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Leadership and Activism, Learning at its Best, Philosophical Meanderings, Student Voices

A Thin Line Between Silence and Voice

A few days ago, David Loitz, Imagining Learning’s Seed Steward, posted a rough cut of a new film he is making about the Voices of the young people (and some of the adults) who have been involved in Listening Sessions.  In watching it, in listening to those familiar faces and voices that I met just once during the 3 hours that we were together, I was moved to tears. Since then, I have been asking myself what those tears were about and then tonight, an answer came.

My intuitive voice within said, “For most of our young people, there is a very thin space between their inner light and the dimming of it.”

Perhaps more than ever – in watching that wonderful film – I realized that today the greatest gift we can give our young people is to create a larger space between their inner light and the dimming of it. Not just a larger space, but the largest space our hearts can possibly conceive.

This, to me, is why the transformation of education is so important. There is no greater gift we can give our future generations, than to co-create – with our young people today, a learning journey that turns their light into a bonfire.  As I watched that film and saw the glowing light in their eyes, as they spoke about their visions for changing education and about the empowerment they felt, I got, at an even deeper level, the power of listening as a way to begin.

SharingAsking young people to step into a circle of trust and authenticity and share their inner wisdom, a wisdom they often don’t know they actually have sometimes, is a beautiful experience. But as you might imagine, young people today are so wary of adults and their methods of manipulation, coercion, pushing their own agenda, etc., that it requires an absolutely pure environment for them to decide they will open up.

But this is what we strive for in the three hour Listening Sessions with teens that we lead all across the country. Through listening, we are working with them to build a national collective voice on the wisdom of young people about how they would transform education, if it were left completely up to them. In the space we create and hold for them to emerge within, they share their ideas, tell stories and ultimately paint a co-created vision of a learning journey they would love to experience.

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These paintings are visual stories of their wisdom, creativity and passion for life – of their inner light. By repeating Listening Sessions with young people from all walks of life, all over the country, a series of themes begin to synthesize and ultimately, will become their collective voice

To date, we have led 20 Listening Sessions in 7 states, predominantly on the west coast and in the south. Most recently we conducted 6 Listening Sessions in South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. Student responses during the tour were overwhelmingly positive with us twice being asked, “Can you come back tomorrow?”

I think young people are saying this for two reasons: the first is that while the debate about changing education goes on feverishly across the country, young people are not being invited into the process. They have so many ideas, feelings and insights into how to change school, yet are noticeably missing from the conversation. This is a very disempowering place for them – a place of dimming.

The other reason they are so excited about being in the listening sessions, is that through our act of trusting and believing in them to be able to offer meaningful content into the educational conversation, they feel seen and heard – by us and by each other. The first thing we usually hear at the end of the Listening Session, is, “Thank you for listening, no one ever asks us what we think.” Our hosts have said they have literally seen a transformation occur within them, right before their eyes.

Listening seems a simple act, but it requires a deep caring, a complete absence of agenda and ego and a delight to hear from them. Creating a space for the purity of their voices to emerge is a sacred act, and it is one that leads to a brightening that is almost blinding.

In working to keep the Listening Sessions as pure as possible, I have always shied away from asking any organizations or people to contribute to our effort. I realize now, that instinctively, I have been trying to protect that distance between young people’s light and the dimming of it and let them fill it with their own beauty. I have not wanted anyone else’s agenda or beliefs to shift us from our purpose to just listen without any attachment to outcome.

ListeningsessionmapBut due to an unexpected outpouring of requests to do Listening Sessions, we can no longer continue to self fund Imagining Learning. I am delighted to say that the word has gotten around about what we are doing and we now have more than 35 communities requesting we come and lead at least one Listening Session!

So for the first time, we are asking others to support our work through a national campaign in partnership with IncitEd, a new crowdsourcing site (, solely committed to helping educational efforts receive funding. I love the idea of crowdsourcing because the giving, without attachments, will enable us to continue our purposeful way of Listening.

Being Stewards of an effort to bring the voices of young people forward, holding the space between their light and the dimming of it, is a gift to those of us involved. May we, as well as you who also hold them, grow in sensitivity and ability to do so.




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