February 29, 2012 • Athletic AdministrationCoaching

Modern devices create challenges in communication

Perhaps you have read about inappropriate behavior between teachers and students at some school districts. The fallout has given rise to an intense analysis of how these types of incidents can go undetected by school officials and district administrators over such a long period of time.

As educators, we must also ask ourselves what we can do to decrease the chances of such incidents occurring in the future.

I recall Spencer Tracy’’s evolution versus creationism speech in “Inherit the Wind,” when he reminded us that progress has never been a bargain. He stated that we could have our telephones but that we would lose the charm of distance. He also reminded us that in conquering the air, the birds would lose their wonder and the clouds will smell of gasoline.

Modern advances in technology and communication also have come with a price. The internet, cell phones and the many social media networks that are available to us have a direct impact not only in the classroom, but also in the way we interact with one another. Unfortunately, these changes also come at a price.

When I started teaching and coaching in the 1970s, educators did not have telephones in their rooms. Email and the internet were nonexistent. I knew every staff member by name and had opportunities to speak with most of them throughout the school year. Over time, as these technological advances made their way into the schools and the classrooms, the amount of face-to-face communication and personal interaction between school employees decreased, and a culture of isolation started to make its way into our campuses.

Today, I might be able to identify two-thirds of our staff by name. Over time, many school districts implemented cost-saving measures that contributed to this culture. For many years, the middle school where I worked had a teacher’s lunch line with a daily menu for staff only. The teacher’’s lounge was full of people, and we were able to interact and converse with no predetermined agendas. As a cost-saving measure a number of years ago, our district eliminated the teacher’s lunch line. Today, I am the only teacher who goes to the teacher’’s lounge at this time. My colleagues eat in smaller groups or alone.

There are other examples of decisions that have contributed to this culture of isolation, but for the purpose of this discussion, we need not delve any further. I’m also of the opinion that incidents such as the one at Miramonte Elementary might be discouraged when an offender knows that at any time, someone might drop by to leave a message, call a student out of the room or ask a question.

The ability to communicate with your players is an important part of a coach’s job. My experience over the years is that I get to know much more about them when I speak directly to them. A face-to-face encounter allows one to see their facial expressions. Often times, these expressions and their body language tell you much more than a cell phone call, an email or a text message ever will. Technology is here to stay, but it’s not wise to discard the value of interacting with fellow coaches, school staff and your players on a personal level.

Meaningful discourse now often is replaced by digital communication. Our advances in technology allow us to send information quickly and allow us to stay informed, but it does not allow us to embark in a conversation that goes beyond the mere exchange of data and facts.

I am one of the few people left in the civilized world that does not have a cell phone. My players and students can’t believe it and, as the years go by, I have gone from being a primitive individual to being a type of urban legend. They laugh about it, but they also know that for me seeing them in person once is of much more value than exchanging hundreds of emails, cell phone calls or text messages.

Every coaching staff needs at least one coach that is well versed in modern technology and for the time being, I believe every staff needs to have a coach that is responsible for nurturing the personal interaction that can’t be discarded without paying a heavy price.

On our staff, I am that individual. I also know that I am an anachronism in time. Eventually I will fade away, but as I do I will be constantly reminding everyone you can’t make a positive impact on someone’’s life without having the ability to stand next to them.

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