Teachers are bridge-builders.
It has been said that teachers are the gatekeepers to a child’s success. I disagree. I believe that good teachers are bridge-builders, constructing structures and supports that open each learner’s pathway to achieving to his or her highest potential. Bridge-building is making real and lasting connections—and this, more than anything, this is what teachers do.
Teachers connect students to their own strengths and areas of need.
I believe that every child, without exception, possesses unique strengths through which academic success can be achieved. The first priority of education is to help students discover these strengths. This is done by creating a classroom environment in which students feel safe to explore as part of a supportive community. A banner in the entrance to my classroom quotes The Magic School Bus, “Take chances, get messy, make mistakes!” to remind my students of the courage it takes to be learners discovering their strengths and to view failure as information for how to improve. Students in my classroom are taught to become reflective learners—noting what was done well, what wasn’t and crafting an individual plan for future learning.
Teachers connect students to curriculum.
I believe that students learn best when learning is relevant to their life experience. Lessons should be crafted starting with the students, looking to their backgrounds and interests and finding natural connections between these and subject matter. Lessons should present multiple pathways to learning—through music, art, movement, writing, problem solving, experiments, acting, etc. This not only helps students become excited about learning but demonstrates how all subject areas dovetail together. It is not uncommon to walk past my Art classroom to hear students singing, see them dancing or observing through microscopes. This is because I believe in teaching not just my subject area, but how it connects with other subjects. More importantly, this teaches students how to learn—how to synthesize their knowledge as a means of discovering more.
Teachers connect students to their communities.
I believe that the role of an educator extends beyond the walls of the classroom. Teachers should serve as leaders in their communities, volunteering and being active citizens. This is a two-way bridge because as teachers become invested in the community, they become the catalyst for bringing the community to school and school to the community. My work in the community has allowed me to connect with professional artists who have visited my school to speak about their careers and worked with students on community-service projects. This connects my students to the world beyond the classroom through the classroom—giving them face-to-face access to role models, allowing them to see themselves as leaders within their community and empowering them as a powerful force for positive change.
Ultimately, teachers connect students to the future.
We find ourselves in a time when the world is changing quickly. Each day new innovations make the world more connected, move more quickly and call for yet more innovation. We cannot pretend to know what the future we are sending our students into looks like and we cannot foresee how the subjects we teach will change. So through our subjects we build bridges to our students—helping them to discover their strengths, to connect with and synthesize learning, and to become leaders within their communities. In this way the skills we teach are transcendent, the bridges that will connect our students to the unknowable world of the future.
We do not hold the keys to our students’ future, they have no gatekeepers. Instead, teachers are bridge-builders connecting students to the leaders they can become.