Today I have a guest blogger, my esteemed colleague, co-author and friend. She writes about a sphere of influence we all have and may choose to act on or not every day.
With the recent events in Charlottesville, Houston, and the current impact of Irma as it hits Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the people in my life who live and work all over the United States. It’s not that I forget about them when their specific cities or states are not blasted all over the morning news and radio programs, but at times it’s easy to be lulled into thinking our lives are progressing in forward-thinking momentum. Yet when natural catastrophes, violent human behaviors, and unpredictable incidents occur, it often serves as a harsh reminder that this world does not always operate in positive progress. These events clearly impact huge numbers of people – time seems to stand still, lives are changed in an instant. These events also give us individual opportunity to truly consider our own thoughts, words, and behaviors – our proactive and reactive responses. What are the ways in which our thoughts, words, and behaviors impact and influence others?
In recent years, my research on preparing pre-service teachers to work in environments with diverse students and families led me to examine some of the social structures and interpersonal dynamics present in other areas of scholarship, such as psychology and government.
In government, sphere of influence is defined as a country or area in which another country has power to affect developments though it has no formal authority. In psychology, it is a systematic way to view how one’s surrounding environment influences who one is and will become. I would argue that each one of us can not only be acted upon by these outside forces, but each also possesses the potential to act upon, within, and even beyond our spheres of influence.
So the sphere of influence as a concept is not a new notion, but applying sphere of influence to the field of education is a new opportunity to address the intersectionality of our lives as learners, teachers, mentors, coaches, colleagues, administrators, professors, family members, and friends.
It’s been said that a teacher has a ripple effect on human lives. Specifically, a teacher in Year One teaches 25 students, then in Year Two teaches a different 25 students, in Year Three teaches a third unique set of 25 students, and so on. And for each individual life a teacher touches, this individual grows up and takes the lessons learned as a young person into a whole other sphere which comprises their adult lives. So as a pebble thrown into the middle of a huge lake, the original point of impact ripples out to reach, eventually, the farthest edges of the shore.
Yet educators are not the only ones with a widespread sphere of influence. Each of us, and our own families and homes, neighborhoods and communities, workplaces and professional organizations, possess a great potential to powerfully contribute toward creating a kinder, more respectful, inclusive world. This potential power within each of us centers on our choices. Quite simply, each morning when we wake up we have choices – choices such as how we greet the people we encounter, whether we will stop and help someone in need, how we will respond to that one person who is always complaining. These interactions stem from the specific spheres of influence each of us occupy.
So the questions surrounding sphere of influence are really WHAT and HOW.
WHAT: What do you represent? What beliefs are worth the effort of standing firm? As educators, many of us believe in developmental growth and learning. As a mother, I advocate for all children to receive equitable access and opportunities to quality healthcare, education, and housing. As a human, I greatly value respect for and acceptance of all people.
HOW: How will you use your sphere of influence? Will it be something you acknowledge and capitalize upon in your life? Will you use it to propel positivity or harbor hate? Or will you pretend your life and choices bear no impact upon others’ lives, refraining from action?
I urge you to think. I urge to you act. The world cannot survive with our silence.
Cori Brown, Rowan University.