What I Can Do
Author: Anna Babarinde
I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do. ~Edward Everett Hale
While the wording varies slightly in different publications, the crux of the quote above is attributed to Edward Everett Hale, a minister and orator from the 1800s who used his skills in journalism to express his social conscience during the Civil War and beyond. I first came across the quote a few years ago while preparing for a unit in earth science about resources and conservation. Engaging in the material with students is challenging because I want them to understand the complexities of conservation and why there aren’t easy solutions. But at the same time, I want to inspire them to be proactive about conservation rather than discouraged that the issues surrounding it are too great for one teenager. And so, Hale’s quote perfectly captures the attitudes I hope students adopt and serves as a good conversation starter.
Hale’s words, of course, have meaning far beyond conservation discussions. They are particularly poignant right now as it seems that everywhere I turn people are feeling stretched thin and facing seemingly impossible choices about what to change and invest in. My students are certainly overwhelmed as they apply to colleges and begin to make choices that will define their future. They have a myriad of talents, and while they will get to use a number of them throughout their lives and careers this is the first time that many of them have had to limit their options and close some doors in order to open others. The temptation they feel is to step away and not make any choices because it’s overwhelming. But that would be a loss for them and the world, because they have so much to offer.
It’s certainly not just students that are in this position. Last week, I had the privilege of attending and presenting at the California STEM Symposium. The conference brought to light the many opportunities we have in science education to engage students in meaningful experiences and inspire them to explore further themselves. We can provide hands-on learning, guide authentic inquiry, incorporate art and storytelling, and teach students how to be scientifically literate citizens. We can tie Maker Education to content in meaningful ways, provide more practice with technology, and connect students with scientists who are in the field. The possibilities are seemingly endless.
The STEM Symposium also gave a charge to educators to value the impact we can have on students simply by being part of their lives. One speaker, NASA astronaut Leland Melvin, encouraged educators, “You can give opportunities to your students when others- even their families- don’t believe in them.” Dr. Ainissa Ramirez, a former Yale professor and science advocate, similarly challenged, “You can inspire passion by showing students the passion you have and giving them permission to find that themselves.”
Teachers at the conference were excited and energized by the possibilities for science education, but I know from listening to and engaging in conversations that they also felt overwhelmed. There are so many opportunities, all of them meaningful and important for students, and yet there are limitations on time, resources, and stamina for the individual educator. With such great potential and so many challenges and uncertainties out there, the temptation is similar to that of my students- to step away and not take any action because there’s simply too much. But that too would be a loss for students, education, and the world, because teachers have so much to offer.
Hale was absolutely correct that one individual can’t do everything. I am very driven and see incredible value in the work I do. So if there were a way to do it all, I most certainly would have found it! But the reality is that I can’t. I can’t meet the needs of every one of my students- I can’t give them all the attention and experiences I know would help them in the class and in life. Similarly, I can’t do everything I know would be beneficial for science education around Sonoma County—I can’t take every meeting, be part of every new, innovative idea, or check in with every incredible teacher I have the privilege of knowing.
But I can do some of it. I can design some innovative lessons and experiences that I know will help my students understand the content better and develop as global citizens. I can meet with students I know need extra support around college and career decisions and help them navigate that process. I can share with them why I think science is fascinating and worth pursuing. And I can partner with the amazing educators around Sonoma County to dream about what science education might become and lay groundwork and provide tools to move this vision along. I can support those who are making NGSS, STEM, maker education and more come to life in their classrooms and schools. And I can engage administrators and teachers in conversations about the value of these educational approaches.
While they are perhaps not as polished as Hale’s words, the lyrics to an Avett Brothers song inspire me: “Decide what to be and go be it.” This of course, means saying no to some things so that you can say yes to others—a very hard reality for me and many other educators. To do this, you have to really reflect on what you value and can invest in and influence. That takes time and mental space and can feel like the opposite of actually doing. But it’s so important to take that step in order to choose a direction, move forward, and have an impact.
So that is what I’m trying to do in the current season of change and transition—figure out what I can do and go do it, even though I know there’s more out there. And that is my encouragement to each of you as we move forward on this amazing adventure with NGSS. It can feel overwhelming, too big when you are only one. But you ARE one, and an amazing one at that. And while you can’t do everything, what you choose to do can have a great impact on students and the world. So decide what you can do and go do it. And if we all do something, the possibilities become greater and what we can’t accomplish starts to pale.
So...what can you do?