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.