Here I am again. I'm standing in front of a crowded room. Aside from the sound of my heart beating in my ears, it's quiet. This time, 700 eyes are fixed on me. Yesterday it was 70. Doesn't matter. It feels the same regardless of the number. I'm literally standing in the midst of what many (not me) would describe as their worst nightmare. I'm that guy. "The speaker". The guy in the front of the room. You stare at me, and for a brief time, I take a deep breath and stare back. In the space between silence and speech, a thought enters my stream of consciousness. It's been the same thought for the last 15 years. I had it as a classroom teacher, I have it now, I'll have it again if you see me one day standing in front of you. The thought is simple. I have 8 seconds. Exhale...go!
Anyone can stand in front of a group of people and speak. The privilege of speaking resides not in the platform, but in the notion that an audience should feel compelled to listen to anything we have to say for any length of time. Scholars tell me I have about 8 seconds to capture and hold your attention; to convince you that I can offer you something of value. 8 seconds to keep you from reaching for your phone. 8 seconds to keep you off your email. 8 seconds to to access the privilege of your attention. My platform is a gift. Your presence was never guaranteed. Offering you something of value is my responsibility.
First, I need to make it abundantly clear; I wish I had longer. Lord, I wish I had longer. But as my old man used to say, "You can wish in one hand, and ..." You know how it goes. Wishing for something that is currently contrary to my reality doesn't do any of us any good. It leaves me angry with the audience, and the audience with another sense of dissatisfaction from having their time squandered. As such, I do what I ask my own children to do when they bump up against the adversities of life. I address the challenge at hand. I do my best within the confines of my current reality, and focus only on those elements that are within my control. I employ all of the knowledge that I can have, along with all that I can borrow, to be my best. My work is my signature. I can't control your attention span. But I can certainly control my efforts to capture it. And I promise you...I'm about to give it all I have.
For the teachers out there. The school administrators. The managers. The pastors and priests. For anyone who is fortunate enough to have an audience. I invite you to embrace the privilege of speaking; whether you have an audience every day, every week, or once every year. I invite you to embrace the 8 second window. To challenge yourself to be of such value and quality, that those in your presence find themselves recognizing unequivocally the need to lean in, look, and listen long past the 8 second mark.
How do we do it?
Know your audience. Moreover, know your message and its connectivity to your audience. Speak that message with passion and conviction. As the speaker, we have to speak with 110% passion if we want participants to embrace it at 90% of our own. If we play at 80%, we give participants permission to participate at 50%. Tick tock. At 50% enthusiasm, we won't make it 8 seconds Cowboys and Cowgirls.
Plan a moment early on to capture their attention. Use that moment to transition with purpose to your message. Work with participants to label important elements of learning in the message. Assist them as they synthesize this information and discern where in their own lives and experiences this information is applicable. Then, provide opportunities for them to show understanding, mastery, and ability to apply this new knowledge to a variety of situations. If this entire cycle is taking you longer than 15 to 20 minutes, you're taking too long. Say less to them, do more with them, and work to repeat this cycle, depending on the length of your presentation.
You can do this. Take a deep breath. 8 seconds. Exhale...go!
The ATLAS Model:
Attention - Presenters use purposeful strategies to immediately capture and hold an audience's attention.
Transition - Use the initial moment of attention to transition to the root of your message.
Label - Work with participants to label the key elements of learning you want them to take away. What the "phrase that pays"? What's the one thing you want everyone to walk away with? Drive it home here.
Assist - Allow participants time to engage with the content. How can they get their hands on it? How will you assist them? How will they assist each other on the path to understanding?
Show - Participants should be afforded the opportunity to show you and each other that they can take this new learning and apply it elsewhere.
We are surrounded by division. It festers in our politics, it reveals itself in our economic circumstances, it rolls off the tongue in our communication with one another.
Can I make a request? Can we shut it out of our schools? Can we nurture connectivity in our collegial relationships; regardless of where we reside on the instructional spectrum?
I spoke to a woman last week. She was a veteran teacher. We had just met. When I mentioned my passion for educational technology, she said to me:
"Oh I see. You're one of those guys. Well, you should know that I'm not convinced that just because kids use computers they don't need to learn how to write with a pencil or understand how to spell. I guess I'm just old school. We are a dying breed."
Overtly implicit in this conversation is a premise that doesn't move either of us forward. The premise is, one of us is right...and the other is wrong with respect to blending our classrooms. Oddly enough, this is actually a fairly common interchange in schools. No lie, other "techies" will attest to similar conversations, perhaps less aggressive, but in the same vein.
