After a year of learning with and from the high school Lead Learners’ interschool community, we celebrated with an early evening dinner. The guest list included rookie and soon-to-be-retired educators from K-post secondary coming from independent and public schools. In addition to enjoying good food (BBQ dinner), Lead Learners were treated to great “food for thought” served by an impressive set of guest speakers. Each elaborated upon the “one word” that best defines his/her paradigm, passion, profession, or pedagogy. (see this storify for details about the One Word Celebration Supper)
So what was on the menu?
To whet our appetites, we heard from a group of five grade nine students who had 2 minutes each to read aloud prepared statements to describe his/her chosen word; for example, Devoted, Perseverance, Music, Enjoy and Courage. The students set the bar with respect to poise and presentation. I felt badly for the adult presenters who had to follow them.
The selection of entrees included five minute elaborations of one words by six educators. They may have begun with the same word “YES” as in positively responding to my invite but I was impressed by what they brought to the #oneword potluck. The edu-stars included Dr. Steve Cardwell (FLOW), Kristi Blakeway (UBUNTU), Anne Yam (RUN), Sean Nosek (KUZUSHI), Doug Lauson (CHANGE) and last but certainly not least Jacob Martens (PRESENCE). I was genuinely surprised by their word choices. From tickling our funny bone to touching our hearts, the narratives were memorable. Whether or not they chose to use props, powerpoints or photographs, the storytellers inspired us with their word, wit and wisdom.
To end the evening the dessert course was served via mystery skype with Dr. Yong Zhao. Nothing could have prepared me for the moment when Dr. Yong Zhao graciously accepted my invitation to share his one word. So from June 13 I kept this secret from everyone with the exception of my brother who was going to provide tech support for the skype session.
So many of his words were the basis of the Lead Learners professional reading this past year. I was first introduced to him as a “critical friend” of BC’s education system even though he refers to himself as a failed peasant farmer. He has 19.5K followers. His published curriculum vitae is 30+ pages long and includes a table of contents! Larry Espe once tweeted that it was not a coincidence that the mystery man’s last name rhymed with “Wow“.
When Dr. Zhao appeared behind me on the screen, I could hear the collective gasp of the audience as they recognized who came to our dinner. And yes, I did have my “fan girl” moment when I was finally able to share aloud the secret I was keeping for the past few days. What a relief!
There was no way we were going to keep Dr. Zhao to the 5 minute time limit! He was so generous to give us a 15 minute window of time. Several of us thought his one word was going to be “entrepreneurship” but he “one”derfully surprised all of us by reflecting on the English translation of his name: “COURAGE“.
At that time, I could not recall what Dr. Zhao said because I was in a state of shock that he was actually spending time with this group of educators gathered in a high school library in Vancouver, BC at the end of June!
When time came to say goodbye to Dr. Zhao, I was initially speechless. I wished I had rehearsed something eloquent and profound regarding his research or latest publications. I wish I had told him how much his humility, humour and hope has influenced the learning of the Lead Learners this year. But in the end I discovered how hard it is to articulate any words when one cannot stop grinning from ear to ear.
Thankfully one of the Lead Learners took the initiative to record his presentation. Here are some highlights from Dr. Zhao’s five minutes of defining Courage:
“willing to take responsibilities for what you stand for and willing to take risks and also very great excuse when you do something wrong: I am just courageous … We need courage in education, in teachers, and in our students. We have a system that really puts us as cowards to comply with government systems through standardized testing, with what is handed to us… We need the courage to make the change … To help our students to do what is right …To make things right for our children and our students”
“Assume the responsibility, the autonomy you might get and it also means that you are able to create that something that will be different. And we keep talking about entrepreneurship, creativity, innovators, and the one big thing they have is confidence and courage … it can scare you as well. … And I get scared all the time. Right now I am working on a paper that is focused on why don’t we study, to research about side-effects in education? And as you know in schools we never give warning labels as we would get with a bottle of Tylenol or Advil: It always warns you: This might cure a runny nose but may cause a bleeding a stomach. Or in education policy or textbooks nobody tells you or gives you a warning label …Now the government says: Standardized testing might help you raise test scores but makes your children hate schools forever.”
“Thank you for taking a courageous journey. For helping each other to maintain that courage and that’s what we need for a better world, for all of us, our children …They will not accept the future but create the future and they all need courage.”
Dr. Zhao’s one word: Courage resonated with my own childhood experiences.
Diagnosed as a stutterer, I grew to abhor speaking aloud in class. I chose to be mute than suffer mockery. I chose to not raise my hands. I chose to remain silent than test people’s patience. Well-meaning teachers would spare me public humiliation and embarrassment by not calling on me during read-alouds. What happens when individuals no longer hear his/her name called?
Then in Grade 7 encouraged by a teacher, I faced one of my greatest fears by entering speech arts’ competition. It was no easy feat for me to stand and recite the selected pieces of scripture and prose. During the first festival I entered, I vividly recall fleeing the stage in tears even before I spoke a single word! I feared to hear the voice that I had willfully silenced for so long.
But a handful of adults in my life were relentless in bringing me to one stage after the next. They heard/believed in my voice even before I could say one word. They worked with me in calming my nerves while I practiced my breathing. The more they en-courage-d me, the more courageous I became.
Then several months later I stood confidently, courageously in front of a microphone. And the words cascaded out of my mouth. For the first time the words didn’t feel like paddling the grand rapids. Each word was birthed without pain. No words somersaulted in my mouth. In that moment it wasn’t that people could hear me but I heard my own voice. I could hear “me”.
I still have a speech impediment but I am thankful every day for the opportunity to take risks, make mistakes, and learn. I still get butterflies before opening my mouth in public. One of my colleagues has said on more than once occasion: “give Rose a microphone and she is a totally different person.” But perhaps the microphone amplifies who I am?
I concur with the hope of Dr. Judy Halbert and Dr. Linda Kaser for “all learners to walk the stage with dignity, purpose and options”. But I wonder if we could make room for more than one stage and multiple microphones, too?
Before school closed for the summer, I was privileged to read the Innovation proposals drafted by a handful of my high school colleagues. Through exploring and experimenting with interdisciplinary inquiry learning, STEM, alternate timetables, flex blocks, going gradeless, midterm moratoriums, passion-projects, academies, genius afternoons, technology-enabled learning, and challenging “honour roll”, these teachers are redesigning the stage. They are re-engineering school so that all students’ voices are heard. Because they want to encourage all of their students, these inspired educators are being courageous, too!
So to extend the metaphor with a few questions:
- Do students get opportunities to be courageous in your classroom?
- How courageous are you? What stage do you need to stand on? Which microphone do you need to speak into? What have you done for the sake of your students that scares/scared you?
- What are you doing to provide all of your students with the microphones they need?
- Can you hear your students? Why or why not?
- Can your students hear themselves? Why or why not?
- What’s your one word?
Needless to say Kare Anderson’s TEDTalk: Be An Opportunity Maker resonated with me: