Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Importance of Being Present

I remember the conversation as though it was yesterday.  The date was July 22, 2010.  I met with the Superintendent after being recommended for hire by the committee.  I was a bit nervous going into the meeting, I had never met Mr. Smajda and I wasn't sure how he would take me.  I sat down in his office and simply tried to be myself.  We talked philosophy, community and education.  I shared anything and everything and felt very comfortable.  As the meeting wrapped up I felt good about my potential new boss and I was fired up to begin a new chapter in my life.  Just as we were about to finish I mentioned to Mr. Smajda that I did not own a cell phone  (yes, this was 2010).  He told me that it wasn't a requirement, but that I may want to get one.

Up until that point my philosophy was simple.  If you can't reach me, I don't want to be reached.  I know, I know...I was young and naive.

What I discovered after purchasing my first cell phone was that I was distracted.  I went from never on a phone, to being on it constantly.  I had zero balance.

I will admit I still have moments that my connectivity is very high.  Some of my days involve putting out a "fire" or expecting a very important message.  Other days, I feel as though the balance is improving.

What I like about cell phones and similar devices is that the information is in the palm of your hand. If I need assistance I can get it in a blink of an eye.  I also like the fact that I can "share our story" through pictures, tweets, phone calls and emails.  This is an important feature in being transparent, relevant and positive.

What I don't like about cell phones and devices is that they can become a crutch.  For example, I began teaching in the year 2000.  At that time, I had no projector, no Smart Board, no iPads, no cell phones...nothing.  I had one teacher computer and one student computer.  And guess what...I was perfectly fine.  My lessons were hands-on, I utilized visuals through imagination, video (I would use a VHS recorder and bring in tapes) and drawings.  For years I didn't have resources in the palm of my hand and I was just fine.  I believe my students were fine as well.  

Then along came 21st Century Teaching!  I'll admit, I was excited for my first smartboard and projector in the classroom.  It revolutionized how I taught.  I felt as though I could "enhance" my lessons and truly help my growing number of visual learners.  I loved the technology and my students responded very well to it.  The interactive component to the Smart Board allowed for a new way to formative assess and the projector allowed me to ditch the old VHS recordings.  

But then came the day when my Smart Board wasn't working and then my projector began to overheat.  Oh dear!  I was in a panic, how would I teach?  What would I do?  I specifically remember calling the help desk and just being angry.

Later that night I was trying to figure out what to do the next day.  It was at this moment that I had my own self-talk lesson.  I told myself that for years I never had these tools and I was perfectly fine. I had become so reliant on the tool that it no longer was a was all about the device.  I pulled out a few old lesson plan books and note cards that I used in the past.  I reminded myself about the importance of Being Present.  Don't make it about the technology, make it about the individual!

Every now and then I have to remind myself to shut down.  When I walk into a classroom I may snap a few pictures and tweet out a cool moment, but I also connect with kids.  I don't want to be the adult that has his face in the device.

I say all this for a few reasons:  

First, why is the device out?  If you have a device out, I hope it has a purpose.  Are you posting on your class Facebook page?  Are you tweeting a cool picture that you just captured?  Are you fact checking information?  Are you updating assignments on Edmodo/Schoology?

Second, if your technology crashes should it be the end of the world?  For years most of us never had these tools.  We didn't have cell phones, iPads, tablets and more.  I get it, many lessons involve these tools, but I challenge you to remember the days before these tools.  I bet you did more than survive, I bet you had days that you flourished!  Keep those memories in your back pocket; they may benefit you in the future.

Finally, Be Present!  If you have a device out make sure you have a very specific purpose.  We must Be Present in front of our kids.  We are the role models and we need to set the example of shutting down and focusing on people, not devices.


Monday, October 20th:  String Team 3:45-4:30
Tuesday, October 21st:  TEAM Meeting 9am
Wednesday, October 22nd:  6:30pm 5th Grade Curriculum Night
Wednesday, October 22nd:  Mobile Dentist at Warner
Wednesday, October 22nd:  K-2 Assembly 8:45am
Wednesday, October 22nd:  String Team 3:45-4:30
Friday, October 24th: Staff Meeting 8am
Friday, October 24th:  5:30pm - 8:30pm Warner Fun Night

Articles Worth Reading:

Popularity Grows for Year Round Schooling @EdWeek

6 Keys to a Classroom Makeover @thomascmurray

The Science of Fear @edutopia

A veteran teacher turned coach shadows students... @grantwiggins

Start a Reading Revolution: Flip your class with blogs @edutopia

Empathy and Trust @TonySinanis

10 Reasons Why Non-Readers Don't Read - and how you can change their minds @scholastic

Connecting in your own building @Fearless_Teach

The Next Time You're Ready to Give Up On A Student @TeachThought

What if this was your districts grading policy? @justintarte

40 Things I want to tell my kids before they're too cool to listen @marcandangel

Professional Learning That School Leaders Need and Deserve @E_Sheninger

Videos Worth Watching:

He guessed what? (4 min)

She said what! (1 min)

Well done boys! (4 min)

How to learn from mistakes (10 min)

My Wish...great story! (7 min)


  1. This post hit close to home. Thanks for inspiring so may of us from afar every day. Honored to call you a friend.

    1. Very kind words Todd. Thanks for reading and responding. Keep your head up, attitude is everything!


  2. Great post, Ben! Great reminder, too, not just for in the classroom, but with our families as well.

    1. You're exactly right Suzanne! Life and school parallel each other in many ways. Thanks for taking the time to read and respond.


  3. Ben, thanks for writing and sharing this. I completely related to it, on multiple levels. Not long ago, I too, didn't have a cell phone and since, I've found ways to integrate technology use daily (and then some). Just last week, had the opportunity to take a 4-day school trip with my daughter, where there was limited to no access to wifi. This experience pushed me to "be present" and later, spend some time re-evaluating how (and why) we use technology as a tool. Your timing couldn't have been better for me on writing this piece, Ben. Thanks for sharing!


    1. Dennis, I always appreciate your feedback. Thanks for the support.

      I've experienced similar situations that you eluded to. Anytime I head to Northern Michigan the cell service becomes bleak. It is a great opportunity to unwind and focus on what's right in front of me.

      Glad you had a chance to digitally decompress.



  4. Great post! I was thinking about this not long ago. I didn't have all the technology that is available now when I was in the classroom. It is a great benefit to our classrooms now. However, it shouldn't be the only item we lean on every day. We do need to remember to be present. It's okay to have a day of pencil and paper.

    1. Spot on Michelle! Using technology as a tool is should not be the end all, say all, or do all.

      I believe we will continue to notice an increase in technology in our classrooms. Just because we have this, doesn't mean the learning will automatically occur.

      Thanks for reading and sharing!