On Friday I walked out of a session. I hate doing it, but sometimes I do.
I started in a very large hall with one of the bigger names on program.
Brought in from the US, he’s written several books, and he’s a regular on the lecture/consulting/conventions circuits. And his polish shows. He says inspirational things, he’s got numbered lists of how to make schools wonderful, he tells charming and lovely stories of his students-including gangstas and all the other titillating bits of Americana you can imagine-and he punctuates his talk by moving around the stage, pausing dramatically, bending over and delivering dramatic punchlines with reduced volume and/or vocal speed. In short, he acts like a preacher in a Chautauqua tent. He gives drama, he gives feelgood, and I didn’t believe a word he was telling us.
So I left. Not because he did anything wrong, but because I couldn’t see the gain in staying. He’s a showman all right. But that’s not what I came for.
I didn’t have a plan B. I walked down the convention centre hallway and peeked in open doors, and read signs about who was presenting what. In a small room, I saw the title. “Global Water Issues: Build a Well or Build Capacity” with Lisa Mitchell from the Centre for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology. Not at all what I was looking for, but it looked interesting. I went in.
The room had been divided into two discussion groups of about 10 participants, and they were discussion some ideas about problems with a project that attempted to provide fresh water to people in need. As I had missed the earlier part of the presentation, I quietly sat in one group and listened. Lisa came over and greeted me and filled me in a bit on what I had missed. I already felt that I had made the right decision in changing rooms.
During the rest of the presentation we discussed projects that were presented to us where the focus of the water-intervention was not on the provision of new equipment—although that is important—but on creating a responsible community for teaching and learning about how to acquire, clean and use water, how to care for food, and more. And I knew what I’d have to write about.
Lisa gave me a positive educational experience in two ways. There was no doubt that she was the expert in the room, but there was no doubt that she needed our minds, our thoughts and our words to be engaged with the ideas. Yes she was the teacher and yes we were the students, but this was very much an exchange.
The second positive educational experience was in watching and then discussing the following video.
And this is the real educational story. Gladys was apprehensive, but she knew she had a role to play. She learned, and she shared. She taught her neighbours by being patient with them. All along, Gladys knew that she needed to be trusted, and she had to follow the pace that her students—her friends and neighbours—were willing to follow. Gladys didn’t stand up and tell everyone what she knew; she listened and responded to where they would let her take them.
This is not a wimpy “guide on the side” moment. As a teacher, Gladys maintains her position in the room. Gladys maintains partial responsibility for everyone’s learning. Most importantly, Gladys is constantly learning what her students know, and is using that information to move the conversation forward.
If you haven’t watched the video yet, please set aside 7 minutes and watch. If you’re a teacher, ask yourself if this is what you should be doing.
If you aren’t aware of water issues around the world, now is the time to do some reading and talking.
And if you’re still with me, here’s a lovely write up and photo essay. Waves of Change
By welcoming a latecomer to her class, Lisa reminded me of the importance of always being ready to accept whoever comes to your class. And Gladys reminded me of the importance of being open to whatever your students bring to class.
Thank you Gladys and Lisa.