I listen regularly to a CBC podcast of the excellent Radio 1 show “Q” with host Jian Ghomeshi. On January 16, 2014, Jian explored the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). It was a fascinating conversation with both journalist Allan Schwartz about the huge increase in prescriptions for ADHD in the last few years and with canadian medical researcher Dr. Gabor Maté. Dr. Maté believes that the higher incidences of attention difficulties in both children and adults are a cultural problem. He talked about the constant use of screens throughout our day, whether gaming, reading, writing, watching TV and movies or communicating, not to mention the constant stimuli these create. Very few us are mindful of what is in front of us.
Let me ask you a question: how often do you do just one thing? If you’re like me, the answer is probably “very rarely.” When you sat down to eat dinner (if you sat down) were you concentrating on your meal? When you drove to work, did you watch the road and other others around you or were you on autopilot? When you checked your email, were you focussed on reading, writing and replying? I admit that I find it hard to concentrate on one thing with all the possible distractions around. Candy Crush, anyone?
We can all own this problem, and it is a problem. At meetings, many leaders and school educators are doing email or texting while information is being shared or discussion is happening at their table. It’s so easy to do and to justify – I’ve done it! When I do, I’m not engaged, and I don’t really know what’s going on.
Howard Rheingold takes on the importance of mindfulness in his book Netsmart. He talks about his conscious decision to be vigilant about attention. It’s essential to “control your own focus” and not allow it “to be captured by peripheral stimuli”, whether online or in your personal life. (p. 42) We all need to move from understanding attention to controlling it. He also talks about the definite possibility of compulsion in social media – why else do we constantly refresh our Twitter, Facebook or Instagram feeds?
I tried a little experiment with mindfulness last Friday. I was at a district Math learning session with the schools I supervise and instead of sitting back to observe, I moved from table to table throughout the session. And I left my phone in my bag. It was great. I listened to caring and passionate teachers talk about Math and their students. I heard them wonder out loud about the best way to approach representations. I played a Math game with two teachers. I heard feedback about next steps.
In short, I met new people, reconnected with principals, and learned alongside educators about Math.
Paying attention really paid off. Is there an area in your life where you can do the same?