Keep Rolling Those Snowballs

This week, I came across this post on Facebook:

“It is truly unbelievable that the use of cell phones is not banned in *name of district* high schools, universally.”

It stopped me dead in my tracks. When I see things like this, I’m never sure what the right thing to do is. Do I ask questions to gain understanding and try to see things from their point of view? Do I share my opinion and beliefs? Do I ignore and move on?

This time, I decided to ask questions, because I couldn’t let it pass by. I quickly realized though, that this person and the others who were commenting, were not looking to have a discussion. They were simply looking to have their feelings and opinion heard and validated. I therefor had to disengage, but that didn’t stop my mind from running, and a powerful reflection followed.

Now, I realize that I only got a very small glimpse into this situation, and although the people commenting made valid and concerning points about the misuse of cell phones in schools, I stand strong in believing that these phones that most students already have in their hands, are incredible tools for learning. I also know that there is a HUGE need for more education around this for all stake holders. Students need to be taught how to appropriately and purposefully use this tool in school. One of the points from the comments made was that students are already so addicted to their phones that we should simply take them away and let them ” socialize and be kids”. Yep, I know that addiction is a huge problem (and not just for students), but will banning phones in schools really help with this? Or would we rather put strategies in place and educate students so that they have the tools to deal with this NOW, instead of banning phones and ignoring the problem? If they don’t learn now, what will happen when they’re out of school and their phones are always in their pockets? But, I also realize that we have a long way to go to get there. Educators need to be better equipped so that they are able to utilize these powerful tools. Parents also need to be educated when it comes to knowing why we are shifting our way of doing in class. We are no longer in an era where consuming and regurgitating information is enough and I think it will be easier for parents to understand the place of technology within our schools when they see tangible examples of how powerful these tools can be, instead of simply seeing them as distractions.

But, this post wasn’t actually meant to be on my stance of cell phones in schools. After my brief interaction on that Facebook post, I was left feeling pretty low, but instead of letting it beat me down, I decided to take a closer look at what bothered me and reflect. Here’s what I realized:

  • This post was written by a parent whose teen constantly texts her from school while many of her peers watch shows during their classes. As a parent, this would be concerning to me, too! I can understand where her post came from. If their phones are only ever used as distractions and never in positive and meaningful ways to enhance their learning experiences, I would probably be inclined to want them banned, too.
  • No matter what questions I would’ve asked that day, I wasn’t going to get anywhere. That’s not how change works. I remembered the powerful analogy that Dave Burgess shared in this blog Rolling Snowballs Downhill and that “change isn’t something that is announced from the podium”.

If you want to make a giant snowball, the worst thing you can do is to try to reach down and grab all of the snow at once. You’ll lose most of it as you lift it and the rest will fall apart. A far better approach is to grab a manageable handful and then shape it and compact it into a nice solid ball. You add a little a more around the edges and then set it on the ground and roll it. If you’re lucky enough to be by a hill, you can roll it down and the momentum will build. The hardest part is overcoming inertia and getting it rolling in the first place, so that’s why it’s best to start it rolling while it’s still small. It doesn’t matter that it started small because it will gather and pick up snow as it makes its way down the hill.

The best way to make a giant snowball is also the most effective way to change the culture of your school or district. Cultural change isn’t something that is announced from the podium or simply declared in a vision statement. The leader who tries to just single-handedly lift his staff to excellence or to a cultural paradigm shift will inevitably see it crumble. Change is created by starting small and building powerful relationships with a committed but often small initial group. This group can then hit the ground and start moving forward. They will find it easier to overcome inertia because they will not be weighed down by the naysayers, the reluctant, and the largest group of all…the comfortable. They will be free to build momentum unencumbered by the resistance and friction that so often dooms forward progress in projects that try to bring everyone along for the ride from the beginning.  As they build speed rolling down the hill, they will attract others to the cause who want to now get involved with a successful and positive movement. Eventually, the size of the snowball reaches the point of critical mass, drawing in all around it and becoming an unstoppable force for change and progress.

I also understand that I can’t throw or sprinkle snow around in hopes that this will create a snowball, just like I can’t expect that I will change people’s perspectives simply by engaging in a post like this one. I think that there are already powerful discussions going on around technology and social media in schools thanks to people like George Couros and Jennifer Casa-Todd (and their incredible books “The Innovator’s Mindset” and “Social LEADia“). You don’t have to look far to find excellent examples of students and schools from all over shining and showcasing digital leaders. But even more than that, I am seeing education as a whole shifting. I am seeing more and more change happening because our snowballs are getting bigger. It’s inevitable to come across comments like the one I did this week, but we can’t get hung up on them, we just need to keep rolling those snowballs and keep fighting the good fight. That is what will lead to change!

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