“No, I can’t work with someone in that group. I refuse to work with that person. Sorry I’m not going over there.”
I knew in that moment, Andrea would have done it differently. She wouldn’t have asked him. I scold myself. “Stop it, you know better. Sit back and watch, this isn’t about what you are curious about or what you might like to see.” Andrea has a quiet understanding and sure patience. She doesn’t look for it…she knows it will come.
10 minutes later he is standing in the group I had asked him to join and to help, as I was wondering about his ability to collaborate, problem solve and to listen. It was a grade 10 class and it is June 1st. I want to ask them about learning so we do a little puzzle solving thing I had heard about from our colleague Wendy Goodman. He had caught my attention right off. Articulate, animated and angry. He was always what I was attracted to as a teacher. He was the unknown. Clearly he could think, summize and sarcastically throw it in your face. He was bright and he was chippy. He was what his teacher would worry about with a guest in the room. I was drawn. But, instead of listening and watching when his group finished first, I had to nudge. I wanted to take it back. I said nothing to him when he declined, but when I saw him entrenched in the middle of the group he had declined to assist I leaned in and said nothing. I listened. He was patient, clear in his instructions and explanation and simple in his hand gestures. He appeared empathetic and gentle in his tone. I listen. He has not lost his humour nor seemed unsafe or uncomfortable. I was intrigued.
At first he seems feared by his peers. They digress to his humour and laugh at his poor choice of words. We have words but he recovers. I am a stranger but seem sharp enough and safe enough for him to give his attention to. He does.
I have thought a lot about that period 4 a lot in the last three weeks. I have read articles and blogs about empowerment, student voice, student agency, personalized education and student choice.
I have tried to think about what that looks like and feels like during learning. I caught myself when I asked him then saw him having joined the group. I listened. I knew when I pulled them all back in for the question and the giant full class sketchnote, I knew he could not resist. I should also mention I had to speak to him just in the hallway near the doorway about his language and the way he targeted his classmates during our discussion. He conceded and agreed when I asked him to listen and respond patiently. When he went back in he turned his back on me and did not rejoin the discussion for about 10 minutes. He could not resist. He had something to say.
“When my math teacher asks me to do something and I ask whether or not I can actually use it in real life, if they can’t answer then $^%*^*&^ it, I am not doing it. I mean really, what does slope have to do with my life every day?”
Another student, near the front draws a smile. She says, “You know when your parents ask you to not to do something, and the reason is because they know and they said so. How stupid is that? We do it anyway. We have to learn the lesson ourselves or it isn’t our lesson.”
The question was, why do we learn? They talked and tossed it around for an hour. I could not turn away for a second and neither could he. He knew. He wanted to be heard and he had to explain it. I had to make space for the other voices but he was patient. The whiteboard was laden. I took a picture after the bell had rung and they had all gone to period 5. I thanked the teacher. I could hardly wait to get in the car and look at the sketchnote on my phone.
Weeks later, when a principal asked me to think about empowerment and I respond with Carlina, I am unsure. In the end, it spirals back to Andrea. “Kelly, it’s not a fancy word, it’s not a secret or shiny shit. It’s them. It’s their words and their learning, right in front of you. It’s not the answer you need them to give, it’s who they are within the answer.”
The feedback should always be their words. Student agency, empowerment and voice and personalization is just me trying to give them back something their education took away – their answer. No matter how much time I learn beside her, when I am beside students I still have to remind myself that when we say it’s about their voice, I actually have to mean it.
I (Andrea) have been thinking a lot about innovation. There are a lot of shiny eduthings, books, and people talking about it and the barriers between. I wonder if it’s more about people than about one person’s genius idea. I wonder if it’s more about the experience than about a change in policy. What we have to say about innovation does seem to match up with what we do.
Studio Roosegaarde created this striking art installation with only light and cloud. It is a completely immersive experience that makes participants feel as though they are underwater. Imagine standing there below a giant pool of light with tens and maybe hundreds of people. This installation is designed to make you imagine forward into the future – a future when the place where you stand is actually flooded with water. You realize that global warming will inevitably lead to a rise in water levels. That you and the people that surround you will experience loss. I can’t imagine walking away from this without a feeling of environmental urgency – a feeling that would resonate for a very long time.
