Focus from Fatherhood


On Thursday, January 22nd, I became a father.  Life hands us many unfathomably incredible experiences as we live it, but none can compare to seeing life that you halved the responsibility in making come into existence in this world.  I must be forthright and admit, I was warned by many.  I was told it would be an amazing experience.  I was told it has to be lived to be understood.  I was told I would be overwhelmed with emotion.  But I don’t think I was told the real truth.  Nobody warned me what it was really going to be like.

Nobody told me…
-your wife becomes an even closer treasure as she shares your joy in parenthood
-you’ll lose the capacity to speak when holding your child for the first time
-there is no chance you’re not thinking about him every waking moment
-no obstacle seems insurmountable if overcoming it means his life will be made better
-you think about him and you lose the ability to stop a smile
-you see a portion of your living purpose rise and fall with each breath he takes
-there is no greater pride than that which lives because he does
-sustaining his life is the greatest cause you will champion in your life

I was thinking about this tonight as I was driving to pick up some needed baby supplies, and I found that in simply ten minutes of his absence, I missed him incredibly.  And then I realized, my experience is not unique.  It is something hopefully every parent has the joy of living.  And it means something beyond just my own indescribable emotions.

As I was reflecting, I was struck by the thought that this experience was sustained by every parent of the roughly 10,000 students being educated in the district where I work.  And in that moment, I was overwhelmed.

Each of those parents entrusts me and my colleagues with that which they most dearly treasure.  They trust us to do what is best for their children.  Someday in the near future, I will place my trust in the same way in those who will endeavor to educate my son.  It suddenly brings a great sense of focus to my professional purpose.

I am the Instructional Technology Coordinator for a school district in the northwest suburbs of Chicago.  My job exists so that I might bring vision, clarity, and purpose to the utilization of technology in a student’s learning experience.  We are all aware of just how important this has become in the age in which we live.

My son’s birth has brought with it an unexpected sense of clarity.  A focus on what is important.  I’ve been caught up in some very insightful, meaningful discussions lately, but I’m beginning to wonder if it isn’t time to disengage a bit from that space.  I know there were several very powerful, purposeful conferences that took place this past week, but I’m beginning to wonder if that’s where my attention should be.

So many are engaging in discussions that seem to be resounding loudly only as echoes against the walls of the chamber from which they are being contained.  A cry for change is bellowed, but does the cry carry the weight and momentum necessary to exact real change?  Are we focusing energy trying to move the immovable boulder rather than finding ways to push the pebbles we know we could push if we really wanted to?

Jen Wagner put it very succinctly recently with her challenge to move away from the circular discussions and put one foot in front of the other on a path of practical progress.  I think that’s the direction in which I need to start moving.  I have influence in areas of my life where more change could be manifested if I stopped thinking in global terms and started moving locally.

If I think of my own son, and consider that my passion and dedication to his life are truly multiplied 10,000 times over in my own district, I can readily find the motivation I need to keep fighting for what I believe is the best and in the best interest of the parents and students which I serve.

It’s time for me to readjust the focus and start seeing things through the lens of fatherhood.  I believe this could be the view that changes many things for me in a very profoundly positive way.

Safety Second?


This issue has never been more important to me.

Alec Couros recently wrote a post about a very disturbing experience he had with someone viewing pictures of his daughter on Flickr.  If you haven’t read it yet, it’s an excellent piece, and I’d strongly recommend you read it first before proceeding here.

The story absolutely sickens and saddens me.  It also gives me pause to consider how I want to handle the online presence of my baby who is mere weeks away from entering this world.  How will I best protect my child, while still giving him or her the opportunity to engage in community and collaboration in a world growing ever smaller and more connected?

I can tell you, it certainly won’t be the way some of those who expressed their opinions in the comments of Alec’s blog would like for me to proceed.  I’m quite frankly dumbfounded at several of the comments.  For example, Stephen Downes writes:

“The thing is, you can’t hide.
The threat to children is as great – indeed, greater – from close family and friends as it is from strangers.
Creating a climate of fear in which everyone hides their kids simply creates a safe haven for those people, and a
prison for their children.
Openness is not the enemy.
Openness is what protects these kids.
Openness is what draws people out into the open, like those Flickr photo collectors (you can be sure they are
known to police, or at least, that they should be).
And openness is what allows you – and others – to talk to your kids, to give them the tools to protect them from
danger, to given them the knowledge and the empowerment to stand up to those people whether they are total
strangers or close family.
That’s my view, at least.”

