about having a vast majority. Short interviews sometimes are the best. I got what I needed.”

“Openness, willingness to learn, and then I think, make yourself unique. You may not think about what makes you unique, think outside education. It could be something as simple as “I’m a runner and I would love to bring running club to the kids.” “I have traveled the world.” Or–I have one staff member who knows American Sign Language so she started an American Sign Language club.”

Growth mindset, initiative, enthusiasm, knowing your strengths and weaknesses, Ms. Sturtevant is describing the kind of people I would like my students to become. Why should her expectations for the teachers teaching and mentoring those students be any different.

Also, her anecdote about a career-transitioner claiming to have the enthusiasm of a beginner, but the experience of workplace veteran really resonated with me. I have taken an alternative route to the elementary classroom and in my first year I will have the enthusiasm and nervous energy of a beginner. But, I have been in a lot of classrooms and have a lot of experience, nearly a decade in fact, with schools, students and the nuts and bolts of teaching and learning. I am going to use that line!

Herbert O’Neil (@herbertoneiljr), Director of Academics for Lifeschool in Dallas, Texas.

“…..so I believe people need to really, really focus on being confident and showing the committee or whoever it is, that you confidently work well with students in just about most situations, or that you have potential to be able to do that.”

There is a great TedTalk for almost all things of interest at this point, and, not surprisingly, for interview body language as well. Amy Cuddy gives a great talk about the importance of your pose and posture in different life situations, and advises interviewees to practice their ‘superman’ pose before going into an interview in order to boost their confidence. Check it out here.

George Couros (@gcouros), Division Principal of Innovative Teaching and learning for Parkland School Division in Stony Plain, Alberta, Canada.

“It is a really high priority, so I want to hear the word relationships in your interview. You know, over and over and over again, not just in the first answer. Like if I ask you what the most important quality and you say relationships, but then you never hear about it again, then that tells me something.”

“One of the traits I look for– I’m looking for school teachers, not classroom teachers, in the sense that if I’m looking for a grade three teacher in our school, I don’t want you only working with your children. I want to know that when you go on supervision, and that’s part of what you do, that you’re making the time and effort to connect with kids that are not in your class–and what are you doing outside of this?…..Every kid in that school is yours, not just the one you teach that year.”

“I want to create an opportunity where those people who connect with me walk out a better teacher. Whether they get the job or not, they become a better teacher because if they don’t get the job with me, they’re probably still getting other interviews. They’re going to be working with children. So if I can help them, even if they don’t get it, that’s beneficial to all of education.”

Relationships, relationships, relationships. Mr. Couros’ emphasis on relationships heartened me because I feel it is a strength of my practice as a teacher. Working in South Korea, with over seven hundred ESL students, our limited shared vocabulary and cultural experience, along with the sheer numbers, are barriers to building relationships. Yet and still, I have managed to create some incredible bonds with many of my students, and I feel like if I can do that here, it may come easier when I am back home, working in a more familiar cultural context and using a common language with fewer students.

Joe Collins (@collins6HCPS), Assistant Principal at Harford Technical High School in Harford County, Maryland.

“To me, because that implies that they can learn. By that they can learn the language of the system, of the school. They can learn what’s important to that principal and often times incorporate it into the conversation. The best that I’ve been in you can tell they’re not experts by any means, but you can tell they have a strong grounding in their instruction.”

“You know, you’ve delivered a lesson, twenty kids, ten got it, five didn’t, five thought you were teaching Spanish and it’s a Social Studies class and five are way ahead of you. What do you do? It’s the person that can just go beyond what you expected, which was “Oh, we’ll differentiate” and “Maybe I’ll pair up the five who are really ahead and…” That’s what you would expect to hear, but it’s the person that might say “I don’t really know how I know they got it…what kind of formative assessments would I do to make sure that they got it?” Then you start to perk up and you go Ooh, okay. Then you can get the conversation going to a different level because they already speak your language.”

“ They’re the ones that are asking you the questions. And they’re asking you, “What’s the demographics of the classroom? What kind of technology do I have? Is there a curriculum that’s already provided for me or will I be developing my own?” Those are all things where they’re way beyond the basics. They don’t– Throw any scenario at them, they’re going to handle it because they’re grounded in their beliefs and what they know.”

“You know Lead Learner? I don’t know if you’re familiar with Lead Learner from England. He’s one of the guys that I follow religiously and he’s a head — kind of an executive director in England, so it’s not really applicable to my situation at all, but he gives such great insight.”

Mr. Collins’ point about asking questions and attempting to engage the administrator or hiring committee in a conversation is huge! This is my main takeaway from my experience on hiring committees. The candidates who did not ask questions, who did not prepare questions beforehand, who did not attempt to engage their potential colleagues in a conversation, did not show interest in the job, the school committee, and, frankly, us as potential co-workers. This also indicates a lack of curiosity and a lack of imagination. It is strange not to be curious about how this school works that you may work at soon, don’t you want to know what it’s guiding philosophies and pedagogies are? In addition, it is unimaginative to think that an unsuccessful interview is a wasted interview. If we want our students to learn from failure then we need to imagine how our own interview failures might teach us something, and not be failures at all in the long run.