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As social media continues to have a big impact in our society, I’ve been considering how to best fit it into my own life. Communications technology continues to evolve and the next evolution may be contact lenses that allow you to  overlay virtual experiences without a headset. Instead of being alone in a virtual world, we would be able to take out experience out into the world and see real time data about people and places. It’s easy to imagine how this could effect our lives in both positive and negative ways.

The Netflix series, Black Mirror, recently took this idea to the dark side with their Nosedive episode. In the episode, Lacie Pound is eager to move up on the social media ladder from a 4.2 to a 4.8. She has implanted contact lenses which allow her to see the status of everyone around here. In her world, a 4.2 on a scale of 1-5 is not quite good enough. If she can boost her status to a 4.5 or higher, she has access to better housing, work and social experiences. Here life is going well when she’s invited to be the maid of honor at the wedding of a childhood friend. On her journey to the wedding, her status begins to unravel as she loses her temper at the airport and ends up hitchhiking to the wedding. Along the way, she meets Susan, a 1.4 truck driver, who has lost her husband to cancer because his status wasn’t high enough for the best treatments. The episode is thought provoking but I don’t want to be a spoiler. Watch it to see how this finally ends for Lacie.

For me, Nosedive was too close to reality. Airlines, hotels, and amusement parks all have programs where you can boost your status to receive added benefits. We pay more so that we can have a better seat, a nicer room, or a shorter line. It feels great when you have the upgraded status and pretty awful when you’re at the back of the line. And on social media like Twitter and Facebook, we get likes, shares and retweets when people approve of what we post. The impact of social media in influencing our decision making is huge. The recent U.S. presidential election is a powerful example of how social media was used to influence voters.

Nosedive also reminded me of the struggles that I had (and still have) with self worth. In high school, I always felt like I was not quite good enough. You can read my Teachers Guild post for that story. I still remember applying for Anchor Club membership in high school and being rejected. There was some secret formula, much like the Nosedive 4.8, that was required for membership. Rather than accept the status quo, my friends and I created a new club with open membership for all students. Even today, I attend events and am troubled by how online status effects how people interact with each other.

I love having the opportunity to share and connect with others online and am grateful to have so many social media tools available. The problem comes when I pay too much attention to those status reports from Twitter and LinkedIn and spend too much time editing my thoughts to 140 characters. I’ve learned from my work with innovators that people are at their best when they don’t worry about status. They do great work because they’re passionate about that work and willing to take a risk.

As I begin 2017, my goal is to find the right balance with social media. I want to continue to connect and share with others. My own personal growth is dependent on these relationships. Below are questions that I will consider (and you can too) to build a thriving online community.

  • Who do you want to connect with? Follow those people online. Send them personal messages and develop a relationship. Find them at conferences and have conversations. Schedule video chats to discuss topics of interest. If they’re more interested in your status than who you are, don’t spend time trying to get their attention.
  • Why do you want to connect through social media? Do you want to learn more about a specific area of interest? Are there places and events in your community where you can also connect face-to-face? Ask why enough times and you’ll come up with some interesting answers.
  • What do you want to share and what do you want to learn from others? Seek out online communities with people who share your interests. A private community through Slack might allow you to share more openly and build strong relationships.
  • How will you will share your message? Instead of squeezing everything into 140 characters, create a blog or video and share the link. Start a book discussion. If you want to get to know people on Twitter, join a weekly Twitter chat.
  • When will you connect on social media? Schedule several blocks of time on your weekly calendar and make it a habit to use that time for learning and sharing.

As 2017 begins,  I look forward to connecting with you online and also engaging in face-to-face conversations and activities. Thank you for being there for me and best wishes for a Happy New Year!

All the Names

One of the most thought provoking books that I’ve read over the past few years is All the Names by Jose Saragamo. Senhor José is keeper of the records for nameless people in his city. The records of the living and the dead stretch back through time and he becomes caught up in looking at records and wondering about the people that they represent. His quest to find out about an unknown woman and her life attracts the attention of the registrar and he quickly becomes suspect as he takes risks to challenge the system and find a real connection.  In the end, the record means nothing. It doesn’t capture the story of that person.

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Our Permanent Records

I imagine that in some dark closet in the district where I attended school, there’s a file (maybe on microfiche) of my permanent record from school. Along with my GPA, class rank, and club records, is perhaps a miscellaneous accounting of my shortcomings and mistakes. The time that my first grade teacher kept us after school until someone confessed to stealing something. Even though I wasn’t the guilty student, I cried buckets of tears to be wrongly accused and punished. And I missed choir practice that day. From which I didn’t recover. Because I stopped singing.  I’m sure there’s also a stack of records recording my failure at softball, crafts and handwriting. I was a left-handed student in a right-handed world and no one accounted for that in sports or instruction. Scissors were a challenge. I developed a horror of volleyball and was sent to the guidance counselor for some psychological evaluation. I heard “this will go on your permanent record” so many times that I stopped talking in class. One teacher commented, “Donna is so quiet. I hardly know she is there. She is a good student.” And so I followed the rules.

And the permanent records don’t end when we graduate from college. We get jobs and have performance evaluations that go in a file somewhere. Education, like many other professions, has an extensive set of requirements to ensure that employees are qualified for their jobs. We don’t always get a redo when we’ve had a failure. In the worst circumstances, we get a file in our permanent record. So we follow the rules and avoid implementing new ideas that are risky.

Beyond the Permanent Record

Somehow, in spite of the permanent records on file, I’ve managed to get along in the world. In fact, the struggles have made me more empathetic to students and colleagues at work. It turns out that there can’t be a permanent record for a person. The power of the human spirit is that we can grow, change and overcome challenges. We are in a constant state of iteration with each new experience. We learn from failures and that becomes a strength.  Ernest Hemingway said it well, “The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.”

There is light at the end of the stack of records. Many schools around the country are recognizing the need to allow our students to continuously progress over a continuum through competency-based education. Programs that foster growth mindset and 21st century skills are enabling students to become successful, lifelong learners.

The final step in removing the permanent record is to empower teachers to try out new ideas and protect them from adverse consequences. If we want our students to become problem solvers, we must allow educators to find and solve problems too. I encourage readers to embrace empathy and support colleagues in their continuous growth this year. By building each other up, we are building a future for our students. Our lasting record is the difference that we make in the lives of students and colleagues.

D. Teuber

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