The DIY Teacher: Are you connected deeply? Part I.

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April 29th, 2011

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Week 2 with Bianca Hewes from Davidson High School, NSW, Australia

In front of me is the majestic Lake Rotoaria, found in the very middle of New Zealand’s north island. The lake, reflecting a moody Autumn sky, is straddled by black swans who hoot noisily to each other seemingly unconcerned by the menacing snow-capped Mount Tongariro that towers over them. Behind me, my two sons play in the fertile volcanic mud and a little further away my husband is casting a line into the lake, still glowing from having caught his first New Zealand trout on his second cast. This setting is as a close as it comes to travel-brochure perfect. And what am I doing? Well – it’s a little embarrassing to admit – but I’m reading, writing and thinking about technology and education. It’s OK. I think. I mean, it’s not like I’m not enjoying myself. Haha. And this brings me to the focus of this post. Finding the balance between the inner and the outer life when your job is one that is all-consuming and ultimately a job that (I believe) you must live entirely if it is to be done well.

A teacher friend of mine, David Chapman, let me borrow one of his books for my trip to NZ. It was a perfect choice for a workaholic like me, and someone who finds herself constantly connected and loving it. Hamlet’s Blackberry. You’ve probably read it and know the answers to questions I am only just realizing need to be asked – I’m up to page 11 of the book, having chosen to first read a couple of the other books David shared with me.  I think I was avoiding the acknowledgement of the need to disconnect – nah, just kidding, I wanted to immerse myself in some quality fiction to distract myself from those winding, steep roads with sheer drops that New Zealand is famous for. Me and heights, we’re just not that tight, you know what I mean? Anyway if you’ve read Hamlet’s Blackberry you’ll know that the premise of the book is that in the crazy uber connected world of the 21st century there is a genuine need to disconnect from our ‘screens’ in order to revive our inner selves.

(Aside – I am now writing this from the safety of our camper van. If you ever get the chance to visit this stunning country, you’ll quickly learn about the gigantic bumblebees and understand why I have retreated from the lakeside. Yes, I am a big scaredy cat.)

What I’ve grasped so far from Hamlet’s Blackberry is that the most significant loss in a world dominated by ‘screens’ and the consequent busyness this connectedness brings, is a loss of depth. As 21st century teachers we know the benefits (for ourselves and our students as learners) of learning through a network of connections – the reality of course is that every minute of every day (even whilst we are sleeping) there are messages for us to read, view and respond to. We love this because every message provides us with a new learning opportunity – to take or to share some insight related to our job. But author William Powers’ suggests that such hyper-connectedness can bring about a superficial or shallow interaction with information, people, experience and ultimately life. And I think this suggestion is justified for many. But I do wonder how justified it is for teachers who are connected. Powers tells us that great philosophers have reached the conclusion that ‘every life has the potential to be lived deeply.’ Yet, according to Powers, ‘That potential is lost when your days are spread so thin, busyness itself is your true occupation.’

I know Powers wasn’t talking about teachers in his book. In fact, he might be surprised (but probably not) that many teachers are connecting to screens as part of their occupation as much as other busy professionals. The difficulty in relating this theory of the relationship between connectedness and depth to connected educators, I believe, lies in a key element of most educators – passion. I honestly don’t know any teachers in my Twitter or Edmodo PLN who fail to live their lives with depth. Do you know why? Firstly, these clever, innovative and compassionate people have elected to dedicate their lives to helping other people learn. Secondly, these people are so committed to helping people learn that they spend their free time connecting with other educators around the world through a variety of social media. This network of learners supports one another in the pursuit of becoming the best possible teacher for the learners in their care.

So, whilst I think the premise of Hamlet’s Blackberry is legitimate, and I am truly looking forward to continuing the journey into Powers’ philosophy, what I do challenge is the suggestion that being a connected educator might limit our potential to live our lives deeply. We are educators who are passionate about learning and it is this that continues to drive us to connect with other educators via ‘screens’. Through this very activity we are enriching and deepening our lives and the lives of our students.

Having said that, I do acknowledge that we all need to find a balance between this ‘outer’ crowded life of screens and our ‘inner’ sanctuary from which originality, creativity and passion stem. I am still struggling to find this balance – probably explaining why on this still, cool day in late April I am sitting inside a campervan typing on a MacBook instead of standing beside a stream learning to cast for trout.

Go on then, tell me I’m mad or wrong. Then tell me your secret to work/life/screen balance.

4 responses to “The DIY Teacher: Are you connected deeply? Part I.”

  1. I am definitely ‘connected’ and for the same reasons mentioned; but if it were me, I think I’d choose the trout 🙂

  2. Melinda Bright says:

    I agree totally about the passion but I also connected with the idea of needing to disconnect occasionally. It took me well over a week of my holidays to disconnect from constantly thinking about work and how I could improve the learning opportunities of our students. I found I needed this short break in order to come back refreshed and passionate again. Thanks for your blog though Bianca, it really struck home with me.

  3. Heather Scott says:

    I agree with you on so many points Bianca. Some of the most passionate teachers I know are connected A LOT (myself included) because, as you wrote, they want to share and grow in their profession. I don’t think we could do what we do every day if we weren’t passionate. On the other hand, there are times I want and need to disconnect and take some time to have a personal life. I can’t though. As I sit staring at the HOURS of grading in front of me this weekend I know that all I will be doing is work (grading) and if/when I’m not, I will spend my time feeling guilty and worrying. I connect to others in my PLN to refresh and renew my spirit. I also find comfort in knowing there are teachers all over the world that will support and help me. When I learn and grow as a professional because of my PLN I begin to feel that my “work” life is as much about “take” as it is about “give.”

  4. Gary Poulton says:

    I guess I was lucky or cursed, depending on how you look at it, to have been born with an unusual configuration; my inner life feeds my outer life, and it’s been pretty much like that for as long as I can remember. So 16-18 hour days don’t phase me, 4 hours sleep has kept me going for more years than I care to recall. I’m lucky that my creative drive is alive and networked globally and that the subjects I teach are those that I practice professionally outside of teaching. Over the years I’ve learnt to balance this organically in much the same way a cat lands on it’s feet, necessity is the harsh mother of invention. No TV, no newspapers, no radio, work is relaxation (that’s a new one). I write my own music, research my interests relentlessly, create all the content that I teach (no textbooks), maintain an online presence in over 13 sites and am never bored. So when the question comes, how do you manage all this, it comes down to simply wanting to. As for balance, there is no need. If your ‘inner sanctuary’ is a place of retreat from the chaos of the day to day, then yes, balance you must have. But when you live in your creative centre and work from your creative centre, what’s to balance?
    As for screens, just windows to other opportunities.
    So Bianca, not mad, not wrong, you cast a sturdy line from beside your MacBrook 🙂 and maybe some good fishing will be had….and you didn’t even have to step outside.

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