Why Connectedness Matters: Growth of a Former Sheltered Learner

Today I asked my niece if she felt that she knew about the world around her. Her response to that question, that she did not, was exactly as I expected. She attends school where her learning is limited to the words in her state adopted textbooks. Learning for her is 100% “sit and get” with zero application beyond district purchased worksheets.  Aside from her personal social connectedness, my niece has zero experience with making connections with the world outside of what this town makes available.

She is a senior and by today’s standards, will graduate high school without being globally ready.

My niece’s story is my story…the one that existed before my social journey began over 5 years ago. My niece’s world was my world…my town…my school…my classroom….my life as an educator…the one that I vowed to change.

Inside My City Limits

I don’t think that people really understand how sheltered one can be in a small town, unless they themselves share the experience. There are far too many void of opportunity, accessibility, visibility and voice. In my town, this is typically the case, especially if you are black and even more so if you are hispanic and undocumented. The numbers of kids that fit into that category are staggering.

I worked very hard to create a space in my classroom where kids could not only feel success but feel encouraged, challenged and expected to aim higher than our town standards. My openness to understanding of the accessibility to information that technology provided helped tremendously. I know that for a fact.

As a teacher, I was isolated and in a sea of negativity where “my ways” were a bit “too open” and “out there” for many, I preferred that and my isolation was just as much defense mechanism as it was necessary. I was the weird one, the one with the crazy ideas…who always had to have technology, the one whose kids rushed to and also hated to leave. My room was not my room. My tools were not my tools. What was “mine” was certainly…THEIRS.

It’s still crazy to me that certain people never connected my connectedness with the kids that I taught to the empowering community that we established over the commonality of race. “He works in your room because you are black”.

“No, He doesn’t work in your room because your environment doesn’t allow his success”

And Then Came Twitter

My initial bout with twitter-edu came because of technology. I was and still am very excited about certain tools and their impact on learning. I started traveling to conferences and attending sessions by people who I was connected to…only to realize that I knew a lot more than I thought. After-all, “not on twitter” doesn’t mean “not knowledgeable”. It simply means “not instantaneous”. There is a difference.

I found chats and the more conversations that I had, the more that I evolved as a learner and leader. I moved from lurker to sharer and all of a sudden my ideas, the ones that were confined to my room, were helping other teachers change theirs. I think that I probably chatted 7 days a week back then…constantly connecting with educators all over the world which was amazing when you’ve barely stepped foot out of your own town.

Somewhere along the way…after downloading hundreds of apps, cycling between a multitude of devices, teaching countless sessions and mentoring teachers in their instructional growth, I found a much bigger purpose in connecting.

I found conversations that spoke to my experience as a sheltered learner and the affirmation of the environment that I created in my classroom. I found Diana Laufenberg‘s TED talk on failure, Frank Noschese‘s talk on inquiry and Jose Vilson‘s talk on teacher voice.

I connected with each of them and through their work as well as the work that they linked to, I found educational advocacy. I found that it was not only my right to refuse to remain silent on the need for more opportunity to inquiry based learning, access, equity and voice…but my responsibility.

I also found that if I didn’t use my experiences as a teacher of color in a non-accessible environment to help push the conversations for more voices to be prominent and necessary for change, I was doing it wrong. I will forever have Educon 2.6 (2014) to thank for that.

In a sea of devices and apps, I found a lifeboat in transformative thinking. I changed. My perception of the world changed.

My mission changed. My city limits are no longer limiting but metaphorically motivational.

My niece, as globally unready as she is, is about to get a crash course on the world…that has forever been at her fingertips.

Much like Dorothy’s Ruby Red Slippers…It was there all along.


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