It happened to me in 2002, that moment when I knew my role as a teacher had to start moving away from a content expert to a connector.
It was, of course, the moment when the Web was becoming a read AND write technology (Web 2.0). That six-year or so period between 1997 and 2003 that transitioned in the 21st Century also moved us into a whole new world of networks and connections that have since changed almost every aspect of our lives. We became creators, not just consumers of knowledge and information.
That moment in 2002 for me was profound. I had started my first blog in early 2000, and I immediately saw the potentials for blogs as writing tools in my high school English classes. At some point, I wondered if I could connect my students to writers and authors from outside the classroom. Since we were reading a brand new novel titled The Secret Life of Bees in my Modern American Literature class, I took a shot at asking the author, Sue Monk Kidd, to collaborate with my students in a book study blog to answer their questions and provide some backstory about the writing process. I was shocked when she agreed.
At first, my students didn’t believe me. When she posted a 600 word highly nuanced response to a question one of them had asked on the blog, they accused me of writing it. But then they concluded that my own writing wasn’t that good. (They were kind about it.) Long story short, over our five-week book study, I realized that having the author in on the conversations added a profoundly powerful layer of learning to the experience, one that I could not have replicated on my own.
And it became plainly obvious that my role as a teacher, in general, had to change. My job from that moment on was to try to find the smartest, wisest people in the world from whom my students could learn and invite them into my classroom. And then I had to teach my kids to find their own teachers and connect with them as well. That was the obvious required literacy for this new world we found ourselves in.
Fast forward about 20 years and that skill and that literacy are even more urgent today. Five billion people with Internet connections and counting. Easier ways than ever of inviting them into our spaces to work with our students. And a growing awareness by the day that our mastery of networks and online communities will play a pivotal if not dominant role in our kids’ ability to navigate the worlds they will live and work in.
All of that said, and given all of the technological push forward most schools have experienced in the last 14 months, I wonder how many educators out there are yet to have their “moment” or their epiphany of how their roles as teachers must change now. My sense is that despite the demands of remote schooling, there has been very little real evolution in terms of how we see ourselves as teachers in this increasingly ubiquitously connected world.
We still don’t see ourselves as connectors.
There’s no better opportunity to change that than now. As we think about how we need to reconfigure schools and schooling for a much more uncertain, “no-normal” world, the first step might be to ask “Are we connected, as individuals and institutions, to the people, resources, and tools outside of our walls that can deepen and expand our students’ ability to learn, to become learners in their own right, and to understand more clearly the world around them?”
Lucky are the students who are in classrooms where the answer to that question is “yes.”