When you consider the purpose of education, what ideas come to mind? For many of us, one intent would be to encourage our youth to be contributing members of society. To expose them to people and authentic learning opportunities that model good citizenship and responsible stewardship. In today’s world, this can prove to be a challenging endeavor. As we make a turn to be more technologically-driven, we must always remember that behind any modern day advancement is a team of humans who made it all possible. And, in my opinion, that human connection is more important today than ever before. So, how do we take this and make it a part of our classroom? How do we go about connecting with individuals who are living and working out in the world in ways that connect to the work we are doing in our class?

Check out these ideas outlined below:

Choose someone who can give a perspective unique to their position or role.

Consider the content, and ask yourself, “Who can I reach out to that can give unique insight into this topic?” There are those obvious connections, like environmental specialists or naturalists when learning about how to take care of our environment. Chefs, dieticians, and personal trainers when learning about a healthy lifestyle. Nurses, doctors, and scientists when learning about diseases. But, there are other places in our teaching and student learning that we can look to for support and insight. How are students sharing their learning? If a presentation of information is part of this, consider a public speaker who can come in and discuss how to talk to a group successfully. Is it a project that involves research? Consider having your IT support or librarian come in to discuss ways to find the information needed in a safe and efficient way.

Don’t be afraid to ask!

I know, it sounds easier to say than to actually do, but oftentimes as I’ve discovered from my own experience, people WANT to help. Especially those individuals who are passionate about their career and the work they are doing. To get started, ask your students’ parents. Many of them can offer perspectives and insight that can accentuate the work that is happening in your classroom. And if they can’t, chances are they may know somebody who can. Then, ask colleagues. It always amazes me to hear the exciting stories and experiences from those I work closely with. I recently learned that a teacher I am connected with loves woodworking and has his own Etsy shop where he sells his creations. Another teacher I work with is an avid bird watcher/expert, and has a plethora of knowledge around bird activity and migration. Sometimes, we just have to take an extra moment to listen with intent to learn about those around us. Once something resonates with the work you are doing, invite them to come in and share their expertise with your students.

Think BIG, but be ready with a Plan B.

Being in the midst of a pandemic can make connecting with the community quite challenging. As we begin to see things returning to normal, we will also see these potential opportunities become reality. Until then, put a big idea out there, seek out the approval of those who make the decisions, and if you’re big idea isn’t possible right now, be okay with settling for a Plan B. One thing this pandemic has gotten all of us really good at is adapting on the fly. We can still meet with these real-world experts without having them physically in our room or school. Consider having a Zoom meeting or Zoom Share Fair. Have experts join in together to hear from students about their work, then have each provide feedback or insight. Or, have experts record a quick video in response to student questions. There are so many other creative ways to connect, so hold on to an alternative plan and run with it if your first option can’t be carried through right now.

One of my very favorite things to do is to support teachers. If there is anything I can do to help make this a reality in your classroom, please reach out to me at jamie.macpherson@vaei.org.

Looking for more resources to take the burden off your classroom this year? Be sure to check out our free strategies and lessons at Blueappleteacher.com!