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Learning at its Best

Real Education is Transformative

Got a tweet from my Sup’t today saying she was talking to one of my former iKids and Yarnspinners. You see, 12 years ago I taught in a school where I started two programs–one for kids to help each other (and teachers) use technology in more efficient and useful ways, and the other was for kids to become storytellers–or “yarnspinners” by weaving tales in a yearly show called “Tellabration.” This kid, who is now a high school senior, was both an iKid and a Yarnspinner. She told Pam (@pammoran) today that her experience as a Yarnspinner led her to drama, and now she’s pursuing a human rights major.  Her education was transformative.

July 17, 2011 a former student friended me on Facebook and I pointed her to a personal blog I had done about her class and our experiences together.  In her response, Deisy said, “It brought back a lot of memories and reminded me how before we started working with you and getting all that extra help, we were struggling. To be honest, I never thought I would get as far as I am right now and am still trying really hard to pursue my dreams now that I’m about to start college. I’m very thankful for everything you and everyone else have done for me and for believing in all of us.”  Another student also responded and added, “never in a million years would I have thought you would end up being my fifth grade teacher and changing my life. You helped us understand that there was a better life when we got older, we just had to reach for the stars. You never let us give up on anything and that’s probably the reason why so many of us are determined to make a better life for ourselves.”  Their education was transformative.

I had two kids in my room today during recess working on their wikis–using “Getting Tricky with Wikis” to add scrolling text bars. One of them asked if it was possible to add a hyperlink to text within that scrolling text bar and I sat down to try to remember the html I had used back in the early  90’s to create my first web pages. As I taught that skill, I thought how different these two kids were this year from last–and I asked them if they ever thought last year that they would be staying in from recess to be geeky on their wikis. They both said no, that that would have been unthinkable–but they love it now–and then they asked if during lunch we could work on their LibraryThing accounts.  Their work, sharing their knowledge online, and responding to their peers and watching their clustrmaps grow has been transformative.

I had a young man write me an end of the year note to say “I just wanted you to know that, and that you are the best teacher I ever had.

So I wrote back:

I’m curious—best because I taught you, or best because I let you learn?

and he responded:

Best, because you let me learn what I want to learn. I really enjoyed that, and wish that schools would do that, too.

These kids–various years, many ages, interested in many different things–have been allowed to find their passions and run with them. They have been given permission–and opportunities–to develop new passions and be mentored as they learn. (A seventh grader just wrote me–over wikimail, of course– in October, offering to help my fifth graders with their wikis, since his is visited often!) Their feedback comes from knowledgeable others–and their peers who are learning right along with them. Not only is their education relevant, but it is human–they learn to support each other and build their own audiences by sharing them with others. Their education is powerful as they find their voice through helping others–whether it be on a computer, or sharing hero stories in a remembrance of September 11, 2001, or giving peer feedback to writing, or sharing books through book conversations. They listen not only with their ears to what is being said, but with their hearts–and they make connections that last beyond this one year, this one class.  That’s transformative

About Paula White

grandma, teacher, Apple Distinguished Educator (ADE), DEN STAR, Google Certified Teacher, camper, Gifted Resource Tchr, NETS*T certified, lover of learning


4 thoughts on “Real Education is Transformative

  1. Paula,

    Good for you, and your students! So much of what is purported to comprise education is antithetical to true learning.


    Posted by Brent Snavely | November 3, 2011, 10:11 pm
  2. Paula, This is a moving account of the difference you, obviously a brilliant teacher, have made in so many of your students’ lives. When I was researching Wounded by School I also heard many stories of teachers who had transformed kids’ existences. “She was like a bridge to my future,” one said. This speaks so much to the power of these relationships. You know this and live this in your practice.

    What would you do with teachers who are not committed to the well-being of their students, who are judgmental and shaming and believe ability is inborn and they can “detect” it? Unfortunately I still encounter many of them and the profession does not police itself well. It has few professional norms for behavior and conduct; it does not vigorously reject substandard performers.

    What would you do about them? What responsibility do fine and principled practitioners have for naming them?

    With love and great respect for your years of transformational work with children,


    Posted by Kirsten | November 4, 2011, 8:42 am
  3. It’s inspiring to see how much learning and listening is possible in your work, Paula, and in the work of teachers and students running in parallel to you and your kids.

    I’m always perplexed – not by the logistical hurdles – but by the philosophical ones that prevent us, as a system, from pursuing the kind of relevance, transformation, and education you and your kids share.

    I’m reminded of Kirsten’s post – how big are we willing to let kids be?

    How long until those kid and their parents get fed up with the confines of public education as it is?

    Will they help teachers like you reform it, or will they leave, and what will happen to those kids who can’t leave? As a system, what will teachers do when confronted by a scripted career and students who know what they’re missing by being in school?

    Why aren’t we doing that now?

    Jump in, readers –

    Posted by Chad Sansing | November 4, 2011, 8:49 am


  1. Pingback: Blog for IDEC 2012 Week Roundup: Real Education Is… « Cooperative Catalyst - November 4, 2011

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