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Learning at its Best

Choosing to Leave the Limiting Behind

While exploring the book Walk Out, Walk On, I found myself being caught by certain phrases…words that spoke to my very being because they resonate within me.

“…people’s capacity to self-organize is the most powerful change process there is.”

Kids constantly tell me my classroom is different from others they are in or have been in–I believe that’s because I push my kids to self organize to help themselves learn and grow. 

Right now, I’m in the midst of student-led conferences, and I’m hearing what the students are saying about their learning in the past nine weeks. There simply is no better feedback for a teacher than this experience, I don’t think. I’m very proud of their ability to share what they’ve learned, talking about the books they’ve read, the writing they’ve done on their wikis and blogs, and the assessments they’ve done in math, including both their strengths and weaknesses.

I’m also impressed by the parent questions. (This is the third time I have met with most of them, so they understand my philosophy and how my class runs.)

One parent asked a quiet kid, “And how do you feel in class discussions when you don’t participate a lot–does it make you feel like you’re not as smart as the others?” The child responded with no, but that sometimes the conversation moved so fast that he didn’t get a chance to express his thoughts. That was great feedback for me! He also added that our conversations weren’t a competition, and that when he did join in, people listened to what he had to say.

Another asked her rather talkative child, “Do you think you learn as deeply when you are choosing to have private conversations and not listen as carefully as others do?” following that up with “How can you have both those friend conversations AND participate in class discussions well?” I’d like to think I had a bit to do with the parents’ choice of words, as I talk all the time about kid’s “choices to have private conversations.”

Upon being shown the blog post the student chose to share, the parent immediately started pointing out minor mistakes in the blog post being read, and the student responded with, “I know I still have some editing to do–but apostrophes and punctuation are one of the last steps–we edit content first so our message is really powerful. What do you think of what I said?”

“living is  a synonym for learning: …experiment, take risks, fail, succeed, make it up as [you} go along, and offer compassion and forgiveness to each other.”

Learning is not about being right–and that is so hard for kids to trust in a school situation, as that is NOT what they have learned from their first step inside a school building.

“It’s essential that we feel motivated, that we have faith we’re doing the right work…”

This requires a sense of community, of being part of a group of people who feel similarly.

“what a Learning Journey offers…an opportunity to shake up our thinking, engender new insights, and strengthen our commitments.”

No longer being able to predict and move through the day without thinking makes one more conscious of everything. I tell the story of losing power in my 17th year at one school and using the restroom in pitch black darkness–and never touching the wall–and sitting there and thinking, “I just did that like blind people must.” I walked out of the ladies room, straight to the office and asked for a transfer request.  I KNEW I needed a change. 

“when certainty collapses, it’s often replaced by curiosity.”

New environments, developing spaces, changing where you stand, looking through a different view allows a new scene to unfold, conceptually, physically, mentally, imaginatively.

“use…ingenuity and caring to figure out how to work with what they have to create what they need.”

Just as engineering challenges for kids causes them to use imagination and creative thinking, so does limiting what is in a classroom. Less is more–and helps us discover more inventive ways of using what we do have.

“choose to leave behind [things] that restrict and confine them, anything that inhibits them…to the ideas, people and practices that enable them to explore and discover new gifts, new possibilities.”

In my 38 years of teaching, I have taught in 7 different elementary schools, all changes by my choice.  I have taught all grades K-5, including combinations of K-1, 1-2, 2-3 and 4-5, most of them by my choice as well. I absolutely do not waste time in situations where I cannot grow. 

“consciously choose to leave behind what confines us…to discover new capacities”

Every move I have made, every grade I have taught, every teammate I have had, every principal I have worked with, for or under has taught me something about the system and myself, some obviously more pleasant and productive than others. Within or after each move, I always discover new capacities within myself. Moments that confuse or astound me give me an opportunity to explore my beliefs and understandings. I like change of my surroundings and to explore new grades and schools as visits away from my comfort zone allow me to  “widen [my] view of what’s possible.”

