Dear Leaders, Teachers, Parents, Citizens, Students, and Children, all one and the same,
There is something you need to know about me if we are going to understand each other.
Learning is a major part of my agenda.
For me, learning is being open to “listen” to information coming in. I learned as a child with a “speech impediment” the power of listening- in all its forms, of learning through listening.
Learning can be a reliable, focused friend, who appears all the time, who shares, and teaches us how to listen to and share ourselves with the world. Learning was always there, waiting for us to choose more. The questions become:
Did we want to understand more?
Did we want to go further?
Did we want to explore?
Very often, I did.
Sometimes, I was afraid, but Learning continues to be there, despite my fears, never judging, always teaching.
Because learning is happening all the time.
There have been many times when I contracted and grimaced at the possibility of learning more. Because sometimes I felt the learning hurt.
However, if we choose to engage with Learning, things get cool.
I remember the day I knew I wanted to become a teacher. I was 8 years old.
There was a storm, and wind brought down parts of the very sturdy maple trees by the school playground. We were at recess, when a bunch of my classmates discovered these fallen branches at the edge of the woods.
We were excited. Soon, our entire 2nd and 3rd grade classes knew about it.
Everyone was talking and dragging these huge branches out of the woods and onto the playground, arguing over what we were going to make with them.
Some students wanted to build a house by the woods with the branches. Others wanted to build a teepee closer to the field. The bell rang to go inside, and we went in, shouting about our plans as we circled around, finding our seats for our next class.
Rob, our teacher, announced then, in his low booming voice, that we would, indeed, be making a wigwam with the branches… not on the playground, not outside, but in our classroom.
As part of our social studies project.
We were all in shock.
I sat on the carpet in a circle with my classmates, and wondered how our teacher, this 6 ‘ plus tall man who wore a big beard and had eyes as mellow- and at times, as imposing as the sea- knew in a split second that this project was going to happen, because it was so…
Out of no where for a classroom project.
Unexpected for something you do in school.
How did he know our idea was a good idea?
How did he know it would work?
Did he even know how to build a wigwam?
No teacher of mine up until that point- that I recalled- had seen us students jumping up and down in joy and possibility and chose to jump too and THEN inspire us to jump… higher.
So began our learning of how the Pequot Tribe, an indigenous people of the Connecticut shoreline, built their traditional wigwams. It was an enormous project. It took a while. It was a lot of work.
We had to work together, which at times was really challenging for twenty 7 and 8 year olds. It was messy, people shouting out their ideas, a cacophony of opinions, inputs and protests.
Rob listened to everyone, and he let us build the wigwam.
He listened to us.
And he let us build the wigwam.
And when it was done, each of us knew how to build a home.
And together we could sit inside this home, and share.
Rob saw what we wanted; he learned the value in our ideas, and he created the opportunity for us to create it. We brought an idea to Rob, and he valued us enough to let us own our own abilities to learn and to teach. He recognized that we, the students, had something valuable to give.
At no point along the way did his knowledge impose upon us; in fact, I hardly recall him teaching us how to build the wigwam; he taught us by allowing us to teach ourselves.
He created space for us to be heard. Once we were heard, we were ready to get to work; we were open for learning.
So, I need to ask us all- myself included- today, right now, and in every moment:
What happens when YOU, who are in the positions of leader, teacher, and parent, actually have faith- in the moment- in your citizens’, your students’, your childrens’ ability to show you more than you imagined?
To show you more than you ever thought or believed possible?
What happens when they start teaching and start leading YOU?
Kinda scary, I know.
Human evolution is a funny thing; we biologically procreate, so the next generation can: be better, be more than we were, and light the way in all the ways that perhaps we were not able.
We expend all this energy with thoughts and dreams that proclaim, “I want my world, my country, and my children to be unique, free, loving and beloved by everyone equally.”
Then we get our panties in a bunch when they actually go and do it.
Because we think we know better, because we have been here longer. Because we are afraid.
What if someone else had a good idea, and instead of competing, we listened and allowed ourselves to learn from each other?
Instead, we become rigid, and we say,
“What are you doing?! Why are you being free? Stop being so unique! You are making everyone’s life difficult!”
“THAT’S NOT THE RIGHT WAY TO DO THINGS!”
“You need to do it this way! Stop that!”
We place ourselves above our students, citizens, and children, because we think we know “more” about a topic than most. Our fear of listening and learning prevents us from creating what we originally intended: a society of amazing individuals that is constantly evolving and becoming better.
When I got my first Master’s degree, I was scared, and I felt like I was given some authority I was not ready to possess.
AND, I was expected to be a master. UMMM… HELLO?!!? What if I screwed it up?
What if I got overconfident and ruined someone’s life?
What if my ego went on a rampage and could not be salvaged?
What if no one believed me when I shared my mastery?
What if the day came when I stopped learning?
It was all just a bit much.
I felt silly, walking around saying I was a master. Because I had only just started.
Then I remembered that every leader, every teacher, every parent begins as a citizen, a student, a child. This does not cease simply because we hold a new title.
So often we forget that we continue to be students, children, citizens, even when we become teachers, leaders, and parents.
And at some point, we need to trust ourselves to light a way to get others… started.
And then, we need to trust them to grow into themselves and let them, when they choose, go further than we have gone.
The key then, is having faith in our selves to be flexible in our learning, to continue our learning despite the fact that we may know more than another. To be open to the truth that learning is happening every single moment, and it is coming from everywhere and everyone.
And that we never actually stop learning. And sometimes learning is uncomfortable. But it does not have to be. We are all doing it. And sometimes, we forget that.
So I write this to our leaders, our teachers, our children, our citizens, our students; we are one and the same. Make use of every moment we are here.
Do not waste time forgetting that our learning continues beyond school.
We can cultivate more flexibility in our minds, so when our citizens, students and children bring us a pile of branches, that fell during a storm, we can choose to learn more and jump together, saying,
“YES! LET’S BUILD A BETTER HOME.”