With all due respect, Stephen, I don’t call protecting my child “hiding”.  I call it using wise judgement.  Now please understand me, I’m an ardent advocate for openness and maintaining an online presence.  My child will certainly interact with others and learn from the world online.  That doesn’t mean, however, that I blindly and blithely let him or her walk unfettered in a world where Alec’s experience is one of the more mild abuses that occurs.

What about those who do suffer abuse as a direct result of what we’re discussing here?  If it were my child, would I look him or her square in the eyes and say, “I’m so sorry honey, but I had to do it.  It was for the cause of openness”?  Is it worth the risk?  Would I put them right back out there to get exploited again if it did happen?

It simply doesn’t make sense.  Yes, we can live in a world of openness, but we can also use intelligent discretion as well.  I do wonder if those who are so vehemently advocating for openness also leave their doors unlocked at night or drop off their children to houses of people they don’t know.  There could certainly be someone out there who would want to come into my house in the middle of the night and just admire the cuteness that will be my sleeping child, but does that mean I owe it to them to keep my house unlocked and available for the nefarious as well?

So the openness that allowed the abuse to occur is the very thing that serves to protect our children?  That notion is simply naive.

I commented on the post essentially explaining that I did not agree with Downes, and that while openness can certainly be beneficial on many levels, I believe operating with complete openness is not the absolute solution.

Later in the comments, Dean Shareski says,
“I’m curious about Ben’s comments. To me it reflects much of the fear that people have subjected to in our world.

I remember after the London bombings the website, We Are Not Afraid. That’s how I want to live which is not to
say we don’t do due diligence to protect our kids but not at the expense of the great benefits. Specifically, I’ve
made private a few photos of my kids in bathing suits that might be used nefariously but at some point, as you’ve
experienced, there’s a weirdo out there for everything.”

The reaction to the London bombings and the reaction to a predator abusing your child are two entirely different things.  Terrorists seek to terrorize.  To inflict fear and panic among a society so as to break down a system they oppose.  Child predators seek to indulge their own desires.  They don’t care about people’s panic.  If we send the message to terrorists that we are not afraid by going about the very business they tried to disrupt, we’re making a statement that they did not impact us.  If we do the same with our children and put them back in a compromising position, the only statement we’re making is to invite potential harm where it can certainly be avoided.

Dean does make reference to the fact that there are certain pictures he chooses to protect.  That simple statement says it all to me.  He’s using his judgment to protect what he so dearly loves.  It shows discretion, and it acknowledges that there is a threshold in all of this.

I believe this issue comes down to weighing the benefits versus the risks.  As I mentioned above, I will absolutely have my child interact with the world online.  I will not entirely shelter or imprison her from what is clearly a powerful chance to engage learning, but I will, however, use my best judgment when thinking of what is in the best interest of my child.  In the end, does posting pictures of my child serve to really benefit her, or does it do more to serve my own purposes at the cost of denying her the opportunity to one day shape her own online identity entirely?  Can’t I be satisfied sharing her images with people I know and trust until the day comes when she can make the decision for herself?  I think, personally, I can.

Thanks to D’Arcy Norman for the Flickr image.

Photos of the Week


I really wish I had the motivation and dedication to do a 365 photos type experience.  For those of you unfamiliar with such an undertaking, the basic premise is to register with a group in a service like Flickr, take one photo a day, post the photo to the group’s stream, and repeat for one year.  It’s quite a tremendous way to get better at taking photos.  I’d recommend giving it a try if it sounds appealing to you.  It’s never too late to join a group like this if you’re interested.

For me, I know given my current schedule constraints, I would be an epic failure at such a project.  When all was said and done, I’d be lucky to hit 158 days over the course year.  I’d really like to try it at some point, but I know realistically, this is not the best time to give it a go (we’re potentially three weeks away from the arrival of our first baby, which as I’m led to believe, changes a schedule quite a bit).

So, I thought we might try to start a group for people who would like to work on improving their photography skills but didn’t necessarily want to commit to a picture a day routine.  I think something more in the range of a picture a week is right in the sweet spot of what I can aptly handle.  Of course, if you’re already in a 365 group, or going to give one of those a try, you’re more than welcome to participate in the once a week group as well.  Here’s the deal.

I set up a group in Flickr called “Photos of the Week.”  The basic idea, post your favorite picture that you took from the week.  We’ll post pictures every Friday, and you can post either one or two photos each week.  That’s it.  Easy as that.  I’m hoping the experience will help us all get better at taking pictures, and we’ll be able to support each other through the process.  In the end, we’ll hopefully have a really nice repository of pictures to peruse as well.

The group is set up, and I’m going to start posting my pictures this Friday.  I’m looking forward to the experience, and I hope you’ll join me.

Thanks to Shermeee for the Flickr image.

