Friday, July 15, 2011

My Love/Hate Relationship with Facebook

As the title says, I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook.

I was first introduced to FB via my younger brother. It was probably 2004? I resisted the temptation to join at first but realized if I wanted to keep in touch with my sibling I’d better plunge in.

Soon I found myself finding old friends and relatives whom over time I had lost touch with. It was great! To reconnect with people I had almost forgotten about. But before I knew it, I had over 300 friends on my list and the messages and notes that appeared in the status bars started to overwhelm me.

Who cares if someone is playing Farmville? And really how many pictures of what you ate for dinner do we need to see? Not to pick on anyone in particular but this is how I began to feel.

I love email. I belong to a wonderful group of online ladies that have been corresponding through mailing lists since the days of E-groups and before. Some of them I’ve known for over 10 years now. Over time Facebook has been added to all our lives. It helped us connect even more. And it was great. But I still preferred the more personal and longer letters written via email.

Lately on FB you have to deal with hackers and spammers. Be wary of clicking on a strange looking video on your friend’s page, or you just may end up viewing something you wished you hadn’t and/or sent the same thing to everyone on your address list.  I check in maybe once a day and always have well over 300 new status updates I could scroll through. I get through maybe 20 a day. So I miss a lot. What exactly I miss I probably don’t want to know. 

Everywhere I turn I’m being told to “like this on FB”, join this fan page or that one. I’m told that if I want to be successful in any of my direct sales businesses, I need to have fan pages and business pages and this-n-that kind of pages. To be honest it overwhelms me. My hat is off to those who can do this. Sometimes I get myself into trouble by making flippant comments like “don’t they have a life?”.  Maybe it’s jealousy on my part. I wish I could figure it out and get into the groove. I wish I could just be assimilated and realize it’s the next wave of the future.  I wish it didn’t take time to have to learn it all.

Everyday I threaten to quit FB. Then, I get a request or see a picture of my best friend from 5th grade. Or my uncle says “hi” and my other friend from high school sends me pictures of her grandchild. And I see the benefits of FB. So I stick around.

And now there is Google+. I’m fighting hard not to be assimilated into that one. But my email box is not as full anymore. My friends are slowly drifting towards these other social networking sites, leaving me behind in the dust. If I want to stay in touch I just may have to succumb. No matter how much I want to stay in a simpler life.

I wonder if this is how our great- grandparents felt when the telephone came and letters were no longer the only way to communicate across the miles?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Leadership, What exactly does this mean?

Recently I have been thinking of what it means to be a leader. It seems that if you find yourself in a position of leadership you need to be someone who operates over and above what the average person would do. What do I mean by this?

Well, for example, I teach a weekly driving school class. As the "leader" or teacher of that class it is my responsibility to be prepared and ready to teach on the days that I have advertised. If for some reason I cannot teach (illness, etc.) then it is my responsibility to make sure that a substitute teacher is in place and is fully informed of their duties. And the duties must be performed regardless of how many students show up to class. If there is only one student, it is my obligation to give them the full service and attention that I would give a class of 10 or 20 students.

Now that can be hard at times and takes a bit of sacrifice. It is tempting to say "Oh, there are not enough students today for me to put much effort into teaching". That would be so wrong. It is not the fault of the one student who showed up and they should not be given lesser treatment because they were the only ones to come. It would make that student feel unimportant and "ripped off".

So a leader has to hold themselves to a higher standard.

The other day I found myself in the situation of the lone student. I attend a weekly women's bible study and this particular day the leader was sick and was unable to make it and the study was going to be canceled. Then at the last moment it was discovered that a substitute leader was available so the study was back on. Only I guess I was the only one who got that message. So I and the "sub" showed up at the meeting place. Now this "sub" did not know me at all, as I'm new to the group. And granted it was her last day in town and she was leaving for good the next day. So this was our one and only chance to connect and get to know one another. This was also a prime opportunity for her to minister to me. After all, I have a lot of baggage and issues I need to work out. Not many people know that, and most think I have my act together. How far wrong they are!

Anyway, what happened is the lady realized I was the only one that was going to show up, so after 20 minutes of trivial talk, she took her leave, claiming packing as her excuse. At first I was fine with this and graciously said my goodbyes. But then as I sat there by myself I started to feel very unimportant and unworthy. And I started to think about what I would have done if the situation was reversed. And you know what? I would have stayed. I would have taken that opportunity to pour into the life of the one soul who showed up. Because that is what a leader must do.

