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A Conspiracy of Adults: Taking Stock of Our Relationship with Technology

Kelsey Berry
What does it mean to "know" a child? How does technology change that relationship? What should Holderness be doing to monitor or limit the time students spend online? These are just some of the questions faculty pondered during Holderness Symposium in June.
Every year, after graduation and final exams the Holderness faculty gathers around a large table in the East Wing of Weld. This is the most tangible representation I can think of for the phrase “conspiracy of adults.” While conspiracy connotes some sort of ill-will, we use it with a smile and it is more akin to the phrase “it takes a village.” As a full faculty, over four days, we talk about every single returning student. The advisor for each student leads this conversation, beginning by sharing some highlights from the year, and asks for more information from the community of adults. These conversations inform the end-of-year summative advisor letters but also play a key role in helping the faculty to collectively “know” each student.
Increasingly, however, a large part of a student’s life is nearly invisible to faculty. What does it mean to “know” a child who spends six to nine hours each day online in a world we can’t see? We see them, perhaps, on their computers, or on their phones (although, hopefully not in public spaces); we may have a sense that they are snapchatting; or we can see them playing video games. But what does their world feel like? A hurtful comment can be overheard in a common room, and an adult can interject or advise a senior leader to step in; the number of “likes” at student receives on an Instagram photo, however, is invisible to faculty, who by the way, are largely digital immigrants.
To that end, we need to do more than talk about our students as a full faculty each year in order to get to “know” them properly. As teenager culture changes and teenagers live significant parts of their lives online, the cultivation of that knowledge requires learning. We need to be learners in order to best serve them.
The Holderness Symposium (formerly known as Holderness LEARNS), at least in part, facilitates that learning. It is a three-day, on-campus, learning experience for faculty (after those four days of faculty meetings where we discuss each student). It is a new tool, empowered by a generous gift for teaching and learning, to help Holderness faculty not just know our kids, but work to best serve our kids. This year’s theme was “Technology and Learning.” The faculty embraced this topic in August 2018 during opening faculty meetings, crafted essential questions during a faculty meeting, discussed it with advisees after a community viewing of the documentary Screenagers, and learned some new tools in our April 2019 in-service. These snippets of learning, however, were not enough to thoroughly digest and respond to such a complicated topic. The three-day, immersive experience in June—which aspires to be like a graduate course we take together as a faculty—allowed us the space as an adult community to really ponder this topic. 
The most recent history of Holderness was published in 2004 and it ends by describing a new and innovative “faculty laptop program.” The world has changed drastically since then. Fifteen years after the first faculty laptop program, almost all students have a device, almost all teachers have a device, we have interactive whiteboards and Apple TVs in our classrooms, a variety of software supports student learning, and dorm logs are kept on Google docs. We have the infrastructure, and we have learned how to use the tools. But should we use them? How do we decide between screen time and face-to-face time? The theme for this year’s Holderness Symposium, allowed us the space to take stock of our relationship with technology, our students’ relationships with technology and ultimately work to craft a philosophical position that helps us to engage new resources and understand the challenges we face. 
Speakers during the conference included Wendy Wolfe, the director of instructional technology at the Breck School in Minneapolis, MN; Jim Taylor, PhD, an internationally recognized authority on the psychology of sport and parenting; Jean Twenge, PhD, author of iGen: Why Today's Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy--and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood--and What That Means for the Rest of Us; and Reshan Richards, EdD, the director of studies at New Canaan Country School and chief learning officer at Explain Everything Inc. Reshan facilitated the last two days of the symposium, guiding us through different exercises that attempted to process all of our learning and answer the question: What does this mean for Holderness?
After hearing from these experts, faculty worked in groups to identify what different constituents need—i.e. Students need sleep so they can learn effectively; Faculty need email protocols and guidelines so they can model and have better tech hygiene. We also reflected on the different types of technology we have to use, that we choose to use, and that we choose not to use; then we did that same exercise for our families and then for our students. Later we broke into eight groups to confront and design solutions to different challenges regarding technology on our campus.
The eight different challenges identified were: 
  • Why is it that sub-varsity sports don’t seem to have the same emphasis as varsity teams? 
  • How do we support and sustain our phone policy? 
  • How can we better model good use as adults?
  • How can we better structure our technology policy in the evening hours during study hall and free time? 
  • How might we organize our schedule so there are fewer places to check the increasing stream of emails? 
  • Where and how might we support tech-free zones on campus? 
  • We are increasingly seeing kids on their phones in hallways. How might we support a shift away from this trend? 
  • We ask our students to go online to find their assignments. This passive reception doesn’t lead to the development of organizational skills, and it adds screen time. How might we reimagine how we use our learning management system? 
Groups then prototyped solutions and offered suggestions on ways that this work might be measured. These eight prototypes are now being considered by the administrative team for thoughtful piloting and implementation next year.
We are honing in on a philosophical statement as a school on the role we want technology to play in the formation of our community. We have several different ideas and strategies to solve a variety of technology-related issues on campus. We may not have a tidy solution to answer the questions about technology, community, and teenage mental-health, but we are three days closer, and more importantly, we have a shared language, dialogue and resources to reference as we conspire together.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in The Lamp, Holderness School's online journal for critical reflection. The complete article can be found here.

List of 3 news stories.

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mail P.O Box 1879 Plymouth, NH 03264-1879
phone (603) 536-1257