21st Century Clarification


I’m thoroughly enjoying the excellent discussion going on here about the whole notion of 21st Century Literacy.  I find it fascinating, and the conversation has me thinking about this in ways I never would have had we not all engaged in the discussion.  That’s certainly a testament to the power of collaborating and communicating, but I surmise that’s a whole separate blog post.  I’d like to take this one to focus on some clarification I’ve had on the idea that there is not such a thing as 21st Century Literacy.

First, and foremost, I don’t believe this is a mere discussion about semantics.  Well, that’s not entirely true, to be honest.  Semantics is the study of language and communication, and that is certainly at the heart of our discussion.  More to the point, semantics is the only reason we’re having this discussion.  Someone recently told me this whole topic is just another semantics discussion when we should really be focusing on what to do.  I find that most interesting.  How, exactly, can any of us do anything when we haven’t decided in which direction to begin the doing?  That’s like me saying that I want us all to start advocating.  Just go advocate.  That misses the entire point.  The only reason we advocate is based on the cause of advocation.  The same is held true for this discussion.  If we want students to learn to be truly literate, aren’t we required to define that which want them to be?

The second point is that I’ve realized we’ve really started misusing the term literacy.  It’s now being applied to mean comprehension, or proficiency, or even understanding.  Look at this example.  For every type of literacy, the word proficiency could and perhaps should be used.  Why aren’t we using that word, instead?  Why take a word which focuses on the core of how we communicate and misapply it to mean a proficiency in a given context?  That’s where I truly disagree with these “new” literacies.

Finally, I believe there is a distinct difference between literacy and skills.  Literacy is based wholly on how we communicate.  In fact, it is the very nature of how we communicate.  We share and gather ideas from one another by writing, reading, speaking and listening.  That is entirely how we form meaning from another’s ideas.  Well, I shouldn’t say entirely.  Just recently Gary Stager suggested on Twitter that perhaps “showing” would be one more way.  If I’m standing next to you, I might show you my ideas through specific movements.  For example, I might show you how to hammer a nail by doing the act itself while you gather meaning from my actions.  Which then begets the need to add “viewing” as well.  I need to think more on this one, but it does have great merit.

If literacy is the way we communicate thoughts and ideas, then what about text messaging, creating videos, using a tool like VoiceThread, or any of the host of emerging technologies we’re utilizing to communicate?  Shouldn’t those be called new literacy?  Probably not.  I would maintain we can only use those effectively by engaging the main four tenets of literacy.  The specific execution of the tool does require a finite skill set, but a skill set is entirely different than a literacy.  Let me get specific using VoiceThread as an example.

VoiceThread is an excellent way for people to post an idea and have others add value through conversation.  At first blush, it may appear that in order for this communication to happen, a new literacy would have to be formed.  A person must understand how to post on the internet, and perhaps the person would want to do so recording an audio comment, wherein he/she would have to have the ability to operate both a computer and a recording device.  This is all true, but those are finite skills specific to a certain tool or even era.  At some point in the future, VoiceThread won’t be necessary anymore as something else will come to be that will do what it does, only better.  Or perhaps the tool itself will evolve into a better iteration, but either way, the user experience will change, thus making the specific skill set required to utilize VoiceThread simply a finite set that will change over time.

The real essence of using VoiceThread, however, is in engaging the true process of literacy.  First, I must either read or listen to the original idea being posted.  Once I’ve gathered meaning by doing so, I can formulate a response.  To respond, I will either speak or write my thoughts.  If I can’t do these core tenets of literacy effectively, VoiceThread will be useless to me.  It is the very act of engaging literacy that makes this process meaningful.

This same rationale applies to all the aforementioned tools that appear to be changing the nature of literacy.  The nature isn’t changing.  Yes, the skills are, but skills are different than literacy.

So why this whole discussion in the first place?  I think it is imperative that we all work together to help better the learning experience for students.  If we’re all calling and advocating for different things using the same terms, the result will be to dilute the power of what is most effective.  Some have said that the words we use don’t matter, but the fact we have the conversation and talk about this is what’s really important, and while I think the conversation is good, I think establishing what is most effective is better.  If we come to the conclusion there are 21st Century Literacies and the 21st Century Skills are really simply those which have always been, what will happen when we present these notions to the decision makers in our districts/regions/nations, and they find the obvious holes in the entire structure and leave us appearing as though we’re espousing an empty philosophy?  We will be discredited, and our effective efforts to support change will be blocked.

There’s still much to talk about, and certainly I hope in the near future the talk will turn to action.  But again, I would hope we can resolve exactly what the action will look like before we sit atop the horses and begin the charge for change.

Thanks to j /f /photos for the Flickr image.

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