To See and Be Seen

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Mark Harkin

Mark Harkin

For five years post college, Amanda Palmer earned her living as a human statue in Harvard Square. Known as the “eight-foot bride,” her face painted white, she wore a traditional bridal gown and veil and stood on a crate. Whenever a stranger dropped a coin or a bill or a note or a trinket of some kind in her jar, she’d come alive, make eye contact, and dramatically gift the stranger a flower.

What Amanda wanted, more than anything, was to be seen: “That was absolutely true. All performers – all humans – want to be seen; it’s a basic need. Even the shy ones who don’t want to be looked at.” Equally important to her was the desire to see: “I didn’t quite grasp this until I had been up on the box for a while. What I loved as much as, possibly even more than, being seen was sharing the gaze. Feeling connected.

We all want to be seen. Not just looked at. But seen. We want to connect with other human beings who love the things we love. Not just to share a mutual interest, but to learn from each another. It’s the reason Khan Academy isn’t all that compelling on its own. We crave context, preferably with someone who sees and understands us, someone who can help us identify our gaps in knowledge and then guide us in what we need to do next.

If we’re lucky, we – and our learners – will make those connections in our schools and classrooms. But let’s face it. They may not happen there. That’s why, if we teach our students how to make those vital connections online before they leave our classrooms or graduate from our schools, they’ll have mastered an important skill for life, one that’ll ensure their well-being for years to come.

I taught at a school where we made it a priority that every student be connected to at least one adult during their time there. We wanted to make sure that someone “saw” them. While some of those connections worked, others were forced. The beauty of helping learners connect online with someone who shares their passions is that the network is broader. If the initial connection doesn’t work out, there are others out there who will “see.”

What if we made it a priority for each of our students — and for ourselves – to connect online with someone who shares one of our interests? It could be through Twitter, a Facebook group, a blog, a Pinterest board, Instagram, Twitch, or some other personal learning network. And what if we reflected with them on what it was like to manage that relationship?

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