Monday, July 23, 2012

Bridges and Fences

Ignite Talk from NTAC12 in Grand Rapids, Michigan!


Bridges & Fences

 I know, I know you think I’m going to talk to you about the awesomeness of Twitter and about all the ways you can get connected with social media,  but I’m not going to talk to you about social media.....very much.   I’m actually going to talk about bridges and fences.



Jeff Bridges, foot bridges, suspension bridges, the Golden Gate Bridge, London Bridge covered bridges, there are so many kinds of bridges. Bridges are built to connect two things, places or people that may have never reached each other without a bridge.


What about fences? Garden fences, wooden fence, split rail fences, playground fences, barbed wire fences, prison fences. Fences are built to keep people out or are they actually built to keep people in?



Bridges are written about in symbolic ways throughout literature and song, Bridge to Teribithia, A Bridge Too Far, Bridge Over Troubled Water. You are never supposed to burn your bridges and things in the past are water under the bridge. No doubt bridges are important. 



Some bridges are short, but still scary. You know that colleague across the hall, the one you have been politely nodding to and then shutting your door? Open the door, cross the hall,share an idea, give a compliment, offer to help, invite them in. Build bridges with your colleagues.


How well do you know your school board members? Only by what you read in the paper or hear in the lounge? Find out their talents, their likes and hobbies. Send them an email, give them a call, copy them on your good news, include them in a project. Build bridges with your school board.




How well do you know your community? What hidden gems are there that you or your students may have yet to discover? Contact your Chamber of Commerce, leadership groups, and city government. Authentic problems may be right in your own downtown waiting for students to solve.  Build bridges to your community


So what fences are there keeping you from connecting with your colleagues, school board and community? Some fences are made of grudges long held, offenses not forgiven, judgements made in haste. I encourage you to let these go. Let these go and begin building bridges.


Every time you craft a driving question, you are building bridges. Bridges that connect past experience to new information.  Bridges that connect closed minds to opened eyes. Ones that connect content in a book to realistic application in student lives. Build bridges with questions.





 Every time you create a group you are building bridges from student to student. When you put the young lady with hair that is a different color everyday in the same group with the one who wears a different headband everyday, you are breaking down barrier,s teaching students to value differences. Build bridges with students.


 Every time you bring people in from outside of your classroom, you build a bridge. Whether they Skype in or walk in, you connect students to mentors, to colleges, to careers. You also show the world these students have tremendous talents worth sharing and nurturing. Build a bridge to the world for your students.


 What fence is keeping you from connecting to these people? Many fences are build by fear, fear of disruption, of embarrassment, fear of confrontation, fear of failure. Fear is a fence that keeps many people from getting out or letting anyone in.


 Echo is a really safe place to begin building bridges. I encourage you to join a group or even begin a group discussion about topic you have an interest in exploring, ask questions, weigh in with answers. Connect with others all over the network. Build a bridge with Echo.


 Build a 140 character bridge with Twitter. 500,000 million people do and many of them are educators. Follow,  tweet, re-tweet, join a chat , search a hashtag. You will get feedback, pushback, and you can give back. Build a bridge with twitter.


 Blogging can build a bridge! Whether you write a blog, or read and comment on someone else’s,  you will be joining in a conversation that will connect you with people who echo your own thoughts or maybe make you think again or think differently. Connect and reflect in a public forum. Build a bridge with a blog.


 Adam Babcock built a bridge from Danville New Tech high to film. One tweet built a bridge that connected his students with one of the award winning producer/directors of The Interupters Alex Kotlowitz,  who Skyped into his class and talked with his students about the issue of violence and young people. Adam is a bridge builder.


 Leah Henry built a bridge from downtown Indianapolis all the way to China. She reached outside of her classroom and took her students with her. In doing so she made the phrase “global education” real. This bridge opened eyes, opened doors and opened minds. Leah is a bridge builder.
 Dan McCarthy built a bridge out of tombstones. While exploring the novel Our Town the students at Zebra New Tech took information from this local cemetery, uploaded it to FindaGrave and began being contacted by people from all over the United States who now were connected to their past.  Dan McCarthy is a bridge builder.

  While many of us have built our own fences and must take responsibility to tear them down, so many of our students are born inside theirs, fences they did not have a hand in creating . Fences of poverty, stereotype, fences that exist simply because of their zip code.


 These fences are exactly why we must build bridges. Our students will climb up on those bridges and cross over their fences heading for places they have yet to see or even hear of, as you go back to your communities, schools and students, I challenge you to be a bridge builder!






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