I Don’t Get to Choose

ORPHANED

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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.

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7 thoughts on “I Don’t Get to Choose

  1. Carolyn:
    You’ve had a positive impact on me on several occasions — once in person! Your post made me think of this video that was shared by Lois Zachery at a mentoring workshop I attended this April.

    Thank you for your continuing “impact”,
    Jacob

    • Jacob,
      I have been away from my blog for a bit, so I apologize for not responding to your lovely comment sooner. It has been great to learn with you as well, I feel so fortunate to have found myself in a supportive and thriving learning community. Thank you Jacob for being part of that community, for being so positive and encouraging and for always pushing my learning.
      Best
      c

  2. Carolyn, as Jacob, I have also been touched and moved by your words and thoughts, instances among which I consider reading this post. You know well enough that you were my “rabbit” to rhizo14 “rabbit hole”, and you also know of the impact and shift it has operated in my life.

    Yes, we don’t get to choose who we will touch, and how deeply. That is in itself an awareness that every educator ought to cultivate: teaching is designing learning experiences, which are cognitive, biological, organic, spititual and, above all, in my opinion, emotional. Learning is existence itself. We go about life crossing paths with so many individuals, connecting with each in different intensities and levels. It’s just a thing of wonder.

    “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.” Love this…

    And, yes, we don’t get to choose. I guess it chooses us.

    Thank you for this… oddly enough, it has come in quite a perfect timing for me (again!)

    Warmest,
    C.

    • Clarissa, our learning journeys have inexplicably crossed, how magical and fabulous! I think the space out here has shown me more than anything how little we control in terms of who we impact and how. Out here where the space feels more immense and open it can feel at times your own thoughts or feelings make very little difference. But then, you read a bog post that splinters in deep, one that sticks with you. Or even the sense of the emotion and depth conveyed within another’s thoughts and words. Or the bravery to move in a new direction. The serendipity of these random collisions are gifts and sometimes in the hub bub of life are overlooked or taken for granted.
      The depth of your quest, your desire to understand and make sense of, so speak to me. This “teaching is designing learning experiences, which are cognitive, biological, organic, spiritual and, above all, in my opinion, emotional. Learning is existence itself” calls to me and echoes thoughts and understandings I am having around unpacking what is learning?

      Yes exactly, we don’t get to choose, it chooses us. 🙂
      Yours in learning,
      c

  3. Reblogged this on Little did I know… and commented:
    On a beautiful sunny sunday morning, I read this amazing blog post by dear Carolyn Durley. Have a feeling it will be like a sweet, delicate perfume which will linger on for a good while.
    Exquisite piece. Definitely worth your time.
    Enjoy.
    C.

  4. Lovely post. Makes me think of the butterfly wing stroke in Brasil that, through fractal chaos processes, produces a storm in Spain.

    • Hi Ronald, thanks for the lovely comment. Love the connection you have made and imagining how my thoughts here in Canada might be like butterfly wings that might gently create a current (however small) somewhere else in the world. 🙂 Magical idea!
      Best,
      c

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