The future is now, and it looks like youth activism

LISTEN to their power.

I’ve been walking around since Friday with my heart alternately tightening and fluttering as I think about the youth in our world rising up for the Climate Strike. The images are breathtaking; the numbers are staggering. The message is undeniable: our children are pissed. Our earth is melting and the adults in charge aren’t moving quickly enough to address the issue. And these kids are through with the bystander role, with waiting to become old enough to make a difference, because what this generation seems to understand is that they ARE old enough to make a difference.

“What we stand for is what we stand ON!”

Students are taking to the streets (or in our school’s case, the courtyard) to change our world, and it fills my heart so absolutely full of joy to see them exercising their rights to peaceful protest. The educator in me considers all the learning happening…and wonders if they recognize it as such, or if our schools do. I think about the classes that they return to where some of those who were just chanting with full voices will sit back down at desks in rows, raise their hands to offer answers to questions, and in general return to tradition.

Something feels weird. It feels like we are missing the elephant in the room. They were just outside protesting the fact that the earth is melting! Should they be returning to their math class to review the answers to the quiz they took yesterday? Should they return to their English class to pick up where they left off reading Gatsby? As if the globe painted on their face isn’t there? Or the sign that rests against their desk is just an everyday accoutrement?

That polar bear drawing though…

Why do we do this?? It’s NOT a return to normal! Our students should be walking back into our classes and talking about the climate. This might piss off some of you, but the curriculum can wait at an historic moment such as this. In fact, at times like this, I argue that what is happening IS the curriculum. How might we honor our students’ concerns? How might we help them leverage this momentum to incite change? One thing is for certain: we must give them time to reflect on their learning and to process the enormity of the movement in which they have participated.

Education is about so much more than what happens in the classroom.
Photo: Alison Scileppi

I was fortunate to return to a classroom where the teacher gave students time to research Greta Thunberg following the rally at our school. We talked about her actions, her drive, and what she had accomplished. Still, I was left feeling like we had barely begun to understand the impact Thunberg has had, and that all of our youth are having.

So I’m reaching out to you. How are you recognizing the Global Climate Strike in your classroom? How might we continue to empower our youth beyond these momentous occasions? This is a time of great impact in their lives (and ours); what can we as educators do to ensure it doesn’t merely drift by?

I love adolescents.
Photo: Alison Scileppi

Spirit animals & the power of reflection

While I would be proud to present my spirit animal as the wise owl, the shrewd wolf, or the majestic eagle, I share a far more ridiculous reality: SQUIRREL!  No, really.  It’s SQUIRREL!  It’s my inspiration junkie self finally coming to terms with the beauty of this animal in its abrupt pivots, its nimble movements over unstable terrain, its rapid adjustments and keen senses.  Squirrels are adorable bundles of explosive energy and it’s difficult to predict where they’ll go next.  I’m down with that, and it took a trip to SXSWEdu and a chance meeting of a fellow SQUIRREL! for me to identify and embrace this fact.  I understand its significance and importance in my life, and now I have an answer when someone asks that most revealing of questions as a conversation opener.

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Look at this guy…so ready to go get ’em!  Photo: Anthony Intraversato

All this erratic squirrel energy demands balance, and that prompts me to reflect on reflection.  I’ve pondered the place of reflection in the new educational landscape, and part of my struggle remains the time it takes to sufficiently reflect.  Who has time for reflection when you could be DOING something?!  Then my mind goes all John Dewey on me and I remember my wits:

“We do not learn from experience.  We learn from reflecting on experience.”

He’s looking all Uncle Sam with a pointy finger in my mind, but okay.  I believe this.  Reflection is important.  And our students do not have a firm grasp on what it means to reflect.  (Honestly, they’re more SQUIRREL! than I am.)  While co-teaching our Exploring Education class, Pat LaClair and I found ourselves mired in attempts to help students reflect.  We failed.  Often.  We started by asking thought-provoking questions.  We shared examples.  We asked what our students thought about their experiences and then we asked WHY?  Why did they feel this way?  While we eventually made some progress from relatively shallow answers to more in-depth thought, I was left with two observations:

1. reflection is absolutely imperative to deeper learning.

2. we need to vary our approach.

How might we do that?  Some moments of inspiration hit hard last week while I was in a workshop at SXSWEdu led by  Dan Ryder and Amy Burvall.  The two have created an incredible collection of activities in Intention: Critical Creativity in the Classroom that promise to develop metaphorical thinkers, and I believe that this is one way forward with reflection.  In a world of SQUIRREL! type thinkers, these activities are quick, fun, and genuinely compel students to reflect and think deeply.  With Legos.  And Oreos.  Check out our exercise in representing a social issue with Oreo:

That toilet?  Come on!  Brilliant.  We had two minutes and an Oreo.  Take a second (SQUIRREL time) and consider the kind of thinking one has to engage in to bring to life this simple creation.  It’s metaphorical, right?  And metacognitive.  It’s creative, and it’s deeper than even a thought-provoking question might elicit.  While I believe that written reflection is integral to learning, we need additional formative opportunities to help students move toward deeper reflection.  With short activities such as these (heavily weighted with fun), students can begin to develop the kind of mindset that deep reflection requires.

Dan and Amy: thank you for pulling together an amazing collection of “reflection recipes.”  It’s perfect for this SQUIRREL! and I know it’s going to be spot-on for those in my class…now what was that about design thinking, deeper learning, and wait, SQUIRREL!

Dan & Amy’s book can be found on Amazon.