At our Tuesday morning assembly this week, three of our senior girls presented on their Round Square service experience in Cambodia. The girls were away for just over three weeks, joining other students from Round Square affiliated schools from around the world to work on a service project. The presentation was superb, as, rather than simply outline the things that they did, the girls shared their perspectives and what they had learned while away. One student, Ellen ’17, explained that she realized just how wonderful it was to enjoy the present moment and described a beautiful sunset; she commented on how important it was for us all to remember to ‘look up’ and be present.
Little did Ellen know that the notion of ‘looking up’ was something that has been very much on my mind.
I have been reading a provocative book that has me thinking and observing a lot- perhaps to the chagrin of our students. Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age by Sherry Turkle is an important read for all. Dr. Turkle, the Abbey Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT, writes about the importance of conversation in assisting us to learn empathy, compassion and important non-cognitive skills. To be clear, Turkle is not against the digital age but feels that conversation and its developmental effects cannot be as impactful if the conduit through which they are happening is technology. For many, as for me, this is an unsettling notion when we consider that our lives and those of our students are so focused on digital connection. As Turkle says, “To join in conversation is to imagine another mind, to empathize, and to enjoy gesture, humour, and irony in the medium of talk.”
Beyond our students’ use of technology to leverage their learning in class, it has been the increased use by our students of their phones during down time to which I have become particularly sensitive. I am not unaware that the manner in which our students connect is often online; however, the all-too-frequent occurrence of girls sitting together in groups, holding their phones, heads down, and no face-to-face connection or conversation, is something that needed to be addressed.
I feel blessed every day to work with our staff and girls. Our girls are insightful, bright and caring. Our community is a close-knit one, and I have grown concerned about the lack of conversation during down time. Ellen’s observations of the importance of looking up was a wonderful segue for me to ask our community to take the time to look up- and to use that opportunity to talk face-to-face in real time.
Things appear better, and with an understanding of why this is important, it is my hope that, in addition to leveraging the wonders of the digital world, we can ensure the important presence of looking up and conversing with our family, friends and community.