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Saturday, February 27, 2016

They want to celebrate, I want to solve...

It is Saturday and a group of five teachers have just returned home from Missouri's fantastic Write to Learn conference in the Ozarks.

The conference gave us tons of ideas and inspiration.

One person drove and she dropped me off last.  As we neared my house, we got into a conversation about the AMAZING work she is doing in her 12th grade English class called Multicultural Literature and Film.

Her students are creating their own multi-media textbook answering the question "What is culture?"  Each week, they are given a focus and time to curate and discuss materials.

The concern she is struggling with is what the ultimate product will be and how to get the students to reach out past the walls of the classroom.

As we talked, we veered off onto a variety of tangents, ranging from how she initially designed the course to how the students were responding when she asked them what they want to do with their creations.

Our first realization was that her question was too general.  I suggested she ask instead "Who are we going to share this information with? and why?" to help them recognize the need to share.

We talked about sharing through twitter or skyping with younger students.  We talked about creating videos or presentations.

Finally, we veered onto the specific topics students were researching.  She told me that the most recent topic had been African American culture.  Her surprise was evident as she explained that all the students had gathered completely positive information.

It wasn't that the positives were unexpected, or that she wanted or even expected negatives.  It was that given the recent public discourse around #blacklivesmatter and the events in Ferguson (just a few miles up the road), she was surprised that social justice went completely unmentioned.

Then she said a brilliant thing.  She said "They want to celebrate, I want to solve."  We both immediately got even more animated.  What a great sound bite!  Even more, what a great revelation!

Her students took the lead in pursuing and thus planning the learning with surprising results.

I asked her how she felt about sharing that observation with them and engaging in some conversations about why they selected the resources and paths they did.  At first, she was reluctant because she felt awkward or maybe a little uncomfortable about her own assumptions.

In my opinion, her worries are unfounded.  Her assumptions were based in her desire to make the world a better place.  In her desire to help students make the world a better place.  It didn't occur to her that her students already think the world is a pretty good place.

Our discussion drew to a close as I stood in the open passenger door of her car on my driveway.  She had, as she often does, recorded a large portion of our discussion.  She says we always come up with the BEST ideas and then she can't remember them all later.

She asked me if she could share part of our conversation with her students.  Because it models our own learning and process.  Because it represents her determination to let them guide the learning.  Because it will spark deeper discussion.

I will be honored if she does.  That 10 or 15 minutes was an incredible learning experience for both of us as we grapple with the complexities of 1:1 and student led learning.

It was the perfect way to end the conference weekend.  It was a perfect PD kind of moment only opportunities to dialogue about practice generate.  It was a really good thing.

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