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Monthly Archives: February 2013

Call Me Maybe

By Dr. Carol McGaughey

 In our interconnected society where the number of daily tweets, texts, calls, and emails is only exceeded by the number of daily heartbeats per person on this planet, it would seem that digital communication is now key in society. Individuals’ fingers fly with alacrity gliding over tiny symbols that instantly convey thoughts faster than a mythological messenger with a Titan on his trail, lol. Although Oscars are awarded for the best acting, directing, and movie of a particular year, more individuals find their entertainment from You Tube rather than from congregating in one place to sit together for hours without talking. The iPad, Kindle Fire, and Nook are identifiable to most, yet a decade ago each term or phrase would have held an entirely different meaning. In the not- so- distant past, if the elevator doors opened and the person inside was talking to himself, you might hesitate to enter. Now, the realization is Bluetooth, another interesting addition to the lexicon.

If digital communication is key, then spending our days raptly attentive to each ping of a message, jumping from screen to screen to peruse the news, weather, and sports in edible bites, and staring at devices emanating light is perfectly logical. People need responses to their messages, we need to know what is going on in our world, and we love our devices that make staying connected so easy.  In fact, we buy them accessories, both external and internal.

In the midst of this daily deluge of digital detail, is there a point when communication crosses the line to compulsion or when information becomes excess?  Can we even imagine not having our “phones”-which actually can now take the place of almost every other device except a microwave?  In a study conducted by the International Center for Media and the Public Agenda, 200 students at the University of Maryland were asked to stop using all electronic media for 24 hours and to describe the experience through personal blogs. Here is a sample of what some students had to say:

“When I don’t have [my cell phone] on my person, sometimes it can feel like I am missing a limb because I feel so disconnected from all the people who I think are contacting me, but really they aren’t half the time.”

“On a psychological note, my brain periodically went crazy because I found at times that I was so bored I didn’t know what to do with myself.”

             That feeling of emotional dependence on digital devices is the research focus of Sherry Turkle, a clinical psychologist and the founder of MIT’s Initiative on Technology and Self. She investigates how devices are changing the way parents relate to their children, how friends interact, and why many people, both young and old, keep their devices in-hand all the time, even as they sleep. In her book, Alone Together: Why we expect more from technology and less from each other, Turkle examines these changes.  She concludes that the next generation will need to chart the path between isolation and connectivity.

So, in this era where digital communication seems key, perhaps we need to examine the ever increasing bond we have with our own devices and be sure we are using them as the tools they are intended to be and not as substitutes for experiencing the richness of interaction with our family, friends, and faith. What, no FaithTime app?

Self-Talk.

by Dr. Linda Brupbacher

Not long before Christmas, a friend was complaining about someone she employs as a caregiver.  Cooking then cleaning up the kitchen is part of the caregiver’s ongoing responsibilities.  Yet dirty dishes were left in the sink.  In frustration, my friend said, “It only takes three minutes to rinse them and put them in the dishwasher.”   She’s right—about dirty dishes and about so many other things as well.  Picking up my office and clearing my desk before I go home, filing papers, sending an email expressing appreciation, greeting students at the classroom door, recapping at the end of a lesson or meeting, previewing the next lesson, meeting or task:  they all take three minutes (or less).  The list could go on and on—and include activities in both personal and professional arenas.

Self-talk, the messages we send to ourselves, can help focus, calm, encourage and motivate us. The brief phrase (it’ll only takes 3 minutes) and the core idea it embodies have become helpful self-talk for me.  When I’m tired and ready to go home (and not wanting to clean up my office before I leave),  I tell myself, “It’ll only take 3 minutes.”  Somehow that encourages me to go on and pick up.  I’m applying the “only three minutes” self-talk to other things as well—at home and at school.

 It’ll only take 3 minutes: it’s a short but potentially motivating bit of self talk.  I wonder:  are there times when “it’ll only take 3 minutes” might be useful to you or to your students?  Is there other self-talk that is or might be helpful? 

“Doing Lent”

by Dr. Linda Brupbacher

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, the official beginning of Lent in many Christian faith traditions.  Unlike many Baptists, I “do Lent.”  I’m not sure when it started or how it happened, but Lent has become one of the most meaningful parts of my faith journey:  a period of needed, intentional, personal and spiritual growth.

Lent, the 40 days before Easter (excluding Sundays), is a time set aside in the Christian calendar for personal self-examination and intentional spiritual renewal and growth.  Different Christians observe Lent in different ways.  Jesus went into the wilderness for 40 days to prepare for his ministry, and he spent time in the garden before his trial and crucifixion.  Both times, he took time to think, to pray and to prepare for what lay ahead.  This model, His model, provides much of the basis for how I do Lent.

I try to objectively look at who I am and how I’m living my life – then figure out something that I can and should do to move closer to being the person God wants me to be.  Whatever it is, I commit to doing that for the 40 days of Lent.   Sometimes I pick a particular Bible or book study to do during Lent.  This year I am reinstituting a daily quiet time using Show Me the Way:  Daily Lenten Readings by Henri Nouwen.

Forty days is a long time—some say long enough to establish a habit.  And, it is short enough to make a commitment and stick to it—without feeling overwhelmed.   This process works for me–so much so that I can honestly say, “I don’t just do Lent;  I need Lent. “   For me, observing Lent is an important, needed, growth experience:  one that I highly recommend.  Perhaps this is a year when you might consider ”doing Lent.”

