Educator Spotlight: Holly Clark
Tech enthusiast and author promotes global writing project to connect students from anywhere
This story is part of a monthly series that highlights impactful stories within our global Flipgrid community. Stories by Angela Tewalt.
Like so many others around the world, Holly Clark’s eighth-grade English class is fully remote.
In San Diego, California, her young students snuggle up to their laptops on their unmade beds and chat with their classmates while finishing up jelly toast on their kitchen tables. Their siblings and pets buzz around them in a house they haven’t left in a while.
And yet, these English students are more connected than they’ve been in a long time. Together, they’re reading about refugee families in Greece, roller skaters in Central Park, first kisses in Hong Kong and an artist with pink-dyed hair who stayed out too late last night in Amsterdam. They’re hearing from fellow remote students in Melbourne and Bogota, and they’re learning something new every day.
“Kids feel so isolated right now,” says Holly, who implemented this fall a global writing project inspired by Humans of New York. “They can’t travel, so I really just wanted something that would connect my kids with other kids. I just wanted to make something amazing for remote learning.”
Holly began teaching in Silicon Valley 20 years ago, when one of her parents made a contribution to her classroom with the encouragement to “show the world what technology can do for education.”
Since then, she has been a valiant, outspoken enthusiast of global learning – constantly seeking opportunities for her students to connect and see the world differently.
Internet was her “moment,” she says, the catalyst for both she and her students to seize digital pedagogies and learn in new ways. Over the years, she has trained fellow teachers, traveled to speak on global stages and written books that advocate for digital classrooms, all preparing her for seasons such as this: A disconnected classroom in need of innovation.
“This is my Olympics,” says Holly, who returned to the classroom this fall to co-teach for virtual learning. “I’ve been training for this for 20 years! I want to try things out with the kids – see what works in remote learning and what doesn’t. I want to see this play out, and we’re all really enjoying what we’re able to accomplish.”
Connecting kids through storytelling
For Holly’s virtual writing project, her eighth-graders first started reading through real-life stories from Humans of New York, a ten-year storytelling venture created by photographer Brandon Stanton that has now spawned an infamous social media presence, blog series, and books.
Her students were looking for stories of relatability: How are other kids around the world impacting their own families, cultures, and communities? Then, they grabbed their laptops, sprawled out on their living room floors and started writing stories of their own.
“At first, they struggled, thinking, ‘I don’t have anything interesting to write about!’ ” Holly says. “They think conflict has to be this big thing, but bringing out the best narrative is about an internal conflict, right? So it’s studying the arc of a story and helping them to see that.”
Working alongside Florida educator Tanya Avrith, Holly shared their project on social media, too, encouraging other classrooms to participate.
Now, over 300 kids from multiple countries are writing their own HONY-inspired stories to share with fellow students in remote learning. Holly and Tanya built a website with tutorials, onboarding videos and absolute joy and inspiration for any educator wanting to offer a global connection for their classroom.
Once all the written pieces are complete, the stories will be published on Book Creator to then share on Flipgrid.
“We are hoping this will be an engaging way for students to learn about kids from other communities and to see the commonalities we all share,” Holly says. “Not only are these kids writing for an authentic audience, they can learn about 13-year-olds in Nigeria or Iraq in this time of isolation. It just makes my heart happy.”
Learn more about The Humans of Project here, and follow Holly on Twitter.