I used to think it was like a game of pool; just focus on the ball and if I set the shot up right, the ball will fall successfully into the pocket. As long as I focused on the desired point of impact…success!
Except I found out, it’s not like that at all. I found out in fact…that I don’t get to choose who I impact and how.
And I am not talking about Hattie’s influence “Teacher know your impact.” I am not suggesting you would avoid trying to impact your students in the learning sense. It’s just learning takes years and years to accumulate and manifest.
I am not talking about impact as in getting the person to vote for a certain political party or in buying you Christmas gifts or behaving in a desired manner. No the impact I am thinking of is a little trickier to pin down and identify.
This impact is more like peeling back a layer of an onion to get to the next level, or flipping a switch on a path that is defined by thousands of switches. Or it’s like the light of a tiny fire fly in a jar in a universe of dark. Or it is like a lingering perfume that stays with you for years. This type of impact is not a huge catalytic event of influence. It is gentle and kind and light and not pre-determined.
But the thing of it is, which is just so awe-inspiring and lovely…you just never know how what you say, do, or write, exactly impacts another person at the certain point in their life.
And as over the years as I have had the fortune to see students years later, it is never the influence I thought I had on the students I thought I had it. Often times it is the students I thought I was not connecting to, the students who really were not “interested” who in fact felt impacted in some small way. Often times it is the student who did not laugh at my jokes, or offer to help, or the ones I might have interacted with a little bit more. Sometimes it is the biology (the course I teach) they say they remember, but often times it was an unrelated story or a certain activity we did. Sometimes it is just a funny occurrence that happened in class. Sometimes just a memory of a place they enjoyed being.
But the students I thought I connected with were not the ones I impacted in a profound way. Often times the student did not stand out. Instead I stood out for them.
And when I get emails or DM’s from people who I have never meet and probably never will meet, who say your such and such blog post really touched me or that post on assessment made me really think. I am always dumbfounded that my words here can go hurtling out into space and make contact with another person’s brain and the words might form into new thoughts and ideas inside their brain. Our connection forged with this fine tenuous thread of words. And if I write thinking I know my impact “oh I’ll write this blog post for so and so they’ll love it!” Chances are so and so won’t even read it! So and so will not connect in any way shape of form to my words.
I don’t get to choose.
As with a beloved helium balloon you finally decide to release and set free, you don’t know exactly who is going to see it and what exactly it will mean to the person who sees it. No doubt the randomness and uncertainty of it is a bit alarming. But on the other hand it also is incredibly freeing.
Letting my ideas and thoughts and stories and pictures free into the world, I don’t know exactly who is going to connect to them and exactly what they will mean to anyone , students or otherwise.
I don’t get to choose.