A Student Saves a Teacher’s Life & Reminds us all About The Power of Self-Directed and Connected Learning

I’ve been writing about and advocating for the importance of learner voice and agency for years, but a young man in Michigan might have just taught us all more about the value of such attributes in less than a minute.

Did you read the news story about the fifth grade student who saved his teacher from choking? According to the news sources, Dylan saw that his teacher was choking, got up, and used the
Heimlich maneuver while other students ran for help.

This is an inspiring story in itself, but I’m particularly intrigued by how Dylan learned to use the Heimlich maneuver. According to the article, his mother is a nurse, so he had that going for him. Yet, when asked about it, Dylan explained that he learned it from a YouTuber, Jaiden Animations.

Think about that for a moment. An entertaining animated videos watched by a fifth grader during his free time actually equipped him to make a real and significant difference in the life of another person.

I also find it particularly intriguing that this free range learning via YouTube made a difference in a school, a place that does not typically formally acknowledge or incorporate such learning. Schools, as most people experience them, are places where learning is more planned, prescribed, and directed; and there are plenty of us who learned and valued what we took from such places. Nonetheless, I’m compelled to recognize that this recent event is a beautiful reminder that learning is so much bigger than schooling; that education exists before, after, and beyond the school day; that some of our most valuable lessons are not housed in formal lesson plans and carefully assessed on quizzes and tests; and that schools themselves can benefit from finding ways to re-imagine learning environments as places that build upon, support, celebrate, and incorporate the larger world of learning in the lives of each student.

As progressive educators have been embracing for a century, life and learning are inseparable. School walls, no matter how thick, are permeable, and that is a very good thing. Now amplified by the nature of life in a connected world, we have the exciting task of creating learning communities that are strengthened by embracing this reality, and re-imagining school accordingly. And just as we learned from young Dylan, the students have much to teach us. Maybe they will even lead us to such a future. Perhaps they are already doing it.

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