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Don’t Phone It In

By Peg Grafwallner
 | Apr 13, 2016

ThinkstockPhotos-83065945_x300Recently, I was “invited” to attend a meeting to introduce the latest district initiative. The two district presenters rolled out the plan, which focused on writing across all content areas. As a former English teacher, now an instructional coach/reading specialist, I applaud this effort. Although writing has always been considered an English department “thing,” content area writing lessons will be required of all teachers. The focus on writing is a welcome opportunity to connect the reading standards that have permeated everything we’ve done. By including writing, we are stressing the significance of a comprehensive literacy program. In this way, students will (hopefully) understand the value of writing in all content areas and realize that good writing is necessary to learn, to inquire and, ultimately, to succeed.

As I was listening to the directives, the presenters explained I was chosen because I am one of the “change agents” in the district. I secretly commended myself for this compliment and silently agreed to help spearhead the effort in my building. But then, I realized maybe I’m not that important after all. As a matter of fact, maybe the entire audience really isn’t that valuable.

As praise was being heaped upon me, one of our presenters pulled out his phone. I’m assuming he was checking e-mails or texts and not the time, because there was a clock in the room. I grew more uncomfortable the longer he was checking his phone. At one point, he turned his back to the audience and began talking to someone. His counterpart continued the presentation.
I began to be more interested in the presenter’s phone than in the presentation. I was captivated by the demeanor in which he attended to his phone.

I wondered, what could be so important that this presentation, with principals, assistant principals, literacy coaches, and classroom teachers, was interrupted to check one’s phone? Do we really believe people in front of us need to wait while we check our phones for other, more pressing matters?

Then, we were shown a video that was meant to assist us in understanding and implementing this new initiative. As I was watching the video, I noticed both gentlemen were on their phones, again checking whatever needed to be checked. Although I’m sure they both had seen the video multiple times, I wanted them to watch it again. I wanted them to show me that the video and, ultimately, their presentation was so crucial to the betterment of the district that they had to watch it again. I wanted them to show me that they believed in it. But that didn’t happen. I watched the video, and they focused on their phones.

Here’s my problem: You’ve “asked” me to buy into this opportunity. I get it. I think it’s worthwhile. I believe in what you’re selling. But, as you sell it, you are showing me there are other things more important than this meeting, this initiative. As a matter of fact, this program that you explained is so vital that its success rests on my shoulders is actually so unimportant, that you have to check in with other, more important people and opportunities. You’ve shown me it really doesn’t matter.

As a seasoned national presenter, I have never checked my phone during a presentation. Never. I use my phone for the stopwatch feature and to keep me on track. That’s it. And that’s what I expect from other presenters.

Then I equated this to our students. Although I hope teachers don’t take out their phones while teaching, do we give students our whole self in the classroom? Do we put distractions aside so we can concentrate on the whole person? Do we believe in what we’re “selling”? Maybe we need to “disconnect” more from outside distractions, too.

I left the meeting knowing that I will do what is asked of me because I believe in it. However, there’s a lesson to be learned here: Please know everyone is watching you as you’re on your phone. You are supposed to be modeling to your audience the value of your product. Don’t minimize it by sharing your time with something or someone else. If your project is so important that you called a two-hour meeting after school, be present—totally present—in what you believe in. Otherwise, don’t bother.

peg grafwallner headshotPeg Grafwallner is an instructional coach with Milwaukee Public Schools.



Leave a comment
  1. <a href="">Shop now</a> | Jun 24, 2016
    It is really great that people are taking their time out and also discussing it with the world the great part is that this post is about the teachers who are posting to complain about the parents who dont get involved in the meetings now they only focus on the gadgets which is really bad I am glad that some teachers want to move this complain forward which is a big step.
  2. Marilyn Goodrich | May 10, 2016

    As an trainer of educators I see this many times over in the school districts. Administrators telling their faculty that this is important and to pay attention but then are on their phone, ipad, or computer not listening or paying attention to the educators who need that support in order to implement effectively. Thank you for this post. I will be passing it on..and on...and on....

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    knowledge is important for the leader and always seeking knowledge also learn yourself. if we do not increase our level of literacy throughout the world the world. We will never make a good leader for this world
  4. <a href="">Buy Research Papers</a> | Apr 16, 2016
    Knowledge is ever important for become a leader and upgrade yourself if we will not increase our literacy rate all around the globe world. We will never create a good leader for this world.
  5. Amy Koch | Apr 14, 2016
    I completely agree about being totally present if you want your audience to participate or buy-in. I often hear complaints from staff at my school when we have outside presenters come in for whatever the issue du jour is and neither of the administrators in the building attend or, if they do, they casually go in and out of the presentation. How are the staff supposed to buy-in if the administration does not place any outward importance on it?
  6. Bob Pavlik | Apr 13, 2016

    Peg is a first-rate professional in all of her roles.  She models how to inter-be - the processes of being fully present with and for others.  This blog has an important message for all facilitators of learning.

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