The Elusive Epiphany!

By Valerie A. Bussell 
2-11-13

It was interesting to me that Merriam Webster defined epiphany as a sudden perception of essential meaning and went on to include:  “An appearance or manifestation especially of a divine being”.  I liked this direct link in meaning to the “Divine”.

That stated, most of us can probably describe an instance where the light bulb lights, bells ring, angels sing and we get “it” – with crystal clear and perfect knowing. This sudden clarity or insight is best described as an “Ah-ha” moment!

Maybe we unexpectedly realize the ideal book to comfort that grieving friend.  Or we suddenly receive a God-given solution to a problem or specific answer to a prayer.

More commonly, an epiphany is linked to creative discoveries in science or fine art; or even the more ordinary experience of parents gazing into the eyes of a newborn and discovering a perfectly suited name.

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Ah-ha moments cannot be summoned or controlled. Epiphanies are happy little miracles of the mind and soul. If not paying close attention, they can be as elusive as the hummingbird outside your window you fail to see while drinking your morning coffee…quick and miraculous; beautiful and fleeting; gone in the blink of an eye.

SO…PAY ATTENTION!

Though fairly intangible, it does seem that one thing is mandatory for an epiphany to occur. We must be paying full attention in the present moment. Not in the moment as marked by the hands of time. Epiphanies rarely happen when watching our clocks or cell phones. Ah-ha moments are marked by being completely engaged or LOST in the process of creative or intellectual flow.

In other words, we have a greater potential for elusive and sometimes Divinely-connected insights by becoming completely absorbed in what we are doing at the moment.

Lose yourself in a good lecture. Squander yourself in a great book.

Get lost in a heart-felt and honest conversation with God.

Roam freely through a magnificent scripture, movie, song, painting, or beloved poem.

If this is too lofty, lose yourself in watching your cat interact with that catnip mouse on the floor.

Again…PAY ATTENTION! Something new may come to you in that moment when you least expect it.

Much like this blog came to me. 

Changing the Picture of Working while in High School

By Dr. Stephanie Ellis

Long have educators and mental health professionals known that working while in school has mixed benefits and detriments for student development. And long have we believed that more hours equals worse performance. In fact, there’s been a rule of thumb for quite some time that – while in high school – anything over 15 hours per week should be avoided. Alas, for many students who are partly (or even fully!) supporting their family,  that is impossible.

A new look at the data now suggests the picture is much more complex (as we should suspect, since we are complex people living in a complex culture and a complex world). A recent article in Developmental Psychology (Bachman, Staff, O’Malley, & Freedman-Doan, 2013) reports findings from over 600,000 high school students over two decades that show strong cultural influences in how school and work impact students.

Let’s start with this: It’s easy to assume that long work hours means less time for homework and study, which causes lower grades. And that’s certainly possible. But also consider the self-selection explanation – that students who are doing poorly academically choose to work more hours (for many possible reasons). And what about cultural differences? There are clear differences in both ethnicity and SES in terms of how often students get hired (i.e., White and Asian American students and those from a high SES background are more likely to be hired) and how many hours they work (i.e., Latino/a and African American students and those from a lower SES background are much more likely to work longer hours).

And now let’s add this: In addition to the strong, repeat finding that longer work hours correlate with lower school performance, longer work hours also correlate with more substance use! So is impulsivity a factor in all three? How about stress? Are students who work longer just out at night more, so they’re more likely to drink and use drugs, and thus don’t perform as well at school? Or is something else going on? What clarity can we get here?

Bachman et al.’s (2013) findings don’t answer this question. If anything, they add a shade more to the complexity of the issue. Here’s the big news: White, Asian American, and higher-SES students show MUCH stronger correlations among the three variables (that is, when they work longer hours, their school work suffers much more and they are more prone to substance use). This pattern is much less evident for Latino/a, African American, and low-SES students. In a nutshell, “it thus appears that any costs possibly attributable to long hours of student work are most severe for those who are most advantaged” (p. 1).

Here are some possible explanations the authors give: Among the more advantaged students, those who choose to work long hours, drink more, and underperform in school are just the ones who are acting out, and all three of those domains are areas for them to show their rebelliousness.  For the less advantaged students, those who are selected for jobs may be those who are less prone to problematic behaviors like drinking and low academic effort. It may also be that more advantaged students work less because they need to and more to accumulate “play money,” whereas those students from less advantaged backgrounds see their work as important for supporting the family financially and as a stepping stone for their careers, which could indicate different value systems that interact differently with academic work and substance use. These are just a few among many possible explanations, but they serve to begin describing the complexity of these issues.

So it’s to you, now…

Teachers and future teachers – what do you make of this? What does it tell you about helping students balance their lives and achieve academically?

College and graduate students – what’s your story? How much are you working? Partying? Studying? What relationship do you think these factors have for you?

And here’s the full reference, if you want to read the article for yourself:

Bachman, Staff, O’Malley, & Freedman-Doan. (2013). Adolescent work intensity, school performance, and substance use: Links vary by race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status. Developmental Psychology, no pp. doi: 10.1037/a0031464

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