Put down your phone and be present in life
From the Executive Director, Wesley Smith
July 26, 2021
Recently, I wrote a column encouraging ACSA members to learn from and carry forward lessons learned from pandemic silver linings. I shared how our members focused during the pandemic on the power of relationships between students and teachers, and administrators and staff, and how they changed grading practices to reflect what students know and are able to do versus grading compliance, completion and privilege.
Another silver lining lesson was the value of virtual connections. ACSA members saw increased participation in learning acceleration opportunities, IEP meetings, and parent/teacher conferences. ACSA, too, learned a lot about online connections and online learning, and we are going to evolve based on those experiences. All of our academies will be online for the 2021-22 school year. While we are going to host in-person conferences this year, we are also going to offer an online option so ACSA members who are unable to travel are still able to participate, learn and be edified by interactions with other members. Even some of our committee and council meetings and one Leadership Assembly will be held virtually to reduce the burden of travel and time away from work.

“The digital tethers that bind us to our phones, tablets, computers and watches have grown stronger and more damaging.”
Unfortunately, not every aspect of our increased reliance on online connections and online learning have been positive. The digital tethers that bind us to our phones, tablets, computers and watches have grown stronger and more damaging. We have become so dependent on our devices for connections that we can’t put them down to benefit our wellness and strike a more appropriate life/work alignment.
I have shared with many of our regions my research on life/work alignment. If you have participated in the workshop or watched it on the ACSA Resource Hub, you’ll remember me saying, “You can’t make a positive impact on the lives of your students, staff and community if you can’t show up, and you can’t show up if you aren’t well.” Our mental, emotional and physical wellness are absolutely impacted by the time we spend on our phones or in front of a monitor, and the anxiety induced by the time tethered to our devices is not confined to appropriate days and times; it is 24/7, 365 days a year — and it is not healthy.
One strategy employed by educators and the corporate world alike is “disconnect and engage.” The idea is to be intentional about putting down our devices, moving away from our monitors, and engaging our environments and the people in them. Like one of my mentors encouraged me, “When you are there, be there!” Presence promotes wellness. Even in the corporate tech industry, some companies are instituting tech-free meetings. Instead of looking at a screen, they look at and engage the individuals in the meeting. They have found that their presence increases productivity and improves interpersonal connections and skills.
Similarly, there are districts that have implemented electronic curfews. They prohibit texts, calls and emails after a certain time in the evening and on weekends unless there is an emergency — and their emergencies are clearly defined. And, yes, this curfew applies to board members.
This strategy is even more important when we are away from work. After I healed from my cardiac arrest, my son told me, “Dad, I like you better now. When you are home, you are actually home ... you aren’t on your phone all the time.” Connections with friends and loved ones promote wellness. During the pandemic, I have backslid into bad habits. I have caught myself too often on my device or in front of a screen and too seldom present. We deserve the wellness associated with presence and our friends, loved ones and staff deserve our presence and engagement; they need us to show up.
I invite my ACSA family to join me in disconnecting and engaging. You matter, you are necessary, and your wellness is essential.
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