I leave for China in just a few days, and as I sit here planning, I find I am utterly humbled by the fact that there are so many ready to welcome me, to learn with me, and to engage in productive dialogue around what it truly means to personalize education for our newest generations of small individuals.
As I’ve begun to plan, I’ve engaged in a brainstorming process unlike any other, preparing to work with a new group of people for three entire weeks. As I’ve gone through my brainstorming, it’s caused me to ask what is truly important to me, what ideas I feel are most important to convey around personalization, and what I’m most excited to build upon with my soon-to-be new friends across the Pacific.
And while I’ve begun to reflect on my experiences with project-based and social-emotional learning, agency and autonomy, collaboration, and planning and preparation, the thoughts that seem to be forming most fruitfully are ones of humanism, empathy, and vulnerability, as I prepare to work with this new group of people.
If there is one thing I’ve learned through the short story that is my now six years of teaching, it’s that absolutism is the antithesis of the educational experience. While pragmatism may serve us well, and while there are bodies of research that may accept or refute current emerging practices in education, I’m feeling most deeply in my heart that it is not only our pragmatism that will truly change the face of education. So much of the educational experience grounds itself in how individuals work with one another, in their ability to ask powerful questions, to find points of convergence, to welcome divergence, and to find purpose and motivation within the lofty task of reinventing the educational experience for our youngest generations.
When translated directly, the Chinese symbol for student means “learn life.” This meaning reveals a stark difference between itself and the connotation of the standard American definition of student. The American student, in our current and prevailing factory model of education, is defined by compliance, consumption, and complacency. But the idea of “learning life” is quite the opposite: it implies not listening for the sake of compliance, but instead for the sake of connection. It implies connecting with others and learning through building collaborative and productive relationships. It implies caring so much that we’re willing to have difficult conversations, recognize points of divergence, and honor them for the sake of inquiry and collaboration.
But “learning life” takes a great deal of courage. It requires us to show up, as Brené Brown would say, to interact and operate with empathy and vulnerability, and to let our biases, our preconceptions, and ourselves be seen, all with the intention of welcoming our own dynamism.
Too often, in today’s current paradigm, the opposite is brought forth from us. Evaluation systems, pressures from standardized assessment, and the ripple effects that come as a result of insensitive and incomplete accountability measures guide us so far away from leading with courage, and instead ask us to follow with fear.
In the weeks to come, when I meet my new Chinese friends, I am excited to embody this very ideal by which I have not yet had the chance to lead in the educational space. I am excited to lead with courage–and hopefully inspire others to do so–despite how unnerving it may be. Because it is through this courage, and all of the aforementioned actions through which we may demonstrate it, that I truly believe will change the educational space, make it personal again, and make a marked impact on the courageous futures that our children will lead.