I'm fascinated by the misconception that many have about folks like me who encourage the use of technology in our classrooms. The assumption is that because we like tech, we think foundational skills are now somehow antiquated and/or somehow less useful than they were in the past. (I can't begin to tell you the number of comments I've heard about handwriting. As though the decline in universal penmanship is somehow my fault.) This couldn't be further from the truth. Think about it, that line of logic is akin to assuming that because I like fruit, I must consider vegetables to be superfluous, and thus favor their elimination from diets across the country. Welcome the new world order everyone! Fruit and technology are modern royalty! To hell with vegetables and foundational writing skills! Those things are "old school!" (He wrote with thick sarcasm.)
Digital leaders can do a better job of communicating our message to the masses. We see immense value in digitally progressive classrooms. We believe they serve to support the building of both traditional and 21st Century academic competencies. In communicating this message with purpose, and executing blended strategies with fidelity, my hope is that traditional learning advocates view each of us as partners in progress. We are allies in the quest to provide the most comprehensive learning experiences possible for our kids. The world of education needs all of us working together for the benefit of children. What it does not need are competitors jockeying for position and trying to prove ourselves "right" at the expense of our colleagues and our kids. Neither skill set is more or less important than the other. They are complimentary, and result in the development of robust competencies for students.
Masterful educators build a willingness to adopt new resources (blended teaching, research, digital tools, etc) atop a strong foundation of traditional academic competencies? Why on earth would we insist on one or the other?
If phones are banned in your classroom, school, or district, I need to tell you something. Lean in close and take a deep breath. This is going to be hard to hear. Here goes...ahem...You are losing.
Now take it easy! Take it easy. Get your hand off the "back" button and hear me for a moment. I didn't say you're a loser. I simply stated an undeniable fact. The fact is that you are losing. "Losing what?" you might ask.
The Battle & The War
The Battle: Management and Control
Let's call a spade a spade. The movement to ban cell phones in classrooms is almost entirely about managing students and controlling their behaviors. We fear the lack of control we have over these pocket and purse protagonists. As such, we do what we often do in the face of potential threats to our classroom dominance. We make a rule! Yes I said "we". I said it because I am you. I am a teacher who at one time banned phones in my room. Gasp!
My question for those of you who, like me, banned the use of cell phones in the classroom is this; How's it going? I think if you're honest with yourselves you are willing to admit what I ultimately did. It's not going well. Kids still bring them. They still cause the occasional disruption. And our subsequent consequences for violating these bans do little to nothing to stem the tide of tech that flows into our schools day after day.
What's worse? I came to the realization that a cell phone ban entrapped even my most well behaved students into breaking the rules. They weren't going to leave them at home. Hell, neither was I! I would argue most of you don't leave yours at home either. Why not? Because phones have become part of the social fabric. They connect us with our families, they keep us informed, they offer us comfort as a lifeline in the face of emergency. For better or for worse, this is our reality, and it's the same reality for our students. Your attempt to control and manipulate this reality will yield frustration and failure, and likely drive a wedge between you and your students despite your desire for the ban to draw them nearer to you.
The War: Nurture the Development of 21st Century Citizens
Saying you want your school to prepare kids for the future while banning cell phones is like saying you want to fight lung cancer while smoking a cigarette. The two are fundamentally incompatible. Our kids will continue to live and work in a society where cell phones are omnipresent. We need to teach them how to use these devices to move beyond social connectivity and transition to professional responsibility, and communal courtesy. We can only do that in learning environments where devices are not only allowed, but welcomed and utilized with purpose. Access to nearly all of the knowledge of the human experience is in your pocket right now. Use it. Don't ban it.
With that said, how many times have you been in a social setting (you know, a real live one, with other real live people) and seen a group of kids sitting together while enthralled independently with their phones? It's a common sight, and as adults we frequently comment on the upsetting nature of these interactions, or lack thereof. But dig deeper. Why is this happening? It's because these kids do not have established norms, customs, or considerations relative to appropriate or respectful tech use in public settings. Why not? Because they've never lived in a world where they've had to develop them. We remember what it was like pre-technology. As such, we lean on those memories for what we consider to be acceptable interactions. Students possess no such memories. As such, they need to be taught what purposeful engagement with tech looks like, sounds like, and feels like in a variety of settings. Only then will they be able to embody the vision of the prepared, polite, and productive citizens we endeavor to create in our classrooms.
Look...cell phones can be dangerous distractions in schools. I'll concede that. The same can be said for scissors. But we don't ban scissors in school. We teach kids how to use them responsibly. So teach kids not to run with scissors, or cell phones for that matter. Cultivate healthy and productive behaviors that bring students to an understanding of how we should use our phones in ways that are safe, useful, and sensible. Banning them won't bring us closer to winning the battle or the war, it will only push victory, both academic and social, further toward the horizon.