Sister Geralyn Schmidt, SCC is the Wide Area Network Coordinator for the Diocese of Harrisburg (PA). She has been a high school tech coordinator and graphics design teacher and also taught middle grades math and science in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York City.

by Sr. Geralyn Schmidt

As the last bell of the 2010-2011 school year rang throughout our area, I was transported back several years to a conversation I had with a fifth grader who was bemoaning that summer vacation had just begun.  Yes, he was sad to see school end.  His consternation was over the fact that during summer vacation, he had little opportunity to socialize with his classmates and his learning was limited to what HE was interested in perusing and not as collaborative as the learning at school.  He went on to explain how he enjoyed learning when he could follow personal interests as well as learn about history, math and other “school stuff.”

This thought immediately reminded me of animation industry leader Randy Nelson’s 2008 presentation about Learning and Working in the Collaborative Age.  According to Nelson (who’s been a top executive at both Pixar and DreamWorks Animation), members of a team who collaborate make the other members look good.  This energy allows the team to be more creative than a team that works only “cooperatively” on a project. A cooperative team works along parallel lines, conferring occasionally, as they develop project pieces. A collaborative team is set up so that the members constantly interact, bouncing ideas off of one another and creating synergy that produces something never seen before, rather than a layering of individual ideas.  The collaborative approach requires the team to work together heart and soul to reach the ultimate objective.

Isn’t it heart and soul that we educators hope to ignite in every student? We do that by teaching in ways that spark a creative quest for learning. John Bosco, a 19th century educator, writes: “Remember that education is a matter of the heart.”  In other words, education should make the heart thirst for what is truly good.  Pope Paul IV, in 1965 in Gravissmum Educationis writes:

Education ….. between pupils of different talents and backgrounds promotes friendly relations and fosters a spirit of mutual understanding; and it establishes as it were a center whose work and progress must be shared together by families, teachers, associations of various types that foster cultural, civic, and religious life, as well as by civil society and the entire human community.

The thirst for what is good unites all of humanity into a community that is joined at the heart. The more we encourage and nurture collaboration, the more we satisfy that thirst.

The internet, social networking software and web 2.0 tools have paved a way to connect with one another unlike any other communication system in human history. Connectivity allows students to learn not only from experts in the field but from other students as well.  No longer is one restricted to what can be accomplished in close physical proximity. But, to quote a comic book superhero, “with great power comes great responsibility.”  We have a duty, as educators, to instruct our students to a higher good, not just the good for me. With our guidance, they can become participants in myriad collaborative communities that can affect change for the betterment of society.

So how do educators ignite that spark or hunger for good within their students?  St. John Bosco counsels his educators, “Love what the youth loves and they will love what you love.”  In other words, really KNOW who your students are and enter into their world.  Don’t become their peer but just give them a chance to talk to you about their life.  Allow them to share their enthusiasm with you and (most of all) incorporate their excitement into the way you teach your content and the ways they pursue learning in your classrooms and schools.

Their eager interests should become guideposts for them to explore new venues and make learning relevant to today’s world, to THEIR world.  They need to experience your trust in them as they learn to trust in you.  Remember, you can be the pathfinder who shows them the many ways to  experience the world as community!

About the author
Sister Geralyn Schmidt, SCC, is the Wide Area Network Coordinator for the Diocese of Harrisburg (PA). In her current position, she is responsible for Professional Development for teachers regarding “all things techy.” She has been a high school tech coordinator and graphics design teacher who's also taught middle grades math and science in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York City.