You know about the butterfly effect right? How a butterfly flaps its wings and causes a hurricane the other side of the world? It boils down to this: everything is connected. This couldn’t be more true for the world our students will launch into once they leave the safe and supportive environment of school. What they do will have ramifications for the rest of their lives and on the lives of others.

This means two things:

  1. That what students do whilst at school – and what they publish about themselves throughout their lives – will have an effect on the rest of their life experience.
  2. That what teachers do whilst a student is in their class can have a dramatic effect on what kind of life that student leads.

I only ask a few things of my students of History when they leave my classroom: that they have given their best effort and that they love History. One is certainly their job and one is mostly mine.

But, in my darker moments, I do think about that economic rationalist sitting in his office somewhere in my mind, showing me his spreadsheets (it is the 21st century – it might have been a ledger in previous decades) and asking me to show what value I have added to these students so they can be productive members of society.

Productive. Hm. What a loaded term. On a good day I can teach several classes, create or review several documents, have a few meetings and even cook dinner when I get home. Does that mean I have been productive? Or what about those days where you spend some lessons having an awesome discussion (with nothing written down) about, say, the nature of history – one of my favourites is asking students to draw the shape they think history should be – and then you support a colleague who’s going through a rough patch by having a conversation, and walking up the street for a coffee, and then procrastinating because there’s a very boring task you have to complete… some might say that’s unproductive. There’s little measurable improvement in test scores or grades as a result of those experiences. They are experiences though aren’t they? Those little butterfly wings are flapping hard during some of those often brief and sometimes forgotten moments between human beings.

So whilst we’ll have yet another year of textbooks and tests, of political partisanship and curriculum concerns, we need to remember that we aren’t teaching our kids just to be citizens of a nation which is separate and distinct from the world. It affects us and we affect it.

As the new school year begins, I have to think about the connections that I make with my students and my colleagues (both those at my school and those who I get to be with in a PLN). I have to think about what effect I will have and, even if it’s not every day, what my students and I will do to make our place in this connected world something worth living.

And, of course, I have to think about how to help them love history!

Best of luck to those of you beginning another year and to those already half way through. It’s a privilege to be in the profession with you.

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