“good ideas and innovations travel trans-locally through networks of relationship[s].”

My students understand the power of social networks. I have a former student, Nicolas, who is relaunching his two year old blog–and reached out to me to “tweet it out.” Gabe recently asked me to tweet out his blog post about “getting off manmade things” as well.

Thank you, fellow thinkers, for sharing here on the Co-op, on Twitter, on Facebook, on Pinterest, on wikis, nings and blogs and at conferences, whether they be virtual or face to face. You inspire me, you provoke me, you humble me, you make me think and reflect and I am honored to be able to learn from all of you. My wish for all of you is that you can choose to leave the limiting behind and change and grow through your networks of relationships.

About Paula White

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


9 thoughts on “Choosing to Leave the Limiting Behind

  1. Quoting: “I absolutely do not waste my time in situations where I cannot grow.” What a great statement to live by! AND I am very comfortable in believe it’s the author’s approach in the classroom when paraphrasing this into a great statement for ALL educators to keep in the forefront when facilitating their students’ effective learning: I ABSOLUTELY DO NOT WASTE MY TIME IN LEARNING SITUATIONS WHERE MY STUDENTS CANNOT GROW.

    Oh, the power and comfort and join actions resulting from regular,self-assessment!

    Posted by John Bennett | April 14, 2012, 10:49 pm
  2. Paula, As usual, I am inspired and thrilled by this post. It speaks so powerfully to me about what is great about the COOP, and also about your vision of teaching and learning, and how you create it in your classroom. The respect for everyone here: yourself, your students, their parents, and the sense of the possibility if learning is invitational and filled with expectation of potential–that’s all here in abundance.

    This post reminds me of another favorite quote about learning, one we have up in our kitchen and I learned from another great educator, Carrie Lobman:

    “Learning involves doing what you do not know how to do, which is not the same as pretending you know what you are doing. Pretending you know what you doing is often detrimental to learning. It keeps you from asking questions or getting help because you are trying not to be found out. Doing what you don’t know how to do, on the other hand, is about taking risks and doing new things, not just sticking with what you already know.

    If you only do what you know how to do you can better at what you already know, but it is not possible to do something qualitatively different.”

    -Unscripted Learning: Using Improv Activities Across the K-8 Curriculum,
    by Carrie Lobman and Matthew Lundquist (2007)

    I love being your colleague.


    Posted by Kirsten Olson | April 15, 2012, 10:09 am
    • Love that quote, Kirsten, thanks for sharing…”learning involves doing what you do not know how to do.” That is something the people who make state tests need to understand!

      I would love, as an adult, to live and work in the environment you describe–“respect for everyone here: yourself, your students, their parents, and the sense of the possibility if learning is invitational and filled with expectation of potential.” I think my post here is about creating that for oneself, however one needs to and doing whatever needs to be done to make it so.

      Thanks for the reflection back-I always appreciate you letting me know what you hear and pushing beyond it in some way that makes me think more deeply!

      Posted by Paula White | April 15, 2012, 1:10 pm
  3. I am also reading Walk out, Walk On and excited to shares some of my thoughts in the near future! Thank you for sharing your reflections here!

    Posted by dloitz | April 15, 2012, 12:47 pm
  4. This is beautiful, Paula! Many, many thanks for this post. I love how you acknowledge and empower your students both in your classes AND with their parents…and how you’re not afraid to learn from anyone, no matter whether teammate, student, parent or administrator. As you mention in your post, CARING is such an important aspect of both educating kids and working with others. 🙂

    You’re teaching LIFE lessons to your students (and to your Co-op readers!) by example.

    Looking forward to re-reading this post many times, now that I’ve bookmarked it.

    Posted by Jen Lilienstein - Founder, | April 15, 2012, 4:13 pm
  5. Here’s to no more kids or educators working in places in which they cannot grow –

    I’m totally, eagerly waiting for your teaching memoir.


    Posted by Chad Sansing | April 17, 2012, 1:03 pm

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