Warning: The contents of this post are meant as a therapeutic attempt to gather a number of disparate thoughts I’ve been having about the anxiety-inducing reality of being “too connected” through technology in an educational setting. If you’ve experienced this at all please feel free to share your thoughts and/or ways in which you’ve fought “connectedness fatigue.”
Problem: There are far too few hours in the school day to communicate effectively with parents…
Solution: Email allows the rapid and efficient communication with parents to happen during short breaks or during plan time…
Until: Email threads and discussions develop into bigger issues that creep into the evening and weekends.
Problem: Limited collaboration time for curriculum work, grants, and other important professional projects…
Solution: Google Docs allows everyone to work collaboratively on documents, making it easier to accomplish group tasks in a shorter amount of time…
Until: Educators become entangled it what seems like a constant stream of checklists, tasks to be completed, and other work that distracts from the focus of students.
Problem: Social Media becomes a potentially negative distracting influence for schools when bad educator behavior is amplified throughout the internet…
Solution: Schools can harness the potentially positive influence of social media to quickly amplify the great learning and opportunities happening inside of classrooms every day…
Until: Districts find themselves devoting budgets to PR and marketing teams/individuals to maintain a constant stream of positive messages.
When does technology for the sake of efficiently promoting a schools’ climate and message, connecting teachers with parents and other professionals, and other areas of education become a tool in which potentially more exhaustive and anxiety inducing work is the only outcome?
Those that know me professionally know that I’ve had to step away from a number of volunteer opportunities, positions, and groups in the last few years. It certainly wasn’t for a lack of interest or a desire to stop being a part of the great work that happens within those groups. But it was necessary for me to dig in deeper to effect the kind of change that I want to see in my school district; the kind of change that I hope will allow administrators and teachers to create better learning environments for students. Of course, that means the potential for creating a lot more anxious tension with those I work with everyday as I attempt to push forward on so many fronts. I find myself doubting whether some of the emails, PR work, and collaborative work is effective, or if it’s just yet another layer of work on top of teachers and building administrators already crammed schedules…thanks in part to the hyper connectedness we know live in.
Is it even technology that’s to blame here? Would these changes and realities have been present without the ever-present cloud of social media, collaborative “work whenever you can” digital environments, or the near constant “ping” of incoming emails? I don’t have those answers, and I’m not sure if there are any definitive answers that would satisfy every situation or school building. For now I have awareness, and that’s probably the best thing to have moving forward; keeping my ear to the ground is helpful, and face to face dialogue is key. I wish the uneasiness that creeps in from so many digital corners of my work was easier to separate from the pressure of the work itself.
I wonder how often educators struggle with this balance of being too-connected, yet needing to be connected in order to do their job effectively. I can’t imagine I’m isolated in these thoughts, but if I am, help set me straight.
I too have recently struggled with the feeling of being overwhelmingly connected to technology throughout my professional life. While the adoption of Google Docs and group messaging apps like Slack have made collaboration across classrooms easier, it has also made the job feel like a crushing weight. With a constant 24 hour cycle of emails from administrators, texts from parents, notifications of student updates from Google Docs etc. it has begun to feel like I can never be “off the clock”. I see a lot of my young colleagues faced with burnout because there is never a feeling of completeness or finality – only the next notification or the next spreadsheet.
I definitely do not have the answer to this issue but I do have two quick tips that have helped me tremendously this year. First, turn off all work related notifications on your cell phone. There are few things more morale crushing than weekend family time being interrupted by a notification that there is yet another data tracker you need to update. By turning off notifications on my phone this year I was able to compartmentalize “work time” and “personal time” much better. Work Check-Ins happen on my time when I choose to check email or login to Google Docs.
The second tip I have seems simplistic but has made a huge impact for me this year: block out your time! This has been especially useful due to the fact that I work closely with a team. My team knows that I will not answer emails after 6PM. My team knows that if they need something from me on the weekend it has to wait until 3PM on Sunday. Having this “schedule” has made it much easier to maintain a work-life balance.
I know that these tips don’t solve the issue but I have found that they help at least a little bit. I would definitely love to know what things you have tried to manage the “over-connectedness” of modern education.
Although is sounds odd to “feel good” that others are facing the same sort of “connectedness anxiety” that I experience, it does feel good to be conscious of the issue; so at the very least you can make equally conscious choices to separate yourself from the noise.
I’ve actually been blocking out the work communications during dedicated family and personal time for a few months now, similar to what you do. It’s helped tremendously, and I even have “do not disturb” from 5:00 pm to 8:00 am turned on. I just need to discipline myself to put down the phone now so I don’t see the notifications while using it 😉
Honestly, tips like these are huge, and while I knew that I would need to devote more time to family as my kids grew (and became involved in every activity under the sun), I didn’t anticipate how subtly it would creep up on me. What concerns me more is all of people that either don’t recognize the effects that being connected has on us, or don’t want to turn that connectedness off; when something has become thoroughly entrenched culturally, it becomes an issue for someone that wants to be the deviant from the norm and “disconnect.” Here’s hoping there are more of us out there.
I have also been finding it harder and harder to disconnect when I leave the school building. I have to consciously tell myself not to check work emails when I leave school on a work day or during my weekends. I also try very hard to not check my email when I take a sick or personal day. I cannot help when I’m not there. I have also taken to setting my Remind app to office hours and I don’t respond to parents during the school day. My first priority during the day is teaching my students and responding to their parents comes later in the day…parents need to understand that. I would never think to message a teacher on Remind during the weekend and expect an answer. I think more parents and administrators need to be aware of that disconnect.
It sounds like more teachers could benefit from your healthy attitude towards limiting parent communication during the day as well. There’s far too many opportunities for derailment of the task at hand when we allow all of the other tasks and relationships to be ever present in our pockets and purses, literally carrying them around with us all day long.
I empathize with your sentiment. It does feel as though technological connectedness slowly overtakes our lives. It seems as though this is most often recognized when work emails invade personal time. I too fell victim to this effect and have even gone so far as to tell students to email me anytime even on the weekends. As with most teacher I have an overwhelming concern for my students and deep caring for their success. So much so that I am willing, as most teachers are, to work beyond regular school hours. But it is difficult to draw that line and make a separation between work and personal time. I have recently disabled work emails coming to my phone and it has been a blessing. Although I miss the convenience and instant gratification of having these on my everpresent cell phone, I do not miss the intrusion on my personal time.
I think that there has also been a societal shift in thinking due to this connectedness as well. There is an expectation of maintaining connectedness from administrators, parents, and students. More so from students who have grown up only knowing this hyper-connected world. Parents and administrators are generally older and can still remember a time when one had to wait for a response. So, I think there needs to be better communication of expectations. Students need to also be engaged in discussions about the connectedness we experience and what that means for the way we live our lives. I thank you for bringing up this topic in your post because it is a discussion that needs to be had and with all members of society.
I understand where you’ve been, Bill. You want to be available and connected to your students, because relationships are key; but then we twist the very nature of what is a relationship into an “always connected” perception of need.
Thanks for your response, and encouragement. I would be happy to lead the charge on this conversation in as many forums as possible if given the opportunity.
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