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...be here now...
I started my career in education almost 27 years ago working with students who struggled. I taught them about the power of “be here now” to help them to monitor their attention so that the time they spent learning (whether they were listening to a teacher, involved in a classroom activity, reading a book or creating) could be even more productive. In addition to saying “be here now”, I can recall advising students to “be aware of your awareness”, “pay attention to your attention” and “when you notice that your focus has drifted from the learning task at hand, gently bring your attention back to learning.”
I know that true attention is important for learning, for engagement and especially for quality communication. I use “be here now” as much as I can, but still in my lifetime thus far have not mastered it. I continue to have to pay attention to my attention and be deliberate about being in the moment. There are times when this is easier to do than others. In my work with adults, I have come to be very good at using “be here now” and this allows me to be responsive. When I work with a group of adults for a day, for example, I facilitate their learning, I eat lunch with them, learn about them as individuals and give them my full attention. I do not check my e-mail, do other work or try to accomplish any other significant tasks during that work or during the breaks as I’ve learned that these things take me “away” from group and shift my focus in ways that may distract me. There is something very calming about being able to stay focused and “here now” for sustained periods of time.
In my personal life, I am getting better at “be here now” but still find myself multitasking or drifting from what is “at hand”. There is a loss associated with my inability to “be here now” in interactions with the people in my life. For example, when my son is sharing something important and I am trying to sort laundry at the same time, I lose an opportunity to really listen to him. Or, or when I am thinking about work while my Mom is telling me about her day I may not hear her questions or the true concerns she is sharing. Or, when my colleagues and I are collaborating and I decide to check my e-mail, I disconnect from the dialogue and both I and my team lose something as a result. I have had two fires in my home as a result of attempting to multi task, and I have not forgotten how close I came to really losing something important, far more important than the time I thought I was saving.
The technological revolution that surrounds me has brought me back to thinking about the power of “be here now”. I am, admittedly, baffled by much of the new technology that so many of my friends and colleagues are more comfortable with. And I am, very slowly, taking from the many choices that exist and learning to use the tools that support my work, enhance my learning and support the learning of others I work with. When technology doesn’t enhance my learning or make my work easier, when it becomes a distraction and interferes with my ability to “be here now” I quickly abandon it - I have no time for technology for technology sake.
Recently I spent 30 minutes in a MacDonalds watching when and how people use their cell phones. I recorded who was talking, texting and for how long in that thirty minutes. People talked and texted on their way in the door, while in line, during ordering, and while eating. In several cases, mothers were on the phone the entire time that their children were eating. One couple walked in twenty feet apart, both on cell phones, stayed on their phones during ordering, and continued to talk and text others through their meal. I wondered, “Did they really have lunch together?” While the cell phone is just one example of the technological revolution, it highlights the need for attention to the appropriate uses of technology in classrooms and in learning environments for adults and brings my back to thinking about the power of “be here now”.
I share all of this because the opening session of the Communities for Learning Summer Institute invited us to use a back channel. Of course, I had never even heard the phrase “back channel” before but I quickly figured out from watching some of the Fellows that it is a place to share their thinking, ideas and questions about what is happening in the session. While I watched, questions began to surface for me: If I decide to use a back channel during a conference workshop, how present am I in the conference room that I am sitting in? How well am I able to listen to the speaker? How is the quality of my interaction with the small group that I am learning with in that conference session impacted? What happens to my learning when my attention is brokered across more than one community? What do I gain? What do I lose? How can this technology enhance everyone’s learning? How would I use it to allow for the cross-community dialogue it can promote and still preserve the attention I believe is necessary for learning?