When I first began teaching, over 20 years ago, I spent a lot of personal money on “resources”. In teacher’s college I worked part time at The Teacher’s Store and spent the majority of my paycheque on black line master books, “units” and teacher’s guides, which took up space on my book shelves and in large plastic totes in my basement. Now I can access free downloads, use Teacher’s Pay Teachers, Twitter, Pinterest or any number of educator websites. It is difficult to deny that the use of technology is a huge part teaching. I access the curriculum documents online on a regular basis. In fact, I don’t even own a paper copy of the curriculum documents. Attendance, IEPs and report cards are now web-based. Student portfolios are digital and parent communication is mostly electronic. We communicate with our staff on Edsby and post our students’ triumphs using digital platforms such as Seesaw. When I am away from school for the day, I book an occasional teacher online and send in my plans via email. As a parent, I pay for my son’s school trips online. Almost everything we do in education seems to involve technology in some way. It makes our job so much easier! Doesn’t it?
Herein lies the rub. As wonderful and “easy” as it all is, digital information and communication can also be suffocating. For example, it is easy to ask a question of a colleague in my large school something by email or text and get an answer in seconds without having to take ten minutes to walk to his or her classroom. However, it also may mean that I won’t see my colleague all week. It is easy for a upset parent to send an email in the middle of the weekend and then I stew about it until I can take care of it when I am back at school on Monday. It is easy to spend hours following the trail down an internet rabbit hole trying to find the “perfect” lesson plan. It is easy to look at examples of art lessons on websites like Pinterest and then feel inadequate as an educator because mine didn’t go quite according to plan. It is easy to send an email in the middle of the weekend, just to get it done, when I should be spending time with my family. It is easy to get into a chat on Twitter with educators around the world and learn all kinds of cool stuff, and then realize that I have missed going to the gym…again. Digital information and communication is never done. There is always something to check or answer or post. Yes, I admit that it is a little ironic that I am writing this on a blog post, but wait…here’s why.
I have decided to try a few things so that digital information and communication will not suffocate me. I have created “office hours” for communication. I have told the families of my students that I will only respond to emails or messages on Edsby or Seesaw between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday to Friday. If I take the time to communicate something to families outside of office hours, then I will draft it and save it and send it during office hours. If there is something urgent, families are instructed to call the school. I have turned off notifications of email on my phone. I no longer go on Pinterest and have stopped going on Twitter. I will only check Edsby once a day. If there is something of urgent importance, I have no doubt that someone will find me and let me know. My students will update their own digital portfolios. I am going to try to be mindful of the amount of time I engage in digital communication and information for my job in order to maintain a healthy work-life balance. It will take some practice and I’m sure that I will find myself getting into some old habits. However, my mantra this year for my class is also for me…strive for growth and progress, not perfection.