My friend Alaina Sharp has started a podcast called Teacher Pep Talk. Alaina is a high school chemistry teacher at Western High School in Parma, Michigan and it is her desire for teachers everywhere to start their day out on a positive note. I submitted my pep talk (the audio and text are both below) and I hope you find it worth a quick listen, but mostly I'm hopeful you will share yours as well.
First, record your audio message of about five minutes (multiple ways to do this, the easiest probably being using a voice notes app on your phone, reach out if you'd like assistance).
Second, send a link of your recording to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Third, there is no third step. That's all there is to it! So what are you waiting for?!
Because I’m worried about bubbles, the ones we construct, or are constructed for us, and those that are maintained, and I’d like you to focus on bursting them.
Some of the most important conversations in America right now need to be happening in classrooms. Conversations guided by caring adults willing to help students find and use their voices. Voices that must be lifted from a place of knowledge and perspective; two items our students can gain from teachers.
Your role as a teacher is to moderate, not dominate, to listen, as much as it is to lead. Do not wield your power over students to indoctrinate them to your personal values and beliefs, be the vessel that allows them to discover theirs. This is not a liberal agenda or a conservative agenda this is an agenda for education. I challenge you to make civilized discussion a normal part of every school day.
The opposite of civilized discussion is easy to find. Just take a short trip around both traditional and social media. Peer at the comments on any post, and just about any topic, and you will unearth plenty of examples of the divisions in our country. Anonymous comments are oftentimes cowardice acts intentionally designed to sow the seeds of mistrust. Even worse these comments can be machine created and targeted at either side to inflame and enrage. Wherever you look, from whichever side, it is apparent that our country is hurting.
I worry that the algorithms that drive our connections can create a framework, dare I say a bubble, that can keep us from experiencing other perspectives and connecting with others. All of us, as teachers, must understand and shine light upon this echo chamber to our students and encourage them to actively push against - from both sides. In a virtual world, in that virtual bubble, it is easy to surround ourselves with only the people that look like me, sound like me and agree with me. Civil discourse, honest discussion, mutual respect - these can and must be learned and practiced in each of your classrooms.
For 15 years in the classroom and the last six as a RESA technology consultant for it has been my work to create connections. Connections with students, teachers, communities that are representative of our nation as a whole. I felt it was one of the most important opportunities I could provide my students - the perspective of others. The divisions within our country begins in our communities. Communities are grounded in schools. And schools can make a difference. Your classroom can make a difference simply by the books you choose to read, the knowledge you share, and the discussions you spark and allow. You can do this!
Our students need us more than ever. I’m guessing that there are students in your district that have not checked in with their school in over five months. Only an educated populace with the ability to distinguish facts from fiction, propaganda from news, with an understanding of data and context, and respect for those that are not like themselves will allow our great nation to actually achieve the lofty standards written so long ago.
Our classrooms are not and can not be bubbles. They must be the cauldrons where the ideas bubble to the surface and are considered and examined from multiple perspectives based on mutual respect and community. Nelson Mandela spoke that ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.’ And that is what I am asking of you this year. To change the world, like you have always done, and teachers will always continue to do. Change the world this year by breaking the bubbles.