You’ve seen a herd of goats
Going down to the water.
The lame and dreamy goat
Brings up the rear.
There are worried faces about that one,
But now they’re laughing,
Because look, as they return,
That goat is leading!
There are many different kinds of knowing.
The lame goat’s kind is a branch
That traces back to the roots of presence.
Learn from the lame goat,
And lead the herd home.
There is an educational concept that I’ve been working with for the past couple years, and it has included several conversations with a creative friend, Adam Wayne. It lies at the intersection of Sir Ken Robinson, Daniel Pink, Austin Kleon, and technology. I’m doing my best to create a classroom structure that supports internal motivation,passion, deep skill acquisition and rigor…all in an effort to teach curriculum. If I have learned nothing else in my years teaching, it’s that an engaged student internalizes, applies meaning, and invests in outcomes. If people are really engaged, they read for meaning, they write to be understood, they organize material in constructive ways, and they present to convey. All of the things that are frequently taught in isolation can be internalized in an engaged classroom as by-products of natural passion/engagement.
Creating engaging units is relatively easy, but to try to incorporate the power of passion driven study…that isn’t as simple. One of the problems is that kids don’t usually know what they are passionate about. Heck, most adults don’t know what they’re passionate about! Why? Because our schools and our lives are not usually set up to support finding passion. We over-schedule in school and at home. We cram in as many things as we can…we check off skills taught and tasks accomplished on a never-ending list….all the while being graded and then critiquing and judging ourselves and our surroundings.
Developing passion and interest doesn’t happen like that. That comes from safe open space…in the mind and in time. It requires free-floating ideas and connections and emotion. One thought leads to the next…one question leads to the next…one quest leads to the next…in a loose and free-floating way. Passions are often only seen in reverse. You can look back once they are there and see the meandering path that led to them, but that path can not be predetermined, scheduled, or etched…it has to be loosely felt and allowed time to develop. When a real interest or passion arises, the time and repetition needed to practice it to become skilled often comes naturally. Pink, Robinson and Kleon are right… it is like turning our whole system upside down.
This interest has turned into my own passion. It has led me to Project-based Learning, total subject integration, a loose student-driven schedule, a deep ongoing dive into technology…and I continue to meander. Now I am going to try my own form of Genius Hour to incorporate truly self-chosen topics. Learning how to allow this to play out in my classroom is mirrored in my very own quest, and I know one thing for sure…the learning has been lonely but unparalleled in its power.
” Surround yourself with the Dreamers and the Doers, the Believers, and most of all, surround yourself with those who see greatness within you, even when you don’t see it in yourself. They strive for us to see the potential of greatness that lies within us. Never forget that , they all let us break down our walls and wipe off our masks and teach us to be and believe “you are perfect as you” -Tom Dunnington
Some people remember all kinds of things from their past…teachers, situations, comments….that has never been a strength of mine. That is a blessing and a curse of course, but for me, mostly a blessing. I don’t hold on to grudges, I am not afraid to try something new…again… even after failure, I often re-welcome people into my life that have caused frustration, and frequently learn something new about myself in the process.
One of the few things I do remember clearly though, is something a Philosophy professor told us at the University of St. Thomas in MN decades ago…and I remind my own children and students of it frequently. I don’t recall his name, but I can still see his tall lanky fame and creased face…and the way he closed his deeply set eyes when he described a complex reasoned point. One class during a dark winter month, he drew a wavy line on the chalkboard.
He drew a large X on the bottom of the first wave and went on the say, Your life will look like this. You will have high points, and you will have low points. If you remember only one thing, remember that when you are at a low point, do not make decisions… just hold on and wait. Low points are not the time to make life decisions, and the low points don’t last forever.
That has been worth remembering…and has helped me many times over the years.
“Each person’s life is like a mandala- a vast, limitless circle. We stand in the center of our own circle, and everything we see, hear and think forms the mandala of our life. We enter a room, and the room is our mandala. We get on the subway, and the subway car is our mandala, down to the teenager checking messages on her iPhone and the homeless man slumped in the corner. We go for a hike in the mountains, and everything as far as we can see is our mandala: the clouds, the trees, the snow on the peeks, even the rattlesnake coiled in the corner. We’re lying in a hospital bed, and the hospital is our mandala. We don’t set it up, we don’t get to choose what or who shows up in it. It is, As Chogyam Trungpa said, “the mandala that is never arranged but is always complete.” And we embrace it just as it is.
Everything that shows up in your mandala is a vehicle for your awakening. From this point of view, awakening is right at your fingertips continually. There’s not a drop of rain or a pile of dog poop that appears in your life that isn’t the manifestation of enlightened energy, that isn’t a doorway to sacred world. But it’s up to you whether your life is a mandala of neurosis or a mandala of sanity.”
(From Pema’s newest book, Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change)
As Christmas mornings have changed though the years…barely dawn squealing kids, almost noon sleepers, guests in spare rooms, tropical breezes with my husband’s family, or wintery chills with mine, at home or away. One thing stays the same.
The absolute stillness of Christmas morning.
It’s a time to quiet and feel the gap between this Christmas and the one last year. How have I changed…who and what have helped me to learn? The most trying relationships and situations force the most growth. That is where gratitude lives in me. The urge to push them away is strong, but to use those situations as an alchemist, that is an art… and for me, that is where real gifts lie.
We are in an arm’s race. Families need guns to protect against intruders. Those walking at night need guns to protect against muggers. Women need guns to protect against rapists. Now, yesterday, I hear that teachers need guns. This is a race that cannot be won, ever. Put down your guns and love those who are so filled with fear that they feel compelled to carry one.
~Betsy Thelin Zinser