7 March 2024

Getting things done or doing things well

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Getting things done or doing things well
Getting things done or doing things well
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‘If it’s not worth doing well, then it’s not worth doing’, is a maxim that has been attributed to various thinkers. I heard it from Sam Harris, the respected philosopher, author and neuroscientist. It’s a challenging idea. Often, we feel compelled to just get things done. Teachers and parents surely make the suggestion to the young people in their lives to just get it out of the way so you can do the other thing, then the other. After all, there is always so much to do. But is that really good advice?

It is well known that many members of our society, young and old, have suffered from a greatly diminished attention span since the smartphone became ubiquitous over a decade ago. One consequence of this lack of true attention is that reading is now often done half-heartedly. Emails are skimmed, news articles are only read for the headline, books are cast aside for the phone. After all, there is always another post appearing somewhere to steal our attention and prevent us from reading closely.

Of course, the impact of this lack of attention goes beyond reading. You might consider how aghast you would have been 10 years ago if you’d been talking to a friend over coffee and that friend had taken out their phone mid-conversation and started reading a text message from someone else. Now consider whether that is something that you yourself now do. Perhaps with friends, or even with family over dinner. It is so easy to do things half-heartedly: to have a distracted conversation while checking messages now seems de rigueur.

In the Middle School this year we have taken a strict line on mobile phone use by students – phones are to stay in lockers for the entirety of the school day. The vast majority of our students have adjusted quickly and gladly. Most pleasing is how so many students, as well as staff, have noticed how this simple change has made the Middle School a more content place.

Teachers of course are not immune to the attraction of the phone. So in an age dominated by constant connectivity, it is more important than ever that we model healthy relationships with technology for the children in our care. As leaders in their lives, we have the opportunity to demonstrate the importance of balance, presence and self-discipline in the digital realm, as do parents. I encourage parents to reflect on your interactions with technology and consider the example you are setting for your children. Are you paying attention to the things that matter at home and prioritising meaningful experiences over scrolling?

Ultimately our Middle School’s no-phone policy will only work if we are all in. I’m optimistic that if all of us – teachers, parents and students – can truly pay closer attention, aided by our phones being hidden away for much of the day, then there will be fewer temptations to just ‘get things done’. Instead, we will all be placed to focus on and aim for excellence. And to test the merits of the maxim, ‘If it’s not worth doing well, then it’s not worth doing’. I’d welcome your thoughts on it.

David Martin
Acting Deputy Head of Middle School – Student Learning

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