I was brought up to think on my own; to color outside the lines; to be creative, and always ask “why” even if there were no answers to the questions. I have always been curious asking why we are here; why the grass is green and the sky is blue; why being passionate about something makes you feel so good; and even why there were so many questions. A few years ago, I wrote what I believe and don’t believe about learning which still works for me today.
To not believe…
What do you believe and don’t believe about learning?
It’s been wonderful having conversations with amazing educators in the Rethinking Learning podcast series. In doing several of the podcasts and learning about their pasts, I decided I wanted to reflect on how I got to now.
If you know me, you may not believe that I was actually very shy. I don’t remember much of kindergarten except that I had problems coloring inside the lines. My mom was an artist and told me there were no lines and to draw where ever I wanted. She made all my clothes and finger curled my hair so I looked like Shirley Temple. She made me believe that I was beautiful, smart, and could do anything. When I went to school, reality hit me. I had trouble fitting in with everyone else. Some of the other kids made fun of my clothes and my curly hair. I didn’t look like everyone else. Actually, the real problem was because I didn’t want to follow the rules, so I kept my mouth shut.
My life at home was so different than my experiences at school. My parents told me I was beautiful and asked me every day what I did that day. I had a voice at the dinner table and with my sisters. Yet, in school, I had very few interactions with others and felt invisible. My teachers made me sit still, fold my hands, keep quiet, and only go to the bathroom when they allowed it.
Learning My Options
In third grade, I had a new teacher who believed in play, being creative and encouraging everyone’s voice. We did projects in groups. I remember creating a paper-maché map, sitting wherever we wanted, dancing, and playing fun roles in plays. We did a lot of giggling and had fun in class. He took time to get to know all of us. It was the first time I really enjoyed school and felt like someone cared. Halfway through the school year, he was evaluated by the principal and the classroom changed. He made even stricter rules than I had before. We had to sit in rows. I couldn’t believe this was happening. Learning was fun and now back to the same old ways. Fourth grade was even stricter and I only spoke when called on. My parents were told that I wasn’t going to go very far if I didn’t follow the rules. My parents were my advocates, but there weren’t that many options for me in school other than following the rules and keeping my mouth shut when I was young.
Nothing much changed in my K-12 world. A few teachers took the time to get to know me, but most of the time I just went through the motions. Very few ever asked me how I learn, why I was not getting something or even interacted with me. I learned how to “do” school. A high school counselor told me that I may want to look for a job instead of college. What? I loved learning but not the way school was then. I was just being compliant because that’s what the system seemed to want me to do. Now I wish I stood up and stood out. I did want to go to college and learn more.
Finding my Voice
So I went to a community college, and that’s where I found my voice. I tried a little of everything and realized I could do something if I put my mind to it. I loved writing and wrote a poem that my English teacher said was really good. He asked me to read it in the quad to other students at noon. I did, and they loved it. Wow! He then published my poem in the school newspaper and received wonderful reviews. I started writing more and wrote a short story that I entered into a contest and won. Looking back, I just wonder who I would be now if I knew I could write and found my voice earlier.
I do have to say now when I look back at my younger self, I wish I appreciated my privileged life. I had a family who cared for me and believed in me. I went to good schools. The teachers only did what they were taught or told to do. It was just the system that wasn’t working for me. I made a choice back when I was younger to be compliant.
Later when I realized it was my choice on how I was going to learn, that I decided I was going to do whatever I could to change the education system. I knew that every child needed to have a voice in how and what they learn. They need to know they can have a voice and make a choice on how and what they want to learn. That’s why I went into education. Maybe I had to go through what I went through to be who I am today. I know so many others who are adamant in changing the system because of their own experiences. I tried to change the system for my children, but it’s not that easy to change it as a parent. That’s another post to write. So through my journey, I eventually found my voice and discovered that my purpose is to share stories of awesome educators, administrators, and learners and how they changed the way they teach and learn. That’s why I have this website and started my podcast series, Conversations on Learning.
So I believe…
We have to transform teaching and learning because the system still encourages compliance for most of our kids and teachers. But things are changing. The future is here now. Businesses want people who are creative, critical thinkers and can self-advocate for what they believe in. We need to prepare our kids to be global citizens in a world that encourages agency so they embrace and demonstrate creativity, imagination, and innovation.
Let’s be there for all children and educators so they have a voice in discovering their passion and purpose for learning.
How did you find your voice?
What is your purpose for learning?
Interested in checking out the Rethinking Learning podcasts and reflections, click on the podcast tab at the top, the logo below, or go to https://barbarabray.net/podcasts/
For more information about Barbara’s book, Define Your WHY, go to this page or click on the image of the book for resources, questions, and links.