There Is No App for Patience

There is no app for patience. Just as there is no app for respect, kindness or trust. I say this now in the midst of all the hoopla around the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference currently taking place in Philadelphia not so much because I want to rain on anyone’s edtech parade, but because I am missing something. So much of our focus on the use of technology in education has to do with speed, efficiency and scale – measurable features. We talk about technology as an accelerator of learning, we extol the virtues of tremendous reach when tens of thousands register to join a popular Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). We laud countless applications and software packages which promise us time-saving and economizing means to teach our classes and “raise achievement” in the process. I get it. There are numerous digital tools which allow us to do things we couldn’t do before as easily such as locate, sort and store information. As individuals we can create media to share with a potential worldwide audience. And our societies are heading increasingly in the direction of more technology, of faster tools, of ubiquitous digitization of the billions of data points that make up our individual lives. I do not live under a rock. Nor do you.

Still, there is no app for patience nor will there ever be.

Patience is a human capacity to do more than wait. Patience describes the capacity to pay close enough attention, to develop the awareness of self and others to be able to recognize and evaluate when pausing, waiting, holding off will likely bring about a better, more robust and lasting outcome than not waiting in a given situation. Listening often requires patience. Cultivating anything that grows requires patience. Any learning process aimed at achieving depth demands patience. Not surprising then that patience would seem to be a prerequisite for any educational endeavor – whether teaching or learning. In our current discourse around education – be it policy, practice or vision – patience finds no mention, no foothold, carries no weight.

On the contrary, impatience is the working assumption. We simply cannot wait. We should not wait. And for many issues I would perhaps echo that sentiment. Impatience is warranted and called for in response to racialized police violence, in response to ending childhood poverty, in response to highly inequitable school systems. There are many areas where we as a society cannot wait to tackle certain issues. But when it comes to individual students and teachers and their progress, in their capacity to effect change, where is our patience and empathy? When it comes to policy makers setting standards for multiple school districts and expecting to see rapidly improved results within the 9-month sprint we call a school year, where do we find patience and common sense?

There is no app which will teach us or train our patience. Patience requires some depth of thought. Patience requires being able to slow down when the rest are speeding by in order to see precisely what is happening. Patience with our kids means daring to watch and wait before we rush in with an intervention. Patience with our teachers means trusting them to make decisions which benefit and grow student learning and not assuming that all the results of that learning will show up through standardized testing. Patience with our colleagues means listening and encouraging without shaming and judging. Patience creates space for individual variability. Patience provides a stepping stone for faith and positive belief. Patience allows us to spend time not knowing. Patience can teach us to listen first before we speak; to observe carefully before we evaluate.

Patience is something I miss in our education talk and behavior. We cannot copy and paste patience into our curricula or teaching practice. It will need to come from within us and our institutions. Creating space for patience in a school would require a seismic shift in culture and habits. Some schools enter through mindfulness practice. I hope more will choose to follow. For us as individuals swimming in this sea of accelerated everything, we’ll need to fashion our own life vests and buoys to keep us afloat and present to the situation as it is. We cannot turn off the machine. We can, however, moderate our own habits and ways of being in the world with our family, colleagues, students and strangers. There is no app for patience. We must grow and nurture and practice our own.

The Way of The Sloth

(picture via
My interest in talking animals has recently jumped off the charts. Following a deeply satisfying read-aloud of Charlotte’s Web, I brought home Eric Carle’s “Slowly, Slowly, Slowly,” Said the Sloth. And there is one final passage that has a remarkable hold on me.

After hearing questions from the other rainforest animals about why he, the sloth, is so slow, boring, quiet and lazy, this is what follows:

The sloth thought and thought and thought for a long, long, long time.
Finally, the sloth replied,
“It is true that I am slow, quiet
And boring. I am lackadaisical,
I dawdle and I dillydally.
I am also unflappable, languid,
stoic, impassive, sluggish,
lethargic, placid, calm, mellow,
Laid-back and, well, slothful!
I am relaxed and tranquil,
And I like to live in peace.
But I am not lazy.”
Then the sloth yawned and said,
“That’s just how I am.
I like to do things

What would it take to know oneself so fully and clearly?

What an absolute gift to know who, how and why you are without a hint of doubt.

For all of my online chatter, including a steady stockpiling of text upon text of insights, outrage or just plain how-to instructions, the courage to proceed slowly,  methodically and thoughtfully appears worthy of strengthening.  My more recent immersion in social media has not come without a price tag.  How I spend my attention, availability and even patience has changed and not necessarily for the better. Thanks to Eric Carle, it may well be time for me to investigate and pursue the way of the sloth. To see just what can be learned in being more of who I am while doing considerably less.  The capacity of the sloth to think without speaking, to reflect without simultaneously sharing, to take in the ideas of others without assuming them as his own offers a worthy example.

The sloth reminds me that thinking and reflecting take time; that real understanding hardly comes in bursts – rather, it requires patience and some letting go.  Those strike me as hard to come by and stick to these days.  And there’s the lesson, waiting, like it always does, like a sloth might.