Talk Don’t Text

New Rule: Talk Don’t Text

First, self-disclosure. I am old, at least older, with over forty years in education. I entered the tech world many years ago, not because I wanted to, I had to. Yes, ultimately it was good for me. I used to get mad, swear, and lament over the good old days. Truth is some of the old days weren’t that good. So, even though I use computers, email, etc, texting was and is a challenge for me.

One day, in my last principalship, Sara Hunt, one of our district technology staff and a great science teacher stopped in my office. I was complaining about technology. You should know I had a nameplate on my door saying “learner.” Sara listened to me whine. She said, just a minute, went to my door, looked at the sign, and said, “hmmm, it says Learner. Is that true?” DRAT, she caught me. I hate it when my colleagues use my own material on me. Sara was absolutely correct.

After a deep sigh, Sara taught me to use Chrome and several other software programs. OK, I still whine. Actually, I am writing this at a Starbucks where I don’t use money, I pay by magic on my iPhone.

At school, students physically run into each other as they passing in the halls and at lunch because their eyes are glued to the ‘smartphone,’ which could be considered an oxymoron. One example was a parent called me during a class and asking why her daughter was texting her during class. Of course, our policy is not using cellphones during class unless part of the process of learning. Fortunate for me I was in my office to take the call.

I immediately went to the classroom, asked the student to join me in the hall for a short and pointed discussion. The young woman said how did I know? I said your mother called me and rarely do students look at their body and legs and laugh for no reason. The teacher and I had another discussion at the end of class. I also have been substituting during my fifth retirement, where students, who are doing more project-based learning, are using cellphones and computers daily. So, Bill, ‘get over it.’ There are learning opportunities for using technology.

The issue is the proper use of technology, depending on the context, not total bans. Like most problems, what are the contexts and the outcomes versus absolutes? OK, back to the issue.

The only reason I started texting is my own children, now in their 30s and 40s. They wouldn’t answer the phone. They answered texts much quicker to my chagrin. Yes, I love them dearly and, “answer the #$%& phone.” And they do sometimes.

As a person who has coached teachers, principals, and central office staff for over thirty years, I get concerned that texting (short messages) does not allow the dialogue to deepen meaning and promote the same kind of thinking face-to-face or phone conversations can. I also see Zoom and other technology-assisted conversations can help defer the cost of travel and provide more conversation decreasing misinterpretation and increasing understanding.

As a principal, dealing with the results of cyberbullying, inventing problems that don’t exist because of miscommunication, and getting parents excited about perceived versus real issues takes time, injures relationships, and diverts attention from learning. When parents come in and say, “they are bullying my child and I want you to stop it.” OK, I’ll be over to your house at 11:00 pm to stop it, REALLY. Sometimes parents want me to do what Facebook or the government won’t do. As a principal, I do have to deal with the results of the cyberbullying when it affects student learning and staff teaching. And, that all takes time and attention away from individual and organizational learning which can create a better culture.

As a result, many schools are starting to teach responsibility along with technology. Educators, please hear this – technology will always be ahead of us. And, we will have to respond or suffer the continued consequences of inappropriate use of technology. I wonder what will be the next quantum leap from outside forces that affect learning. Our job will be to find positive ways to use technology, not abdicate learning to the cellphones, computers, or the next new thing. Although AI is providing more and more options for learning and meaning.

So, what is the goal of communication? If it is the exchange of information, great. Short responses to help move things along is very helpful. For instance, finding one another in a shopping center, checking on appointments when someone gets delayed, and confirming meeting times and places.

Stevie Ray is one of the best improv artists I know. He has taught teachers and students about communication, collaboration, conflict management, and creativity through improv. Stevie has done that in several schools and districts where I have worked. In addition, he works with special needs people on a program called ‘Skills for Life.’ This program really helps kids and adults to be more confident and competent in being able to focus and articulate their thoughts in the real world. He is a tremendous keynote speaker and does a lot of business consulting.

Stevie writes a column called, Business Journal. Check out his website at www.stevierays.org. The May 2019 article was titled, ‘Why phone calls or face-to-face are better than text.’ Some of the pros mentioned for texting are: you are able to track the information flow and messages are asynchronous meaning you can control when you send and respond. The cons are: texts are less efficient since it takes several texts to gain better meaning, the chance of miscommunication is higher, and no emotion or inflection can be detected causing reduced understanding. We all know words are the least part of effective communication.

When there is a back and forth by face-to-face or voice, conversation clarification is higher, emotion can be sensed, and being able to ask questions enhances meaning. Depending upon the goal of the connection, choose wisely whether to use text or your preinstalled communication system called voice.

What I am suggesting is use texting for quick exchange of information and make sure meaningful conversations involve talking to each other in person or use of visual technology. Texting does NOT replace the need for exchange of ideas, values, and discussion about behavior that increases learning.

As always CONTEXT MATTERS. I end with one of my favorite quotes by Karen Kaiser Clark:
“Life is change.
Growth is optional.
Choose wisely ”

PS – I looked up the author of this quote on my computer.