Everything needs attention
Your spouse, your significant other, your children, your pets…
Pay attention to the signs, the hints. Pay attention to the precursors, the changes…
Your home, your car, your stuff…
Listen for the sounds, watch the behavior, practice maintenance whenever you can.
Your job, your boss, your coworkers…
Prepare, communicate, be present….
I have the blessing of speaking to the “graduating” class of 6th graders in my school every year. I put “graduating” in quotes for this simple reason: school isn’t over for these students. They are moving on or moving up, but not finishing. For me, graduation requires the END of something, but that’s beside the point.
The wonder of a speech like this is that I am supposed to impart some wisdom, or a lesson, kind of like a keynote. Except I’m not Steve Jobs, or James Ryan. I’m barely able to get through the speech without feeling like I’m rushing or looking down at my notes too often.
When I speak with these students (and their parents by proxy), I talk about how attention is a valuable resource. Working with children as I do, you can see how attention is constantly discussed, overvalued as much as it is undervalued, used as a marker for developmental or educational issues, and generally misunderstood.
Constantly discussed: What is stopping a child from learning? What is the core deficit for a child? What makes this child stand out? What’s an inherent issue for all students in a modern classroom.
Overvalued as much as it is undervalued: Yes, we expect younger children to maintain attention longer than is developmentally appropriate. Also yes, we expect a classroom to sustain and maintain attention for an extended period of time. Even more YES, we don’t give children the opportunities necessary to find their interests so that attention to task isn’t forced or required, but flows with ease.
Used as a marker for developmental or educational issues: Tests of memory, working memory, and classroom observations can reveal much about what a child can or cannot do. How much of this matches up with a developmental expectation and how much of it is a real issue? When you think about what we ask students to do at the ripe old age of 5 and compare it to what you do as an adult, let me know the answer to this question: how long can you TRULY devote attention to a task before you are internally or externally distracted?
Generally misunderstood: Yes, technological onslaughts in the form of games, television, and social media compromise ALL of us with regard to attention. On the other hand, the reason a student is not learning is not always because of their attention. It’s a easy thing for an educator to say that a student isn’t learning because they aren’t paying attention. It’s a lot harder to break down tasks, look at data, observe a student, tweak and differentiate a lesson, give feedback, talk to parents, and continue to shift expectations and teaching strategies throughout a school year.
Everything needs attention…
Your class, your lessons, and that one student in front of you.
How long can you pay attention?