Brown eyes wide with expression he pushed my hair aside. He
paused, momentarily curious about the silver bangle earring he had
discovered. Undeterred and settling on just the right angle to insure I
could hear him, he exclaimed "That one is Lightning McQueen! He's the
star of the movie and my #1 favorite. And..." The scene was repeated
with every new picture.
This was my introduction to Drew, a four year old little boy sitting on my lap at a big grown up dinner. Over the course of the evening he shared his prized possession: a picture book of all the Cars characters. As the evening went on I learned a lot about this little boy's passion while we talked, listened, laughed and shared our ideas.
Whisper by Brian Scott (from Flickr Creative Commons, accessed July 1, 2009)
Why is it that we grow up and forget the rich learning that comes from the stories we share, the process of discovery, and the freedom to ask questions? Where and how in our lives and in our schools do we build the relationships that offer a safe place to tell our stories, ask questions, and grow our learning?
As I reflect on this week's NECC experience in DC, I am so clear on one fact: The pathways to deeper learning are forged in relationships and in intimate settings where ideas and experiences can be shared not "taught." I'm fortunate to have experienced this it in the pre-NECC weekend with Sheryl Nussbaum- Beach, Will Richardson, community leaders, expert voices, and cohort organizers of PLP. And from what I have heard I would have found it this year at EduBlogger Con. (What a great improvement over last year!) I found it in Blogger Cafe, in the hallways, watching FIFA soccer, and over dinner. And, rather serendipitously I found it in the Poster sessions- a tucked away space where students and teachers shared their ideas and their successes and in conversation we could grow or evolve an idea of theirs-or mine.
Yes, there was the rare moment where a skilled presenter and educator was able to bring me into the story offering opportunities for me to think, reflect, and apply. I was engaged, and therefore I was able to participate. I was not doing the speaking; I was listening. I was part of the story, my mind was active and I could envision along with the presenter beginning to re-imagine the story in my own context. What made such a presentation effective? Well-chosen visuals, a focus on pedagogical goals, and stories of how something worked- with just enough room for me to breathe and craft for myself what that might look like. I was not given a step-by-step how-to or a bulleted list that could not develop as a picture in my mind.
Gary Stager, in his on-par brilliant presentation during the Tuesday morning debate, painted a picture of what learning should look like as he argued against the kind of educational experiences the vast majority of our students receive. His choice of words and delivery told a story that was far more important than the question he was charged to debate. His argument was not about bricks and mortar vs. online learning. His argument was for providing relevant learning environments that are not as much about physical place as about relationships and safe places (at home and at school) for students to be active participants in creating a story that has meaning for each of them individually. As Stager said, "the blame (for what isn't working in our schools) lies in the bankruptcy of our imagination." We can imagine something much better than this! And our children should be given opportunities to imagine and create as well.
I don't know if I'll be at NECC next year. Why? The conference is not formally designed for modeling the pedagogy; the presentations/workshops as a whole are more about "stand and deliver" products/tools versus "engage and inspire" process. I yearn deeply for a place to talk (beyond the hall and cafe) about teaching and learning in the 21st century, imagination and creativity, and the various approaches to what this looks like for a school and how to scale this for a re-imagined educational system--I don't want to learn about another wiki in a classroom. Sure, some people need to learn about what the tools are and how they work, but it about the harnessing of the tools to offer more authentic learning experiences for our students-a place for them to be invited into the story, activate their imagination, participate-that interests me.
For the learning in the halls, cafes, boat rides, and dinners-thank you. Thank you to so many people for your stories, ideas, rich imaginations, and diligent work on behalf of learning and our students. (The list is endless, and I'm afraid I'll leave someone out...but please know that you are each appreciated.) You are my learning network, and I am grateful for you. And, of course, a special thanks to Drew for reminding me of how fun it is to learn and share our learning with one another.