Tag Archives: children

It’s Just Chat and SMS



Last night I saw a magnificent production of Tosca by the Australian Opera. If you had asked me in a text message what I thought of it, I would probably have responded with “great” and I might have added a thumbs up emoji.  what you would not have seen was the way my hand punctuated the air as I wrote “great”, you would not have heard the awe in my tone, the gasp that preceded my word and nor would have seen the look of admiration and delight that flooded my face as I recalled the evening.

Research suggests that when we are communicating attitudes or emotions, approximately 7% is communicated by the words and 93% by the nonverbal aspects of communication – facial expression, tone of voice, gestures and the like.

In my text response to your question about the opera, you missed 93% of the message.

It seems our youngsters are giving up on telephone conversations. They much prefer to text. They have lightning thumbs, and the messages fly back and forth at an amazing speed. These text conversations can be short or sometimes very, very long. And the longer the conversation, the more likely it is that misunderstandings, misinterpretations and false impressions will be built and expanded upon.

Why? Because every time a message is sent, 93% of it is missing! Imagine trying to read a novel or a letter with 93% of the letters missing.

In an attempt to overcome this paucity of information we insert emojis and giphs. They help a little, but not much. You send me a text letting me know you passed a very hard exam, one you had worried yourself sick about. I send back a message that says “Well done” and includes a thumbs up emoji and a heart.

But if you were here with me you would have seen the expression on my face that showed I understood your relief, one that expressed the pride I felt. And you would have known the confidence I felt in you as I gave you a bear hug of appreciation. Instead? Just a couple of words and two small symbols.

It’s a frequently used exercise in drama classes to say the word “yes” in as many ways as possible, implying as many different meanings as possible. The range is amazing. But in an SMS there is only the word. You work out the meaning for yourself, and with no nonverbal cues to help you, there is every chance you will get it wrong.

Why is this so important?

Make sure you understand the weaknesses that exist in text conversations. Save the text chat for the factual, the trivial, for what it was designed – short messages and chat. These messaging services are named as they are for good reason.

If you want to talk about something that involves the exchange of attitudes and the expression of feelings, subjects that have some depth and nuance, pick up the telephone or better still, meet for coffee.

Most importantly, make sure your children and your students understand the dangers of “Chat” and the “Short Message Service”. They will avoid so many hurt feelings, misinterpretations the misunderstandings.

If the conversation is worth having, it deserves 100% of the communication process, not just 7%.




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Filed under Behavior management, Classroom practice, digital learning, internet, parents, Teacher education, technology, Thinking

Spare me the simple answers, simple minds.

The root of this is more than gun control. It lies within our society and like all societal problems its causes will be complex and subtle. The problem then is that it will need politicians capable of complex and subtle thought to find ways to solve it and I’m not sure how optimistic I am about that.

When I first moved to the US and became a principal I was astounded to discover that we were required to have regular lock down drills to prepare for just this kind of situation. I had never come across this. All we had in Australia were bush fire drills because the schools I worked in were all in forested areas and south eastern australia is one of the most wildfire prone areas in the world. We feared fire. We didn’t think we needed to fear automatic weapons.

In Australia we had an appalling massacre in 1996. No nation is immune.The government’s response was fast and firm. A massive buy back of automatic weapons was funded by a small tax levy on everyone but low income earners. This was followed immediately by the implementation of very strict gun laws. In spite of claims to the contrary by the NRA, gun violence declined rapidly after those moves.

Additionally there was a community, and to a very large extent, a media decision to never mention the name of the perpetrator. Efforts were made to ensure there was no spotlight on him, only on the victims.

About three weeks after I took up my first role in the US as an assistant principal I was faced with the 9/11 repercussions for my school in a highly militarized part of Virginia. I was given the tasks of working with teachers and parents, helping them to understand how best to talk with their children. I did my best, but there is nothing can prepare an administrator or a teacher for something like this. We all rely on our gut instincts as much as our professional preparation. I ,just did my best.

This tragedy has left me lost for words – not a frequent occurrence. I heard someone today advocating that teachers and principals should all have guns. That if the principal at Sandy Hook had been able to lay her hand on a fire arms she could have stopped the gunman. Really? The gunman’s mother had five weapons. She is now dead, shot with her own gun.

In China, on the same day, a man ran amok in a school with a knife and injured 22 children. That is a tragedy too. But he didn’t have a gun and for that we should be thankful, because if he had, those children would now be dead. Don’t tell me it isn’t the gun that kills.

I was sitting in a diner in a quiet, residential area of Virginia about three weeks ago. It was crowded with office workers and locals buying some barbecue and taking a break from the day’s work. The hairs stood up on the back of my neck when I watched a group of three young men walk in and take their seats. They were all in their very early twenties. What horrified me was the sight of a handgun on the hip of one of these young men. Now I know that the frontal cortex of young men, the area of executive function that controls impulsive behavior and judgment, isn’t fully developed as a rule until the mid twenties. And here he was in a crowded diner with a firearm. Why did he think he needed it?

How many times in my life have I heard someone say in a moment of rage, “If I had a gun I’d shoot the b#*^%£d”? Thank god they are so hard to come by where I now live.


Filed under Thinking