A little over a year ago, I first saw the video below, and was really moved by its message. I was struck by the fact that all it really takes to truly connect with another human being is the willingness to look into their eyes for a few minutes. It's really that simple.
It is easy for us to maintain disconnection with another group of people - whether it be our rival school in another part of our own town, or citizens of another country - if we don't know enough about them to relate to them as human beings. We might hear stories or rumours about these groups of people from others, on social media or in the news, and choose to believe them. We might even start to build upon these misperceptions in our own minds, to the point where we believe that we are different enough from them to begin to fear them.
It is almost impossible to feel separate from other human beings once we have spent some time looking into their eyes. We realize that they are people with feelings, with families, with hopes and dreams. They have stories to share, perspectives we may not have considered, and gifts to offer. We quickly find that we are more alike than different, and that connecting with each other long enough to have a conversation and maintain eye contact for a few minutes can help our fear disappear.
I challenge you to make this the year that you find out which groups your students know less about than they think, and find a way to connect your class with them in order to learn more about them as people. Could you find a partner class to do a Mystery Hangout or a Connected Collaboration with? Are you inspired to video conference, share blogs or websites, and/or write letters to students in another part of the world? Would you consider using the cloud as your global campfire, and allow your students to share stories from their cultures and communities with a group that would reciprocate and teach you about theirs? Would your group benefit from a connection with organizations or experts around the world through a site like the Digital Human Library? Are you willing to take a deeper dive into social issues with middle/high school students through a Global Nomads Group program?
There are so many ways to connect your students with other people in their own communities and around the world. Technology can be leveraged in a multitude of ways to support these types of collaborations. We no longer need to be in the same room to look other people in the eye, develop empathy, and get to know them on a completely different level. Geography and/or proximity are no longer barriers or excuses. Please consider planning at LEAST one of these types of projects this school year. Be courageous enough to try something different, reach out to others who at first seem different from you, and look them in the eye. You just might find that you start eliminating the four letter word of "fear" in your classroom, and end up with a much more rewarding "F word" in your vocabulary as a result: FRIENDS.