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    Entries in school (2)


    The Downside of Finding Exactly What You're Looking For

    Last night it was 4th grade homework time at Chez Steve, and the spelling/vocabulary assignment entailed looking up a set of words in the dictionary, taking note of their definition and part of speech, and providing some reference information about the selected word's position in the dictionary itself, (page number, guide words, etc.).

    As we, (really Patrick the aforementioned 4th grader), worked through the assignment, he made the expected observation of a modern 10 year old, one that is pretty savvy as to the power and value of the web to help us all navigate through life's little challenges. Per Patrick, 'Why would anyone use a real dictionary if they had a choice? Wouldn't you just use Dictionary.com? It's way faster.'

    And he was right, at least to a point. Paging though a giant, old, slightly moldy book searching for 'reign' and 'colonel' must have seemed like a pretty unenlightened waste of a precious few minutes, when the fast, easy, and generally accurate (or certainly accurate enough), information could be found at Dictionary.com.  After all, using the online service would have taken him exactly to the result he was looking for. Type the word into the search box, click 'go', and you're there. No wasted time, no tedious searching around. Just results.

    But since the assignment had very specific instructions, 'Use a real dictionary, you know, a book', Patrick was forced to kick it old school, and page though the volume, checking the guide words at the top of each page, doing a little mental alphabetizing to try and efficiently find the words of interest.  Definitely a slow process, certainly not one in synch with our modern (even, perhaps especially for a 10-year old), need to have instant, immediate, and complete information with the click of a mouse.

    What we found out though, which is sort of obvious for those of use who remember fondly relics like real dictionaries and (shudder), printed almanacs and encyclopedias, is that much of the fun, and the excitement, is discovering things we were not actually looking for. On the dictionary page for 'colonel' we found 'colossus', 'colophon', and 'Colorado potato beetle'. All awesome and amazing words indeed, all deserving to be found, even if they did not have the good fortune to be included on this week's list of 4th grade vocabulary words. Words that would have remained undiscovered mysteries without using the old book.

    Does it matter that we are, increasingly, trading exploration and discovery for efficiency and productivity?

    Is it important that we tend to prefer to leverage whatever solution gives us the 'right' result in the fastest possible manner?

    Certainly the internet and the connected world have given us all remarkable, tremendous, and unprecedented access to knowledge, insight, and expertise - most of which is just a few searches and clicks away. But if we leverage this resource to tell us only exactly what we are looking for, well then, in a way we have simply replaced one dictionary for another, albeit a larger and more colorful one.

    A dictionary that opens immediately to the word we seek, without letting us trip on colophons or Colorado potato beetles along the way.


    Before they walk in the door

    This morning I walked my 9 year old son to school, (and proved, despite his assertions, that the walk was not actually 'Uphill in both directions').  As we approached the main entrance of the school the school's Principal was outside, greeting students and parents, asking questions, checking on two students that were attempting to raise the American flag, and generally and actively presenting a positive message of enthusiasm, encouragement, and in a way, acting like an old friend.Patrick - too cool for school

    At one point, as he was chatting with a student and her Mom (I am making an assumption it was her Mom, go with me on this), his phone rang.  He glanced at it quickly, silenced the ringing, and continued to talk with the student and parent, while keeping one eye on the flagpole, one on the buses unloading, and the third one on the back of his head on people entering/exiting the doors.

    Yes, the kids are right, the principal really does have eyes in the back of his head.

    What was telling to me was how the principal was so out there, so up front, outside the school before the 'official' start of the day making sure that for as many students as possible their first interaction with school was going to be positive, welcoming, and in a way comforting.  

    It is the middle of May, these 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders are mostly probably sick of school at this point, counting down the days to summer break, tired of the routine and the teacher, and maybe even their classmates.  A random Thursday in May can't seem to be all that exciting to them. 

    The principal knows this,  I am sure, and in this small way, by being the physical face of the school, by showing his engagement, attention, and genuine interest in the students and parents that he encountered outside the building he works to combat the natural disengagement of the average 10 year old.

    I am out here, I am interested in you, I want you to succeed, I will encourage you to achieve. 

    I am not sure if that message, delivered in less than 30 seconds by the principal, actually impacted my 9 year old this morning, but it made an impression on me. 

    I am sure in the time he spent outside with the student and parents, being a kind of cheerleader to some extent, the calls, emails, voice mails were piling up in his office.  I am sure he has to find time to read, reply, forward, comment on many hundreds of messages each day. 

    But for me, by taking a few minutes to connect with students before they walk in the door, seems much more valuable than anything he could of been doing tucked away in the dreaded 'Principal's Office'.

    This is an ineffective blog post, since I don't really have a 'call to action' I suppose, just an observation of a leader trying to inspire and encourage in an environment where the 'followers' can be really tough to motivate.

    Maybe my 9 year old was not inspired, but I was.  Hat's off to Principal Hall.