I begin with a confession. Once in the mid-nineties (okay, maybe more than once) I attempted to earn my way onto the game show, “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” graciously hosted by the late Regis Philbin. Having correctly ranked the Hawaiian Islands in descending order by area, I was rewarded with a three-hour wait by the phone, during which, I was told, I should be ready for the call. It was a call, alas, that never came. There were likely thousands of other respondents who knew their Hawaiian geography, but I was nonetheless disappointed not to have been “randomly selected.”
One of my favorite parts of the show, and one I was already preparing myself for, was the “Phone a Friend” lifeline. You may recall that contestants were permitted to call one person for help on a question that was stumping them. (Another confession: I had already compiled my phone-a-friend shortlist, though I never had to tell any friends who did and did not make the cut!)
I love the phone-a-friend concept and apply it liberally when I do not have the expertise or wisdom to manage the many questions with which life stumps me on a daily basis. In considering the events of the past nine months, I am sometimes asked, “Do you think any lasting good in education will come out of all this?” Based on our experience at Falmouth Academy this fall, I would say that one clear benefit has been the emergence of phone-a-friend practices in our classrooms.
By now, it is almost cliché to say that our classrooms are no longer bound by the confines of time and space, but it is still a development worth noting. Traditionally, the teacher has been the resident subject-area expert and we’ve got plenty of those. Over time, and in particular, as the internet has taken center stage in our students’ lives, the teacher’s role has evolved into that of a curator, and we’ve got plenty of those, too. But today, technology enables us to have people from all over the world be present and available to our students, bringing them into direct contact with an expert on the particular topic of the day.
This fall, examples of Falmouth Academy teachers “phoning friends” abound. This fall, seventh-graders were studying Buddhism as part of their world cultures curriculum, imagine their enthusiasm when they were visited by a practicing Buddhist monk and class parent! When Mr. Scharr wanted to convince his “music majors” that a career in the arts was a viable possibility, he simply arranged for them to spend the afternoon with a songwriter and alumnus from Nashville as part of a weekly feature he calls “Meet the Pros.” Ninth graders spent the day with a postdoctoral scholar at Stanford University, who spoke to them about her experiences studying plate tectonic activity in Chile, the Mediterranean, and Arizona, and the intrepid reporters of The Chandlery were visited by a former faculty member and alumnus Mike Deasey, who opined on the differences between academic and journalistic writing.
Just last week, Susan Loomis, a cookbook author and director of a cooking school in France, spoke to the French students about regional cuisines in France and answered a few of their questions about French food and dining culture, a fitting wrap-up to a food vocabulary unit that sent the eighth graders off to Thanksgiving break. C’est Magnifique! I think Regis would be proud.
So while there is plenty about the last nine months that cannot be in our rearview mirror soon enough, the opportunity to bring students into direct contact with so many additional “teachers,” fresh voices, role models whom they may wish to emulate “when they grow up,” is definitely not one of them. On the contrary, I expect teachers will be phoning friends well into the future. Perhaps you might be getting a call yourself (though, speaking from personal experience and with all due respect, I would discourage you from spending the morning waiting by the phone!)