Mimi Ito gave the keynote address at the Emerging Technologies for Online Learning (#ET4Online) in which she challenged us to think about our "Learning Heroes," those people who have help shape our learning in some ways, clearly articulating that connected learning happens within relationships. Beyond the obvious immediate people who came to mind, I began to ponder what it really means to be a hero to someone. In my world, there are two kinds of heroes I encounter: Everyday Heroes and Life Heroes. There are, of course, "extraordinary heroes” that make the news; viral videos are full of them, history books and wikipedia chronicle their lives. I don't know that I have personally connected with any of them, but I certainly know a lot of heroes.
My everyday hero is that person who does something unexpected at just that moment when you need it. When I was 12 and traveling across country by myself, before cell phones and overprotective parenting, I was delayed in the Chicago airport for six hours. My everyday hero was a guy who let me use his credit card to call my folks, bought me lunch, and told me funny stories. When I was 17, before cell phones and overprotective parenting, I worked until 2am in the mall engraving Christmas presents by myself because all the other workers had quit. My everyday hero was the security guard who brought my coffee every night and walked me to my car.
As I got older, the everyday hero incidents seem to come more infrequently, but have more lasting effects. When I left my cell phone in a taxicab, my everyday heroes were the security guard who tracked the cab down and the driver who came all the way back without an extra fare to return it. When my husband and I were stranded in Paris, my everyday hero was the taxicab driver, “Michelle Schumaucher,” who braved Friday night traffic going up sidewalks and going the wrong direction on streets to find our passports and get to our train on time.
Everyday heroes come as the young man who actually holds the door open when struggling with a toddler and bags in my arms. Everyday heroes sometimes change the course of a day with a smile, or a few words. Sometimes, an everyday hero is a friend who sends that text just at the right time.
My life heroes are closely tied to Ito's "Learning Heroes" but to me they are even more than that. They are the people who changed the course of my life, who challenged me beyond my own imagination, and who made (and still make me) me.
My early adulthood was full of them. The Youth Group pastor who reminded me often, there is always time to do the things you want to do. The Journalism Professor, "Coach," who used my age as weapon to the community college class, when he realized I was only 16. He challenged me beyond my years, and never doubted my abilities. The speech communications professor who keep me so late after class that she would drive me to my car on the other side of campus where we would just talk into the night about what i could be and do with my life. The gay university professor who was a Catholic Republican and challenged everything I thought I knew about politics and religion.
Career ultimately trumped school and my life heroes showed up as bosses. The boss who said told me I would go far, but needed the doctorate and said he would do anything he could to make sure I would get it. And then did. The boss who was gracious when I told him I was leaving after only a few weeks, who taught me about pride in your people. The boss who took a chance on my ability to lead an organization and gave me all the tools to do it. And never doubted me, even when I screwed up, gently correcting me.
My life heroes certainly come close to home as well. My mom who was tenacious about everything she took on, going back to school when I was in High School. She hasn't met a challenge she cannot handle. My dad who's positive view of the world, shaped me into believing that I too could make a difference. Then of course, there are friends. Those special ones who have challenged me, loved me, shaped me.
As I take stock of the heroes in my world, I am both in awe and further challenged. I am in awe of the great people who have been there to support me, and they certainly exist today. But I was also concerned, that in my privileged life, how few there really are - and I wonder, do other people have enough heroes in their worlds? Are we so engrossed in our own worlds that we forget to be someone’s else hero? When was the last time I was an everyday hero? When was the last time I changed someone's life for the better? Would someone count me on their list as their life hero?
Be a hero. It isn't that hard.