The longer we listen to one another — with real attention — the more commonality we will find in our lives. That is, if we are careful to exchange with one another life stories and not simple opinion. Barbara Deming
I had breakfast this morning at Compton’s Pancake House on 7th Street in Stroudsburg. Hungry for the “double – triple play” I hurried in from the cold, rainy morning chill. I lifted my head and was greeted by a woman who I taught when we were both younger ( for the purpose of this story I will call her Jane). We were glad to see each other. She has a school aged child now! Time flies. I saw the same light in her eyes that I remembered when she was a fiery, thirteen year old girl. She is looking for a job these days – she is so capable! My teacher/mentor jumped out an offered to help her in her job search – help find what she is looking for. I still see strength in her eyes. I bet she is a great mother. She struggled in school – not academically so much, but I could always tell she carried a heavy load. She used her quick wit and tongue to protect herself. Sometimes it got her into trouble. I wonder if I could have done more to engage that thirteen year old? If somehow I could have been more of a role model, a better listener, a more challenging coach? But I was a young mother too – time split between the children at school and my own children. I loved teaching – I loved getting to know the children at school. Running into Jane at the diner this morning – seeing her light up, and getting a text from her that she would like help, made me smile. Is that engagement?
Engagement is more than just what a student learns in a content area – it is what they think and feel. Do we stop often enough to hear what students are thinking about, what they want to achieve, what they think is possible? Or do we tell them – stay on task, do it because I said, stop day-dreaming? Engaging students can take many forms; playing, looking, listening, speaking, painting, experimenting, creating. Everyone is better when we are engaged, when relationships are built, when we help each other to find answers to questions that challenges us. The environment is important too! When we are free to try things that may not lead to immediate success, and in-fact sometimes lead to great failure, we often learn our best lessons. In a safe environment we are all willing to try things that interest us, things that make our hearts sing, challenge our ways of thinking, and ultimately we reap the fruit that we sow.
Did we teach Jane to challenge herself? Did we give her one to many assignments that were not relevant? Did she know we were her champions? Did she visit the library or go to a concert? Did she ever experience life beyond the Pocono’s? Did she job shadow? Who was her mentor? I think about these questions as I reflect on Edward O. Wilson’s talk on NPR this week about passion and success. Not so surprisingly, he didn’t think success and IQ were related. He believed that success is about having passion. “Mere brightness can be valuable, but that’s not what makes a successful [scientist]. A successful scientist is a person that develops a passion for a subject. That leads to persistence. Persistence is extremely important (E. O. Wilson, 2013).” That is the premise we are using as we try to start a school in a democratic model. Shifting the paradigm about schools so learning is driven by passion and the intrinsic motivation of a child. Would a school like these Sudbury Valley Model Schools that have helped Jane keep a job she enjoyed? Find new job that is more challenging? Make full use of all of her talents? Does Jane have this passion for something? Has she had the opportunity to find what it is that makes her heart sing? Did she ever have the opportunity to listen, deeply listen, to herself and find her passion? Can that happen in school?
Join us when we meet again on May 1, 2013 at 6:30 pm at the Hermitage – at Kirkridge Retreat and Study Center.