Although I have not ever experienced one of Studio Roosegaarde’s exhibits, I have felt this at art galleries. Matisse’s Joy of Life did this to me for different reasons. In terms of learning and education, I have felt it one time – at the Reggio’s Wonder of Learning exhibit. I could have stood there reading, wandering, wondering with tears in my eyes for days. The swooping walls of children’s theories and works consumed me. It has resonated so much that Kelly and I have tried to recreate it with one of our Learning Teams – an experience where you are drawn deep inside the story of learning and its impact. You are witness to changes in humans that diffuses outward into the world. As Kelly says, you don’t want to leave because you know you are part of it.
Looking back at my sketch note from the day I heard Daan Roosegaarde speak in Toronto, he talked about creating a habitat – an evolved ecosystem. It’s something you walk right into. It’s public. The door is open. A place where you experience the connectedness of humanity and all that is possible. Change and innovation in education is most certainly possible. The future could be absolutely anything until it actually happens. Although I’m tempted to buy the future on Amazon or to ironically hear it from that fabulous keynote, I’d rather vividly imagine it as though it already happened and that the people that surround me have caused it.
5 am… hot hazy summer day ahead feels like there is time to linger…
A: These are very different stories.
K: I think they are really different but right away we are both standing smack dab in the middle of learning – literally standing there and we know it’s happening. We have edu babble and books stacked up and competencies and shiny shit swirling – we somehow are told we can’t innovate or empower or shift a school culture without a program. We have to fix education because it is broken – or is it? Is it really just a quieter perspective, experience, stance, ears, …..not shiny at all…
A: If education is broken and it’s because of us, then what needs to happen next will not be because of us. I heard you tell that story about that student a couple of times – what connected you to empowerment and voice? This time it made me think about your intrigue “he couldn’t resist”. Learning and curiosity are givens – like born that way. I imagine myself (you’ve given me undue credit and buttering!) with a clipboard. Waiting. There’s something missing from that.
K: I am not sure, had I not been a classroom teacher for a very long time and spent time with students who perhaps were loud and chippy and leaned on the side of bad words, I would not have quieted his voice. He was bristly. But, I was not thrown by him, nor his tone, nor his language choices. I was really curious – my curiosity has been bolstered (more buttering) and I really needed to hear him. In fact, afterwards, his teacher said to me, “I didn’t know if you needed me to kind of step in as a couple of times it got a little offside.” I told her I was grateful that she had not. It actually wasn’t about his word choice but rather that he and his classmates wanted to talk about learning, their learning and why or why not – they actually learned – they spoke very little about technology – they kept spiraling around to themselves and their lives and what important to them. They could actually articulate that they felt school was not a place where they learned – it was not real life. They are 15 years old and they want to tap out of school because it’s not working. I needed to hear that – not be offended by it. …then I read your story and then I thought about the rows they were sitting in…
A: They are the same – you not offended and the conditions for learning – both flat. You’ve said to me before – yes we are listening but are we listening for something and is that something getting in the way. It is. He couldn’t resist because of you or because of him? With Roosegaarde I’m wondering if it’s because of the flattened position.
K: an evolved ecosystem. It’s something you walk right into. It’s public. The door is open. A place where you experience the connectedness of humanity and all that is possible. Your words took me to two places…as you were typing and you wrote the question as to whether he couldn’t resist because of me or because of him I jumped right up and grabbed these words… they stopped me because your story also took me to Carlina and the shoes…did they learn because of themselves or because the teacher listened and let them make the music with the shoes…the ecosystem…the connectedness – the teacher didn’t actually know they were going to make music – to innovate a symphony by stomping up and down stairs. The teacher didn’t have to know. What if innovation is actually empowerment or voice or choice or educators listening for something other than an answer we have heard a million times and it feels comfortable because we know it? Your clipboard at the ready means to me you are listening for something you have not heard before and want it desperately… to capture it and give it back…the whiteboards – public and connected and messy – human.
