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Thursday, July 14, 2016

Connecting the Dots

Connecting the Dots

By Dustin Jorgensen
Forest Park Elementary
Brazil, Indiana
Ph.D. Student
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University
Ryan Donlan
Assistant Professor
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University

                  Playing “connect the dots” as a child is an experience that brings much joy.  Most of us can recall that when we were very young, the game started with a picture that had very few dots on it, yet a lot of solid lines.  We could pretty much tell what the image was before even setting crayon to paper. 
But the reward of connecting those dots was in looking at the final picture and saying, “Look what I drew!” 
Then, we get older.  The lines went away and more dots appeared. 
Still, this was pretty cool.  There was a bit of mystery in our not being able to tell what the image was when first looking at the page of dots.  Sure, there might be a hint or a category, but it wasn’t until we got halfway through (or toward the end) that we could actually discern the image. 
Still, there was great satisfaction.  We connected!
 It was always cool when the picture materialized and we had a sense of accomplishment.
In later years growing up, we still played these games, yet with a bit more of an academic flair, intentionally infused in the activity.  Remember placing the dots, ourselves, on a coordinate grid, after doing a bit of math?  Not only did we learn about mathematical concepts and relationships, we were actually applying what we know and still got to come up with a fun picture to color in the end. 
We have noticed, however, that in real life, connecting the dots has lost a bit of its luster.  And that is too bad, as it is very much an undersold developmental skill in terms of its importance to us in our lives. 
As we have avoided these connections once they became a little more work and a little less fun, we have done something to ourselves as a society. 
We now often live our lives as if the only dot we care about is ours.
We see one dot; not a bigger picture.
There is little room for a “we,” “us,” “they,” or “them,” atop a dot.
It’s this big: .
Author Robert Putnam (2000) might say that this is why we are now bowling alone, if we are bowling at all.
            We believe that it is time to connect the dots again. 
It is time to make it fun.
It is a time to help children make sense of the world. 
It is time that adults do as well.
Our professional lives seem to revolve around testing children in core subjects and trying to compete on international tests.  And because of this, policymakers and educational practitioners have put Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) programs and character education offerings on their back burners . . . with no heat. 
While we know that all children thirst for experiences that prepare them for gainful life in our society, are we giving them the help they need?  Think how many of them are dealing with the setbacks of troubled homes.  Elias (2016) pointed out that it isn’t just about parents helping their own children, but that any adult that interacts with children can affect their development.
As educators, we are called to embrace the most important of what society has abrogated.  But are we equipped?
We are not communicating.  And, it isn’t just educators. 
Parents share with us at times that they don’t know why their kids are misbehaving in our schools.  Could it be that we are all just too busy for a sit-down meal?  Oh, and living vicariously through our children’s parentally manufactured activity commitments, we didn’t get that homework done last night either because practice lasted until 10:00. 
What season is that sport??? 
Year round.  Duh! 
If it’s not sports, it’s dance, or something else, where some parents at times (and tragically) seem to show-up to participate in their own social-pecking order.  It seems (when we allow ourselves to “go negative”) that being at practice or a competition is enjoyed for the sole purpose of having a comfortable place to text, rather than to watch children . . . or so that we can over-share details about our lives with others within earshot.
What do you mean you didn’t see the picture of me at the game?  I posted it on Facebook, Tweeted it, and shared it!
            According to a recent study (Decarr, 2016), average participants visited social media sites 30 times per week.  This is a study of adults!  You can’t walk in the mall or down the street without almost bumping in to someone on his or her “smart” phone.   The same study found that the way social media was used led to maladaptive outcomes for some participants. 
Imagine if we put down this same media and ask our children how their days were and what they learned at school. 
To do so would be a viable option for better communication, and to be quite frank, might even lessen the probability that a picture of your family’s laundry would go “viral” accidentally.   It may even offer a temporary reprieve from the angst of someone “un-friend-ing” you because you stole someone else’s significant other (and heaven forbid the disappointment that no one “liked” the post that you spent a lot of time and effort posing for, at soccer practice).
This is very much where we are developmentally as a country:  Many of us standing upon dots, with no connections to help us show our children the way.  The 1300 “friends” you have on Facebook don’t count.
            We don’t put pictures under our armpits to develop them anymore. 
Images can be shared with one tap of a button or one click of a mouse.  And the damage can be life-changing. 
Yet, according to a recent report, most schools hire more security officers than school counselors (Education News, 2016), and schools are under increasing pressure to measure-up in two core content areas, with a disproportionate amount of time and focus attending to them, when we see our children’s lives with waning foundations and certainly few connections from which they can learn appropriately, and grow. 
With social media playing such a prominent role, shouldn’t we hire professionals who can intervene and counsel students regarding social issues, or at least allow those who are qualified to take the time?  A school counselor cannot afford to help create schedules and prepare kids for college, let alone police the standardized testing windows and embargo materials.
Our schools need to provide ambassadors for appropriate citizenship, shoulders to cry on, strong head toward which to turn , and someone who can help a young person deal with a world in which their parents are not currently living, and sometimes ones in which they “do,” a bit too much.
            It’s time to connect the dots! 
We need to help children deal with their real worlds, not ours.

Decarr, K. (2016, April 11). Do Links Between Social Media, Depression, and Addiction Exist? Education News. Retrieved from
Elias, M. (2016, April 6). 5 Myths Working Against Character Education in Our Schools. Edutopia. Retrieved from
Putnam, R. (2000). Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.
Scott, R. (2016, April 1). Largest School Districts Hire More Security Officers Than Counselors. Education News. Retrieved from


Dustin Jorgensen and Ryan Donlan want to put the “real” back into the real needs of children in public schools.  If you would like to connect the dots while connecting with them, please feel free to contact them at and 

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