Hope is Not a Strategy

George Couros
7 min readDec 5, 2023

In this month’s blog revisit, I am looking back at a post I wrote originally in 2017 on using social media and mobile devices in the classroom. To be transparent, I am struggling with what I wrote in that original post today, not because I disagree with anything I said then, but because I wonder how much has changed in our world since it was written.

But I want to embody this quote (Often attributed to Einstein but is from an unknown source) and share my own thinking struggles with you openly:

There are a lot of concerns about how students use social media and phones, but are adults any better? Are they modeling the hopes online that we have for our students? I included myself in this scenario. I am much more mindful of what I post since I have had children on my own because I see what I share online as a “diary” that I am in some way leaving to my kids.

But, for example, there were times when I would go online and complain about canceled or delayed flights to leverage networks against a company to benefit somehow. Yet, the person at the counter was never thinking, “How can I ruin George’s day!?” The plane was broken, or the weather was so bad that flying wasn’t safe. In either situation, I don’t want to get on the plane.

I haven’t done that in years. Why? Because I would hate for someone to come to a keynote and blast me on social media afterward because they didn’t like something I said. Nor would a teacher want to hear from a student or parent complaining about a class without ever having a conversation. The person at the airline is no different than a teacher in the classroom. We are all doing our best.

And maybe some people aren’t. But I would rather give the benefit of the doubt and be wrong than not do that and be wrong.

Yet more and more schools are banning devices, and many teachers and schools think it works wonderfully. And I bet it is. I am not trying to convince anyone to move away from something that works for their community. But every time we make a decision, even when we feel it is correct, something is lost.

For example, if schools ban devices in classrooms today, that could be absolutely wonderful for the current experience in the school. On the other side, though, if a student is a valedictorian and doing dumb things on social media because no one is guiding them, what opportunities could they be losing in the future because of what we are not teaching them today? I don’t know.

Even at the time I wrote the original post, I was struggling with this:

“Understand this…I see negatives with technology use, but I also see positives. I have really been trying to focus on the positives while acknowledging the negatives. An “all-or-nothing” mentality is not helpful in education or elsewhere.”

So, I humbly reshare this post with you all today, struggling more with my thinking than I was then. Maybe that is part of the reason I am resharing.

If a school community says that an approach is working for them, they know their community best and want to do what is best for students. I believe that. But I think what gets us in trouble in education is just assuming what we thought or did 5, 10, or 50 years ago should never be revisited. I don’t believe everything should change, but I think we should always be discussing how we can best serve our students. Anyway, being more confused now than when I first started writing the intro, here is the post :)

Hope is Not a Strategy

I played football for four years in high school and loved the game. I had a chance to play at the post-secondary level, but an injury to my knee and a lack of passion for the game, when compared to basketball, led me to some different choices.

After high school, my friends and I would play Tecmo Bowl and Madden on the Sega Genesis. It is incredible how much I didn’t know about the game when I actually played it in person (clock management, when to call plays and why, and other fundamental coaching games). But when I played the video game, it actually taught me a lot about the strategy that I didn’t know about. For the first two years of my teaching career, I coached football, which I know I wouldn’t have had a clue to do if I didn’t play football as a video game.

Do I believe every video game will always push your thinking? No, but I don’t think it has to. Sometimes, it is okay just to check out and do something for the sole purpose of fun. I still love playing video games, although I don’t do it as much as I once did. But I also know that the “flow theory” implemented in game design is something we can learn from in education. Finding that point of being too complicated for students to give up or too easy for students that they become bored with is something that is obvious in many game designs.

I recently read the book, “Screen Schooled: Two Veteran Teachers Expose How Technology Overuse Is Making Our Kids Dumber,” and by the title, you can see the authors have a clear view of technology in education. I read it knowing that I wouldn’t agree with a lot of it but that it would a) push my thinking and b) help me think deeper about my arguments. I firmly believe that if I can’t make your case for you, then I probably don’t understand your position or mine.

This quote stuck out to me:

And it’s not as though teens are using their phones for learning, creating, or other productive pursuits. I can honestly say I’ve never taken a phone from a kid who was in the middle of exploring a cyber art museum. I’ve never had a parent complain that she walked in on her son having a late-night FaceTime session with a group of school children in Nigeria. Pretty much all I ever see kids do on their technology is text and Snapchat friends, play games, take pictures of themselves, check Instagram for likes, watch silly videos, and play more games.

In my notes, I wrote the following; “So why don’t you teach them something different?” Do we hope that kids use technology for meaningful things, or are we teaching them the opportunities before them? I have been saying this often: hope is not a strategy. If we want something different, we can’t just hope it happens. We have to do something.

Understand this…I see negatives with technology use, but I also see positives. I have really been trying to focus on the positives while acknowledging the negatives. An “all-or-nothing” mentality is not helpful in education or elsewhere.

This quote is also from the book:

To put this in context, when the elderly discover social media, they apply their real-life understanding of social interaction to it. My eighty-five-year-old grandfather just recently got on Facebook. He did this not to replace existing social interactions but to enhance these interactions. He continues to write, call, and see his family and friends with the same regularity as he did before. However, Facebook allows him a chance to increase the frequency of interaction in a way that is more dynamic and timely than writing a letter, but not as fulfilling as actually being with the people with whom he chooses to interact. He brings his lifetime of knowledge acquired through face-to-face interactions to every type of social interaction he has. Whether it’s a phone call, text, e-mail, or Facebook post, he can accurately predict what type of remark will elicit what type of response from the recipient. He can also differentiate what setting is appropriate for a formal or informal tone. Despite being new to the technology, he picked up the nuances of Facebook instantly.

I love what was written here, and in my notes, I wrote, “Why aren’t we teaching kids more of this?” I have said this often, “technology is not meant to replace face-to-face interaction, but it can be used to enhance it.” That is the point the authors make with adults, but who will teach the students?

I have been thinking about this statement a lot lately: are we serving the score or the student?

When I often hear about schools (or countries) wanting to ban devices from students in schools, I wonder if they are focusing on “doing school” well or helping serve kids in the world we live in now?

Maybe it is both, or perhaps it isn’t.

Either way, we must find more ways to read the stuff we don’t agree with, find common ground, and figure out ways to serve our kids. The answers are rarely in the extremes but often somewhere in the middle. We can’t just hope for good things to happen or hope bad things don’t.

Education (and learning) in all facets of the world is always part of the solution.

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George Couros

Innovative Teaching, Learning, and Leadership Consultant. I also like dogs.