So I guess this post is a bit of a rant and a warning. If you are a leader in any capacity and you have an obligation to lead a group, make sure to give that group, no matter how many show up, 100% of what they deserve. That is the mark of a true leader.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Open Areas: Failure or Success?

Recently I was invited to join a facebook group that consists of graduates from Lord Byng highschool, class of ‘81. This was the first high school I attended in Vancouver, BC. I was only there for my 8th grade year, then my family moved up the coast to Powell River and I eventually graduated from Max Cameron Senior Secondary. When I accepted the invitation to join LB’s 30th reunion group I didn’t feel worthy. After all, I never really graduated from that school. But I was also curious. I had lost touch with all but a handful of people from those days. What were they up to? Do they remember me? It turns out they do! And many have been up to some very interesting things.

Lively discussions ensued where we shared old childhood memories and eventually someone brought up our Elementary school days at Queen Elizabeth Elementary School. Many of us were products of what is now considered a “failed” experiment. The Open Area Classroom model.

I had always known my elementary school days were unique. We did not attend a traditional classroom. For 1st thru 3rd grade I was part of the “pod” a group of four classrooms circled around an “open area”, with it’s own private art room, bathrooms and lunch room. We were kept separate from the rest of the school and only joined them for assemblies and special events. Children were grouped together by abilities so that often you would see kids working together in groups of mixed ages. In 4th grade I was moved to a “regular” classroom. I hated it. So when I was once again chosen to attend the open area class for 5th grade, I remember begging my mom to let me join. So for 5th, 6th and 7th grade I was once again in the “experimental” classroom.

Looking back on this now, I have come to realize that this educational model has shaped how I teach my children, and has been instrumental in my choice to homeschool and ultimately unschool my children.  And in discussing my experiences with former classmates there are many of us who were deeply impacted in a positive way. One former classmate says “When I look back at the Open Area, knowing what I now know about myself, I realize that I was able to thrive there because it was a less structured and more creative environment than sitting at a desk all day staring at the blackboard. Strange that it was considered a failed experiment from the seventies.”

So what did we do in an open area classroom? I remember a lot more group activities. We were always being divided up into groups. And it was easy to tell how the divisions were made. Badgers, Beavers and Bears. Badgers were the “smart” kids (I was in that group), Beavers were the “average” and Bears were the, well, ones that needed more help. I remember being placed in 5th grade in the same group as my brother who was in 7th grade. He was not happy. The implication was that we were on the same level of learning. But the truth was, it was all a peer mentoring experiment. The idea was the older kids in the groups were supposed to help out the younger kids. There was no distinction between age and grade levels. We were like one big happy family – reminiscent of the one room school house days, but with 4 teachers to control the group and with only 3 grade levels to deal with. Art and music were emphasized and writing was encouraged. I can honestly say that Mrs. B. was the teacher that got me interested in writing.

I researched why they think this classroom model was a failed experiment. The only research I could find centered on low income classrooms in large cities in Chicago and how the teachers had no control of the kids, and that the classroom environment was “loud and chaotic”. I don’t remember it being that way. But QE was not in a “low income” neighborhood but was decidedly middle class.  Maybe that was the difference. Or we just had a good team of teachers. And student teachers. We had a lot of them. 

Things changed when I headed off to high school. Classroom segregation, the mingling of several elementary schools into one very large high school, teen age drama as we entered our years of puberty. Bullying. Cliques. Mean girls. Indifferent boys. School was just never the same and I longed for the good old days of QE.

It’s been noted that there is a high number of teachers or people in the field of education that gradated from that class. I wonder if the freedom we had in learning in that environment, helped instill a love of teaching in us all? I know for me, the concept of allowing a child to pursue his/her talents came from those days. I was encouraged to write and to create in art and to explore my interests in science. We had a lot of hands on activities. I remember one teacher came across the skeleton of a deer and brought it back to the class and several of us were allowed to try to piece together the bones to recreate the deer. We had password competitions and talent shows. We sang and danced to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Joseph”. We wrote our own version of the Canterbury Tales. We were encouraged to read and read and read. My favorite corner was a pile of beanbag chairs where one could snuggle with a book and read for what seemed like hours at a time.

Sadly “back to the basics” educational philosophy tore the Open Area classrooms down. Walls were put up and as far as I know QE no longer has this classroom style. Thankfully as an unschooler I don’t have to worry too much about it. But it saddens me to think that educators do not interview those of us who are products of this “experiment” to see how we have all turned out. I’d be very curious to interview all the “kids” from those days and find out just how many of us attribute who we are today to the benefits of this classroom model.