Numbers or Kids?

Yesterday, I attended a full day with Ian Jukes at the National Staff Development Council’s annual conference.  Even through my chattering teeth because of the cold, I heard a good message that was classic Ian.  Ian throws out numbers and statistics and takes you through Moore’s Law in a manner that is entertaining, to be sure, but also thoughtful.  The reference to the Library of Conference is pretty obscure for this Canadian but 12 stacks of books reaching from the earth to the sun is pretty visual.  We talked about kids being different in both their approaches, attitudes, and access to technology.  That’s pretty telling and something that we truly do have to stand up and take notice of.

On the previous day, the ladies from ISTE showed us the “Did You Know 3” video from YouTube.  (gasp)  Lots of numbers there but really it’s not something that we didn’t already know.  There are a lot of Indians in India.  There are a lot of Canadians in Canada.  There are a lot of Indians who have immigrated to Canada.  I teach at the University of Windsor and have had a few in my classes.  They bring a rich background that makes the classroom all the better.  The numbers and the imagery in the “Did You Know” video did spark some conversation and concern from the folks around the table that I was sitting at so that’s good.

More relevant to the discussion about numbers though, it seems, can be seen at lunch.  We are all herded into a room with these folks with waving flags so that there was load balancing at the tables.  The few of us in our group that were there walked over to the far side because Ian had sprung us early for lunch.  Great lunch and great conversation at the table.  I did leave early to see if I could find a bonfire somewhere and it struck me as I walked past table after table.  The majority of those in attendance were middle-aged white women.

Now, it’s not that I have anything against middle-aged white women.  I’m happily married to one.  I couldn’t think of anyone else that would do such a spectacular job as being the mother of our kids.  One of the messages that Ian dwells upon in his presentation is TTWWADI.  (That’s the way we’ve always done it).  It would seem to me that if we are going to be concerned about population growth that all elements of society needs to represented at professional development events designed to address the needs of today’s students.  That wasn’t the case here; it does get a little better at the NECC Conference with its international appeal but representation is certainly nowhere near the numbers in the video.

So, what about these numbers?  Are they meaningful or sensational?  They do generate a call to action and I guess that’s good in itself.  Individually, we can’t make a huge impact on the big numbers but individually, we have our sphere of influence.  I happened to have a couple of conversations at the conference about “21st Century Skills” which inevitably resorts to good skills like communication and problem solving – just using the tools of the day.

I witnessed it in action on the flight back to Detroit and have been marvelling about this ever since.  As I’m sure all people do, before I sit down, I look around to see who is going to be in my immediate vicinity for the flight back.  St. Louis to Detroit is only an hour and 41 minutes but I know that that’s probably plenty of time to be trapped with ME for a conversation!  It turns out that the window seat next to me is empty.  This is going to be great.  But, oh my goodness.  Across the aisle and up own row is a young mother with three kids.  The youngest has to be a little over a year.  This can’t be good.

Well, this young lady knew her mothering inside and out.  I was so impressed.  As with my wonderful wife, she had bags full of good nutritious food for the flight.  All I could imagine is the next person going through the Sky Miles magazine and finding a banana peel.  But, the kids were pretty engaged in a snack and off we went.

The two older girls chatted back and forth and were good.  The youngest was a squirmer. But, you expect that in a child.  In an attempt to stop the squirming, mom brought out a picture book.  Two page flips and it had outlived its usefulness.  So, mom started to talk about the book and the child was pointing to the various images as she was questioned.  That seemed to work for a little longer and then it was squirming time again.  A couple of hugs later and out comes a battery powered DVD player.  I’m impressed.  We’ve got everything covered here.  The cartoon starts and grabs the attention of all of the girls.  So, I’m impressed.  Here we’re using the modern technology for engagement.  But, that only lasted for a bit.  Then, I really get impressed.  They play the movie and pause it periodically to talk about what they’ve seen and try to guess what’s coming next.  Whoa.  This is just too good.  This is the sort of thing that needs to be videoed for parenting classes.  This technology and talking strategy did it!  It wasn’t long before we were landing in Detroit.

As I noted yesterday, one of the key points that our group was concerned about was “implementation ?”  Jukes helped us frame that during his session.  His message was to do what you can very well; don’t try to do it all and don’t try to change everything immediately.

I can’t help but think what awesome opportunities that these kids will have in their lives if this flight was any indication.  Use the tools; use the strategies; but find the one that works and run with it.  While we may not be able to change the entire world, good things can happen if we focus on those that we can immediately influence.  The numbers are nice and may be the catalyst but the reality happens when we focus on the kids.

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