A: I’m thinking in a million directions but I will start with innovation. I think of innovation as possibility – a future we have not seen. So I think yes, it’s answers we have not heard before but I also think the teacher learned how to compose a symphony as much as her students did. She was perhaps also listening for what comes so naturally to the littles – that innate curiosity. You were intrigued not so much by what he said about the learning but the way he said it?
K: Learning and curiosity are givens – like born that way… I went back up to these words because I meant to come back to them and then you asked the question right above – I didn’t care at all how he said it – I was intrigued that he and his peers wanted to talk about their learning for an hour…non-stop. They rapid fired, slowed down, sped up and came back around. They agreed, disagreed, yelled a little and were frustrated. I must admit, the question was vague and drawing the line back to the puzzles was obtuse for them and I needed more time – but the puzzles let me hear them without them looking at me and it loosened them up – made them a bit rowdy but when you have one period 4 you have to get them to a place where they might actually give you themselves and they don’t really know me. Their words – came back to yours – they want to find things out for themselves. A student in the front seat…we need to figure it out for ourselves. She simply didn’t believe school was for that.
A: So the reason why you had to “get them to a place where they might actually give you themselves” is because they don’t do that at school. Hmm. You just threw empowerment out the window.
K: Precisely and it’s driving
me crazy. CRAZY – I am searching and fighting myself and thinking about “passion” – your favourite word and autonomy – the notion that they could disagree vehemently with each other – this is the place we had have a small chat about empathy (LOL), was incredible to me. That his answer and another answer were not the same and that we need not defend it to the death was novel…that they could sit up there together on the whiteboard…I felt selfish Andrea and because I wanted more period 4’s and more of them…and frustrated because we ran out of school year… I am not sure I understand as I thought I might have, what they actually need from me as an educator – and then the shoes – I am not supposed to understand – I am supposed to find out right along with them…
A: They were onto something. Did they see themselves? Did it evolve after a good night’s sleep? When did it bubble up again for them and spiral back around? You sent them on a path of learning about learning just as we are. You are right it is wide open and obtuse. Awesome.
K: As a read all of your questions…I am clear why I am driving myself crazy – I don’t know. I read above again, your words about the art installation – under water. It occurred to me – what if you took a group of students there and they “didn’t get it at all.” The artist put all that time and effort into and they saw or felt something completely different – would the artist be disappointed, offended, think, in fact, that it must be the students, not their art…?
A: This happens. All the time. Think of anything actually innovative and this is the response you get. Daan described it: “You can’t do that!” “That’s impossible and also…not allowed!” The door isn’t open. The possibility is there though because eventually, inevitably they say “Why didn’t I think of that?” Like Julie’s Jackson Pollock.
K: I can’t let go of these words…an evolved ecosystem. It’s something you walk right into. It’s public. The door is open. A place where you experience the connectedness of humanity and all that is possible. In this place…empowered to innovate? I am empowered because I can innovate? I literally just want to plop down in this place and belly up to your whiteboard marker and kind of lean to the side with my coffee and listen to everyone in the room and wallow in what might happen – perhaps this isn’t fancy but I cannot tell you how many times I have sat in that room and said, “why didn’t I think of that?” I am excited by the unknown and what might happen but it’s wide open…you are not waiting for the right answer.
A: I thought we threw empowered out the window. You could not have known. You could not have thought of that. It’s innovative. It’s the room.
K: It’s thrown out – I am thinking about the administrator and the conversation that is lingering because I only half responded because it was a very scratchy sweater – I have been trying to tie it all up in a neat bow in an email – I don’t have it. I have this – and our conversation and our stories. I don’t have an answer, let alone a right answer. In fact, I am sure I understand it less but Andrea, I feel much better knowing less and it being wide open than I did when I was trying to find the answer. I avoided it…
A: It’s like learning – never finished. This is but isn’t the title of the book. You won’t need to be empowered by it. You already were.