I Can Learn From… And I Am…

Today, it happened again. It was the thousandth occasion where I found myself justifying reiterating just how powerful a tool social media has been in my growth as an educator, both professionally and personally. Sure, there have been times when I have felt out of balance or that I was operating too much in Carr’s Shallows without deeply or fully engaging as I might have in the past. But on the whole, my use of and engagement with social media has been an incredible vehicle for my learning journey of the past two years.

Recently, I’ve been struggling with the problems that doors, walls, and gates produce not only in the school where I work but also within the greater Atlanta community of private and public schools. Sure, those doors, walls, and gates do provide security and protection, but they are  also incredibly counterproductive as we seek to do the kind of innovative educational work that is required to move a school (or schools) into new 21st century territories.

So, in this world of social media (specifically blogging and micro-blogging via Twitter) devoid of doors, walls, and gates, I find that others are surprised (thus the thousand justifications and reiterations) about the impact of these online connections. Can this type of transparency be truly transformational? Yes, I believe it can, and…as I think about what I have learned (and how I have grown) even in the past month, I am acutely aware that I can learn from anyone, anywhere, and at any time. And I am better for it.

I can learn from John Burk, a high school physics teacher, even though I needed a tutor to successfully pass physics as a student. John’s blog post on why can’t physics class be more like the debate team has me wrestling with how to create similar “debate-type” experiences within the elementary setting where I work. And I am challenged.

I can learn from a blog post written by Melissa, a fifth grade student, who wrote about her dream of being an adventurist. This student’s words and aspirations (“I love my dream but I never talk about it because I’m afraid people will laugh. Not this time. I thought about it and I decided to speak what I was thinking and be my self around everyone. I hope you all do the same.”) relate, in a way, with a friend and colleague’s desire to deepen his dot connecting skills and be a synergist. From there, I am reminded of my visit and lunch last year with Robert Lang who showed Trinity students that he is so much more than just an origami artist. And then I read the comments on Melissa’s post from her current teacher, her former teacher, and an outside reader and educator (a Twitter connection of mine) who shares that “your writing makes me think of the types of writing people like Bear Grylls, Sir Edmund Hillary, Tenzing Norgay, and others like them must have done when they were in 5th grade.” And I am inspired.

I can learn from the 184 project (modeled after Atlanta’s very own edu180atl project) and the plethora of student, teacher, and administrator reflections on learning shared by members of Parkland School Division in Alberta, Canada. Monday’s post, written by Alex who is a Grade 3 student at Forest Green School, forced me to think of the students at my school who are ready to be publishing their writing and sharing more openly. I reflect on how I might identify these students, collaborate with their teachers and parents, and allow them to be published writers at a young age…something I always yearned for at that age but wasn’t able to because of lack of technology. And I am motivated.

I can learn from my two friends who are teachers at a neighboring school who have taken on the challenge of redesigning a traditional English writing course for eighth grade students. Not only do I have the opportunity to read their students’ posts and thinking (and observe and comment upon any post if I so choose), but Peyten and Clark invite me into their thinking as teachers through the online spaces they maintain as educators (see here and here). As I have observed their approach to this class, I see how they are doing the difficult but important work (“Our role is not to teach them about environmental issues. It’s the (sometimes long, sometimes messy) process of writing and researching and thinking and discussing that will help them learn.”) of creating learners and thinkers and not just students and test takers. One of their student’s posts catches my eye in my oversubscribed Google Reader account (Marisa M’s post entitled GW…Still On the Wire), and I feel a sense of pride and appreciation for the students, the teachers, and the struggles that make this class an incredible example of 21st century teaching and learning. And I am encouraged in my own struggles.

And, finally, I can learn from a younger colleague who works just down the hall from me as an assistant teacher. Her first two posts on her blog, Sunday’s Story, give me insight into who she is as a person, educator, writer, and thinker. I now take extra time to engage her in conversation about things that matter to her, to me, to both of us. Her first two posts (Planting the Seeds and New Beginnings) are the catalyst for deeper collaboration and conversation. And I am reminded that it’s all about relationships.

In just a month, I am more acutely aware that I can learn from this world devoid of doors, walls, and gates. And I am a student again.

And I am better for it.

Character and Leadership Development

Next month, Thomas Lickona will speak at Trinity School. In preparation for his visit, I have been re-reading a book I read years ago by Lickona, Educating for Character: How Our Schools Can Teach Respect and Responsibility. The quote below opens Part I of the book which focuses on educating for both values and character:

As Aristotle taught, people do not naturally or spontaneously grow up to be morally excellent or practically wise. They become so, if at all, only as a result of a lifelong personal and community effort. -Jon Moline, “Classical Ideas about Moral Education” in Character Policy: An Emerging Issue

This morning, as I listened to two Trinity students speak to a large group of prospective parents at our first (of three) Open Houses, I was struck at how wise and confident these two students seemed to be. Their full speeches are below (and certainly worth watching). It seems like the constant refrain about “Trinity Kids” is that they are natural leaders…on their sports teams, in their churches, and once they graduate, at the schools they choose to attend. As I think about Trinity’s focus on developing leaders — both now and in the future — I was struck by Andrew and Matt’s words this morning:

Andrew, a Third Grader, made the connection between teamwork and leadership development. He certainly understands that the things he does at school are preparing him for his future and the world outside the school walls:

“At Trinity, we care for people, help each other, and work together.”

“I hope to be a good leader. I want to be responsible, open to suggestions, patient, persuavive, happy, and be able to make difficult decisions. That’s what I think makes a good leader.”

Matt, a member of Trinity’s Leadership Class, reflects on the fact that he is indeed a role model for the younger students, specifically those in his “Buddy Class.” He also talks about how his experiences at Trinity and his friendships have shaped him and will continue to affect him in the future:

“My education at Trinity has prepared me for this day, my next school, and for anything that will come my way.”

It’s pretty powerful to hear two students (whose combined age doesn’t quite equal that of a college graduate) express what Trinity School is all about:

The Creating Mind

“Each of us have a different mosaic of intelligences. Uniform schooling ignores these differences.” – Howard Gardner

Every year Trinity’s Sixth Grade students decorate pumpkins with their fathers (or special friends). Walking by these works of art each day (at least up until Halloween), I think of the great creative potential our students have. I think of the ways “school” often puts limits on imagination. I think of the rich mosaic of intelligences that walk through our classroom doors each day.  How innovative could our students be if we honored the creating mind?

The creating mind breaks new ground. It puts forth new ideas, poses unfamiliar questions, conjures up fresh ways of thinking, arrives at unexpected answers. –Howard Gardner