Saturday, June 9, 2012

What They Say

This past week I attended an ed tech conference, at which I had the pleasure to hear two incredible keynote speakers, Will Richardson and Michael Wesch.  If you've ever taken a gander at my list of frequent blog reads (to the right), you may have noticed Will's blog keeping company with a bunch of scrappy/crafty blogs.  It belongs alongside all of the other blogs that inspire me and that drive me to become more innovative and reflective.

So imagine how stoked I was to actually see and hear him in person, and to be challenged and inspired by so much of what he said:
  • In this moment, living and teaching in a networked world, "If you don't feel challenged now, I don't think you're paying attention." 
  • "Is there a better time to be a learner than right now?" 
  • "If we do not find ways to measure what we value, we will value what we measure." 
  • "If you're in education, you need to be 'Googleable.'" 
  • Proposed outcome: "...that every student that graduates is 'Googled well.'"  
  • "Are you Googled well?" 
  • Re: Twitter: "Use your real name. Own your own thoughts."
  • "Repeat after me: I want to be found by strangers on the Internet."
  • "Teachers are everywhere." 
  • "Kids will be learning with strangers all their lives." Teachers can assist kids in "discerning good strangers from bad strangers." 
  • "We need learners more than teachers in classrooms." 
  • "How are you a mobile, connected, global learner? How are you learning in your networks?" 
  • "I'm only as smart as the people I'm connected to." 
Will did not disappoint.  That he left me with more questions than answers is a hopeful sign.

In many ways, I was not just listening with the mindset of a teacher, but also with that of a member of the global scrapbooking community (a term that usually makes my husband chuckle, but this community really does exist).  Scrapbookers, too, should strive to be "Googled well," and on some level, yes, we should "want to be found by strangers on the Internet," all the while being cautious about distinguishing between good strangers and bad strangers.  The "good strangers" that I have met along the way have truly been my best teachers, and the connections that I have made through the years -- through networks -- have irrevocably changed me.  Other than the actual creating I do with my hands, the rest of my scrapbooker's identity is constructed and maintained through online interactions.  I am a "mobile, connected, global learner."  The experiences that I have had in the very-much-networked scrapbooking world have actually made me a much more tech-literate teacher.  Now imagine if we all used our own names and "owned our own thoughts" on forums and in blog comments.  How much more productive and collegial might our exchanges be?

On the second day of the conference, I heard Michael Wesch speak on "The End of Wonder in the Age of Whatever," and I was simply overwhelmed.  Wesch, a cultural anthropologist at Kansas State University, asked a question that I will keep asking myself for years to come: "How can you inspire your students into a state of wonder?"

He went on to talk about what wonder really is, differentiating it from curiosity.  Wonder not only prompts us to investigate the world further, but it also allows us to see "the world in its essence." He regards wonder as a capacity rather than as an experience.  The difference?  Think of love, for example.  Love as an experience is what we often quest after when we are young, but as we mature, we come to realize that love is a capacity.  As our understanding of it deepens, we are able to love all the more strongly, and be loved in return.

As we try to embrace the concept of wonder as a capacity, it is important, then, that we attend to the act of questioning.

Wesch spoke about how humans are the only land-dwelling mammals who also sing.  From an evolutionary standpoint, this is actually a pretty dangerous adaptation.  Singing can express vulnerability, just as questioning does.  Think of the intonation of a question, something we might recognize regardless of the language a person speaks.  There is a "song" of sorts that we all sing when we question, as a question ends in a higher pitch.  A high pitch signifies submission, vulnerability, a need to connect (Wesch uses the example of a whimpering dog versus a growling dog).  Thus, each time we question -- each time we sing that tune of vulnerability -- we are inviting connections.   "To wonder is to quest," according to Wesch, and this "allows ideas to flourish."

While this idea of questioning-as-singing is going to forever change the way I regard the role of questioning in my classroom, once again, there is a connection to the scrapbooking community.  What is it that we do in our online forums?  We question.  We express our vulnerability to each other.  We are all fellow learners.  In fact, there are far more learners than teachers among us, and when we co-create spaces that are not only full of inspiration, but are also safe spaces in which to ask questions, we can foster a sense of wonder.

Wesch envisions spaces of learning in which there is "true freedom to learn," where we can "embrace vulnerability," and where we can "invite connections."

As you can see, I've had a revelatory past couple of days, so much so that the dual conversations regarding teaching and scrapbooking that have been running through my head ended up converging in my most recent layout.
More details and a full list of supplies may be found at Two Peas in a Bucket.  
On Thursday's October Afternoon blog post, I shared this layout, which documents some excerpts from my end-of-the-year evaluations.
This particular class showered me with compliments (many of which, I'm sure, are exaggerated, though I love them all the same, since I taught these students the art of hyperbole in the first place).  Still, I had trouble really seeing myself as a teacher materialize through their words.  Then I heard Michael Wesch address the topic of the self in his address:

"Who we are is projected back to us -- it doesn't come from within us."

So here I am, in the age of "learning networks" and "whatever," realizing that more than ever, it is important to be self-conscious while also seeking every opportunity to cultivate the capacity for wonder.  It's a tall order, but I think I'm taking hopeful steps forward.


  1. wow, Jill, I'm glad you got such nice comments. you sound like the best teacher, ever!

  2. Wow! This layout is so fantastic! I wish I could sneak into my husband's classroom and get some comments -- although this year has been the year from hell! He had two new teachers to contend with and the worst kids he's had in 25 years teaching! And the parents were no prizes either -- one of the girls (new teachers - DD's age, hence girls) came out to a slashed tire! Maybe I should switch it around and have the "they" be the teachers this year! :)

  3. I just wanted to tell you how much I love this post and adore your page. I too am a teacher, and I've collected notes of thanks for years without ever doing anything with them. You've inspired me to make a page about them! Thanks for the creative kick.