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In Praise of Student Voice, Empathy, and Community-Building



By Ted Graf, Head of School

AlamoThanks to everyone who turned out for the launch of The Flow, our spring fundraising series, and to our showing of Screenagers last Thursday. The theater at the Alamo Drafthouse was full, and it was a spirited night–I so enjoyed talking with many of you before and after the movie and hearing that you want more of these kinds of events. We agree!

Below are some nuggets and take-aways from the evening…

  • I opened the evening with an anecdote about a chat I had had that morning with a first grader. She explained to me that she really wanted to go to the movie, and I told her that I thought she was a little young since the movie addressed cell phones and laptops. She agreed (tentatively) and then said, “My dad says I’ll never have a cell phone, but I know I’m going to have a laptop some day.” In case we think the younger students and children aren’t noticing the ubiquity of devices and our attachment to them, think again.
  • Our community is enhanced and energized when students, parents, and educators come together and everyone is welcome to speak up. I was particularly proud, as were many of you, with the clarity and courage of our students–from a third grader who called out one of his parents for texting after the movie, to the eighth grader who challenged her family to put down their devices during dinner. I wish we had student panelists join Barb Steinberg and Dean Janeff to help us all discuss the film. Thanks to Barb and Dean for their help in facilitating that conversation.
  • As a prelim to the movie and a follow-up to a conversation last fall, a parent sent along this link to a Simon Sinek video and reminded me that we hatched an exciting idea about a multi-event parent education series focused on technology, including a segment on what games and gaming means to students today. Let’s see if we can build that out for next fall.
  • Speaking of Simon Sinek; he was a featured interview in the film and remarked that our relationship to our phones, tablets, or laptops limits our ability to empathize. Again, at the end of the film, several people hung back and wanted to know how we might use technology (social media?) to enhance or deepen relationships. Sinek’s insights caused me to think about our commitment to fostering empathy and made me wonder if we, as a school, know what behaviors and activities bring more empathy to life.
  • For my family, one of the key ideas shared in the film had to do with creating a family agreement around technology use. There was laughter in the theater when the children challenged the parents about their own attachment to their devices. The idea of role modeling (and not being a hypocrite!) came up several times. Here’s a link to an article in the New York Times, “No-Phone Zones for Parents and Kids Alike,” (that I tweeted just days before the event).
  • I heard some desire (as I did last fall when we hatched the idea of a parent ed series on tech) to understand more fully what impact phones, tablets, and laptops are having on our brains–especially the developing brains of students. Wouldn’t it be great to have a neuroscientist present to us?
  • Lastly, as we work together to create safe and respectful spaces for our students and kids, a number of us were struck by the heightened effects on gender roles and gender stereotypes–from the young women focused on appearance on Instagram to the young men transfixed (and sometimes addicted) to computer games and gaming.

As we aspire to raise healthy 35-year-olds, we have a lot to consider, and that work is best done with the students as part of the conversation.

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