That smiling little girl above is my 4th daughter. At the time of this picture she had just begun to speak words that people could understand. For most of her life she has worked to overcome a severe speech impediment and other learning disabilities. She has taught me so much but the two biggest things I have learned from her are to never, ever give up and that “WE” is where we need to start.
A Moment of Crisis
One summer, while at the mall, our family headed to the food court to eat. Our four daughters were very young, 6 and younger, so my wife and I would often split up to get things for each of the girls. I went with S, the youngest. Little did I know how profound a moment of getting lunch would come to be or how it would shape me as a husband, father, teacher and administrator.
As I mentioned, S could not speak well. I had asked her what she wanted to eat but I could not understand what she was telling me she wanted for lunch. Slowly, as I walked around the food court pointing out the different places to eat, S would shake her head and repeat the same thing. Only, I couldn’t understand. I became more frustrated. She became more frustrated. My voice rose a bit as I asked what, what, what, WHAT? S was crying. I was crying. I couldn’t understand my own daughter and I didn’t know what to do. There I was, standing in the middle of the food court, crying with my crying daughter with no idea how or what to do next.
You know that point in the movie or story when all hope seems lost and then someone shows up to make things work. Well, as I stood there looking at my little girl cry, tears running down my cheeks, my 3rd daughter came up and asked what was wrong. I told her I couldn’t understand what S was saying. M asked her. S, still sobbing, said something, to this day I have no idea what. M asked another question. S answered. M turned to me and said
“She wants a hotdog and fries. From the orange cup place.”
I was completely overwhelmed.
“How did you get that? ….”
“You just have to know what she’s saying. We listen to her all the time.” And she walked away.
Over time, this one experience has reminded me of the importance of listening all the time, not just when I want to know something. Again and again I reference this moment when I have seemed to reach that point of going nowhere. Who can I reach out to? What am I not hearing? Why am I not understanding? What is keeping me from hearing? How do I need to change?
A Different Conversation
George Couros is someone I’ve followed since he jumped into the social media world about six years ago. Recently, he wrote a piece “Not Everyone is You” in a response to a post by Doug Pete “Stop It Already.” I respect the view of both these educators as they tackle a very difficult topic – Where should We be?
It’s a difficult topic and some people are a bit tired of the conversation. I admit, sometimes I am too. But, what if we have a different conversation? What if we talk about people moving and changing and needing support? Why can’t we be excited by their excitement?
As George states
The beautiful thing about a “personal learning network” (PLN), is that it is personal. It is about what you need at that time and something that you can create for yourself.
It’s also something that will grow with you. We need to be aware of who is in our PLN, and who isn’t, because we don’t always include those who are saying different things from us. People often express about how wonderful it is to be able to talk and communicate with people who have a similar vision especially when they are in a school with no one else who seems to be moving with them or seeing things the same. What I try to remind them is that, when I was saying these things years ago, they weren’t listening either. We’re not all journeying at the same speed.
It’s by sharing and continuing to share, even when people are resistant, that the seeds of change are sown. For some, the seeds sprout quickly while for others it takes a great many years for the seeds to begin to grow. And for some, like the acorn from the oak tree, it takes a fire to begin growth. For some of us, starting that fire sometimes needs to be our role, tough as it is.
My greatest joys have not been my accomplishments but of watching my children accomplish great things, of overcoming barriers and paving a path to their dreams. As an administrator, my greatest successes where about teachers making changes and growing, when teachers, students and parents worked together as they started to build a new school culture and when I listened to a mothers tell me, through her tears, that the wonder of watching her special needs son interact with other students via his Facebook portfolio.
It was isn’t all unicorns and rainbows. It’s hard work with many frustrations and setbacks and people who don’t seem to get it. People who refuse to try new things. So when I hear a teacher excited about this tool or that app, its’ good. It’s an opportunity for me to enter into a conversation at the point where she is and, if I support and encourage, offer assistance, allow for setbacks and failures, that teacher will continue to learn and, hopefully, share.
My last post, It’s about being Curious touches a bit on this topic – about seeing the wonder in the world around us a bit more and being able meet others where they are as they discover their own wonders. In And this is why I discuss that
just like new teachers and people who are shifting how they teach – it’s a reminder that we have new people who are trying and learning and need some guidance. Which is exciting, isn’t it?
So, when will we learn? When can this stop? Actually, I hope that it continues for a bit longer – it means we are continuing to evolve and grow, with teachers, new and old, trying new things and exploring. Someday, maybe, we won’t have to have this discussion –
I still need reminders…… which aren’t a bad thing. In fact, I sometimes need reminders from my five year old that I need to spend time with him
I am neither as prolific of a writer or speaker as either George or Doug and, truthfully, I hardly attend any conferences. My time has been spent in schools working with teachers and parents to change school culture, to bring about a shift in how teachers, students and parents see school and learning. I’ve learned so much but had I not had that experience with my daughter, I don’t know if I would have been as open to the changes that took place, as willing to allow others to lead or as sure that relationships are where we need to start.
We Always Need Reminders
I read a great deal but I don’t write or publish that much – scared of what might happen, both positively and negatively. I use to think that if I wrote something or said something then there’s no going back. But that isn’t true since it would mean that I wasn’t learning or willing to change. Fear keeps many of us from making progress or taking a chance. We are far more willing to remain comfortably where we are than stretch. But when people do and begin to grow, we need to meet them where they are and walk with them. It helps to remind us of the excitement and wonder that we sometimes lose. It reminds me that I am not them but that doesn’t mean we can’t do some great things together if only we meet where they are at this time.
As a parent, I learn so much from my children. One of the greatest things that they continue to remind me is to look around and experience the world, again and again and again with wonder. I can’t do that with an attitude of “I’ve already done this.” You youngest is 6 years old. Hopefully as he grows I will still be reminded that the world is a wonderful place of excitement and learning for everyone. Celebrating this is important. Getting to celebrate it again and again with others experiences is a gift, a gift they give me with each experience.
Are you willing to celebrate this with other teachers? How are you meeting others where they are and journeying with them? How are you a mentor and support to others as they journey?