It started innocently enough. An email from a friend suggesting that we do a super-short-distance all-women triathlon near where I live. Well, that’s easy! No, I didn’t know how to swim (not-drowning was about as far as I could go), I didn’t own a bike (other than the broken-down oversize man’s bike under the house that I’d rescued from a millionaire boss in New York City who VERY briefly wanted to be Lance Armstrong), and I only ran when chased…or maybe on fire. Maybe. But then it nagged at me. I was approaching my mid-40’s, and this would be a perfect opportunity to do something big. My parents raised me to believe I could do anything I wanted to–actually, it still never occurs to me that I can’t. And really, I should probably learn how to swim. Actually, I should already know. I grew up in Florida, after all. But I was the kid who always got dunked or thrown in the pool. Water was not fun for me. And putting my face in the water? Forget it. So the days and weeks went by while I debated with myself, and the triathlon filled up except for a few ridiculously
I was educated in England and best remember my High School English teacher, a woman who inspired through enthusiasm. She was in love with language and literature, and her unfailing, bouncing enthusiasm and permanent grin enthused us all.There were no non-participants in that class – the boys at the back of the class sat up, listened, read the texts, and contributed their ideas. Every class was a lively discussion. No ideas were ‘wrong’, but we were challenged (by both our peers and our teacher), and we did need to be able to explain and justify them. We could challenge our teacher too; we could question what she was saying, and decide for ourselves what we believed. One idea sparked more, and more… everything was interesting…we wanted to learn, we wanted to discuss, we wanted to write papers! Our exam results were outstanding, but what really mattered was that we had learned to think, analyse, and discuss, and we had developed a love of learning that would last a lifetime. The key to learning therefore is enthusiasm combined with high expectations. I firmly believe that when high expectations are placed upon children, they rise to meet them. Years later I moved
I have considered patenting a T-shirt with a badly beaten bunny saying, ‘Enough stick! How about some carrots!’ I think of this when addressing my students about my schooling in ‘the day’, and their reaction – wishing for a time machine to return to those practices. First, I must offer a bit of biography. I grew up in a small Kansas town, where my mother ran the diner and my grandmother ran the shoe repair shop. Both women were smarter than I will ever be, but had relatively little access to education. (My grandmother had a third grade education, and my mother graduated from high school). They modeled for me that learning was a matter of curiosity not economic gain. Both worked long hours, and spent their free time reading (Grandma ‘ Zane Grey novels, Mom, newspaper (cover to cover) and mysteries (in bed at night). Neither had much money, so the library was central to them. I had similar experience as a child. To me learning was not associated with school (where I did poorly), but with my individual interests. I remember early interests in astronomy and genetics. The latter produced some controversy when after going through family picture
When did I fall in love with learning? Or, maybe, why was it that I never fell out of love with learning? For me, my most powerful learning experiences have always included people I admired, conversations that mattered, engaging writing, eye-opening films, and most importantly opportunities to put my learning into action. As a high school student, I had two teachers in particular that opened the way for me to learn in real world settings: Jeff DePew and Ted Munnecke. They saw possibilities for me that I had not yet imagined for myself. Through their support and my mom’s persistent phone calls, I spent a summer volunteering for the National Zoo in Washington, DC. Nearly sixteen, I volunteered forty hours per week feeding small mammals and cleaning their cages. While some of the work was repetitive and physically demanding, the real learning for me happened with the zoo keepers who took me seriously and engaged me in aspirational conversations. Through their questions and guidance they helped me see more clearly my next steps. Through their connections and additional support from my biology teachers, I spent the following summer and volunteering for the Marine Systems Laboratory of the Smithsonian’s Natural History
Once I had brought an Outward Bound group to the summit of Mt. Kathadin in Maine, and we were starting to head down the mountain along a relatively flat, long and very exposed bare rock surface that we had to cross before we got back down to the tree line. I was concerned that in the summer afternoons on that mountain there was often thunderstorm activity, so I encouraged them to double time it along the exposed ridge to the tree line. All took off smartly, except Mary, who said her ankle was very sore and was holding her back. She had been whining before about it, and seemed unable to push herself to do more than wobble forward. I said, ‘Look! It’s not safe up here, and you really DO have to move faster!’ She said she was trying her best, but could not go any faster, even though the rest of the students in her group were already almost off the exposed ridge. Just then, while we were standing together a long way behind the others, as I was once again encouraging her to try harder, a monstrous blue-yellow lightning bolt struck CRRAAACCKKK!! ZZZZZZZZTTTT!! within 50 feet of
My best learning experiences have been those of an informal nature. Learning from friends, family and colleagues in environments where I was motivated to learn to serve others and increase my knowledge and skills. Recently, our grandchildren visited for the weekend and our 4 year old grandson consistently taught me how to dress him and his sister; which type of milk they drink; how to prepare the fruit for them; and how to ensure they were safely in their car seats.It was a great experience to learn from a 4 year old and from his 2 year old sister. As I reflected on my knowledge and skill development I wondered at what grade we choose not to learn from youth, at what age do we choose to disregard their insights and when do we choose to not consider them as wise. Implications for public education include ensuring we commit to understanding the skill, gifts and talents of all students and engaging them in activities to enhance their competencies. And to commit to ensuring youth are critical contributors to education decisions and policies that influence school vision, practices and anticipated impacts.