Tuesday, July 18, 2006

the promise and curse of connectivity

Nelson G. writes the following in response to my "leading vs. listening" entry of two days ago:

"It strikes me that this was, in some ways, an especially apppropriate blog posting for invited responses. In a way, it's all about listening. I'll admit that when I received an email telling me that you had started a blog, I thought, 'Cool. I'll peek in at it some day,' and promptly put it out of my mind. The email was there in my inbox, but I had little inclination to follow the link because there are so many sources of news and reflection on the Web, I find it all a bit overwhelming."

Who hasn't experienced Nelson's feeling of being annoyingly over-supplied with an excess of 'wired' information? What's so oppressive is not simply the easy and abundant availability of electronic information, it's how tenaciously and maddeningly we are sucked into its electronic maw. When the Provost of our university came today to present completion of program certificates to our summer institute participants, she and I performed what must now be considered the academic ritual of bemoaning our email dominated world. "The trouble is the cc function," she complained. "Anyone can cc you on anything, and include attachments. Attachments they expect you to read. It's simply overwhelming."

The "o" word again. Overwhelming. Teachers in general and academics in particular feel they are drowning in electronic connectivity, and most are mad as hell about it.

So what does that mean for the use of electronic communication in the building of a stronger and more supportive sense of school community that I suggested at the conclusion of my entry of two day ago? I think it means that we have to be pretty patient at first, and pretty understanding of the many claims that are made on the time and attention of any reasonably conscientious public school teacher. We can no more expect electronic connectivity to 'transform' a school culture than we could have expected Margot's classmates in "All Summer in a Day" to believe her accounts of seeing and feeling the sun (see my earlier blog entry). What we can expect, however, is that thoughtful and attentive 'electronic' observations on the contributions our fellow teachers are making to enriching the life of the students they teach and the schools in which they work will gradually build an ever-enlarging audience of both 'authors' and 'readers.'

And is that really all that much to ask: one postive comment per day, posted electronically on blogsite 'hosted' by the whole school faculty, available to all teachers to both post 'electronic appreciations' of one another and to respond to or comment on those that have been posted? Might be worth a try, might it not? And who is going to try, if not you?


Marty Krovetz said...

RE: Leading vs Listening
As I read Jonathan's entry, I thought about the movie "Sliding Doors." The movie was not great, but I continue to think about how much of my life has been me just making it through the sliding doors. In my early 20's I was a math teacher in a mill town in North Carolina. This allowed me to avoid Viet Nam and remain in graduate school in Chapel Hill. When I completed my PhD and secured a new position in CA, I went to say good by to the superintendent. He and I had become colleagues. He asked me to stay and accept a position as math coordinator for the district. In my sarcastic way, I told him I would stay only for his position. Instead of wisecracking back, he offered me the principalship of an elementary school. I said no, knowing that I could not continue to live in NC when I had the chance to move to CA. A year later I knew that my heart was in high school education/reform, not in college teaching at that point in my life. I earned my administrative credential, sought a position and became a school administrator for 17 years. In 1991 I returned to the university scene at SJSU. If Dr. Deason had not responded as he had I know that I would not have chosen the path I did. The day after seeing the movie, I went to yahoo people search, found his son, secured the phone number, and called Dr. Deason to thank him - 27 years later.

A key lesson is that what we say to people makes a difference. Every hello to a student entering your classroom, every sincere "How are you today?", every sincere "What do you think?", every "I have high expectations for you and will support you" may change a person's life.

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