Yesterday was the first time I let someone else drive the rental car to or from Portland. Definitely unexpected. I was exhausted and opted to sleep most of the five and half our drive south while my cohorts chatted away about classrooms and literacy circles.
We were coming back from ITSC 2012 (#itsc12), there in Portlandia. I’ve been going for about four years now and I have always preached to the interwebs and the twitters that it gets better each year. This year was no different — by far the best year yet. What sets ITSC apart is the sense of community that accompanies the sessions and workshops. It literally encompasses the entire conference.
As a part of the conference’s evolution, this year’s program included a Soirée of Slides. The premise was based on the Ignite style presentations — five minutes, 20 slides, 15 second transitions. I had known about it for some time. I had several ideas fermenting in my mind but none of them called to me. So I procrastinated like any other overworked and underslept human being. I prepared most of the slides at the hotel, between sessions and the many late night hangouts.
But where was I going to go with it? I had no idea. Well, that’s a lie. I had a couple ideas, but wasn’t sure which direction to take. I had the fortune of having dinner at Tim Lauer‘s house with several of the ITSC cast. And that’s where I met Rushton Hurley. We shared our plans for the Soirée and he convinced me that my two ideas were not entirely separate, but parallel and powerful.
See for yourself.
It was a special story that I had to share this past Tuesday. I still get emotional when I think of the compassion and generosity of Ivy — her immediate willingness to give of her own to someone that may never understand what all this means now to so many.
My student was at school today. I still wasn’t sure how I was going to approach the situation and my (our, thanks Jen and Ivy) plan for a book drive. She met me in the principal’s office. I asked the school counselor to be there as well. Just the three of us. We sat almost knee to knee, her and I. And we began to talk. I asked her about the recent events. We discussed her thought process over the past several months and what had happened to so many books. He answer was simple. She didn’t know. She was not sure why she took the books other than that she wanted to read them. She talked about taking books that she thought her two year-old sister would like to hear or books that she could share with her neighbors. As the conversation went on I could see in her eyes that she really did not know what she had done was “wrong”; that the currency she had used to buy social interactions was not earned but stolen.
My heart broke again. This time, however, it was because I knew my reaction was the right one. Her eyes grew larger and brighter as I explained what her new responsibility would be in light of this situation. She said things like, “I’ve never done that before.” and “I get to be in-charge?”, and “I wonder who else would want to help.” So starting Monday, she will head our community book drive and organize a book-trade in which anyone can take or leave a book.
She may not have left the room fully understanding the moral dilema she perpetuated, but instead she left knowing that there is a better way to share her love for books with others.
As I stood up to hug this little girl my eyes met the teary eyes of our school counselor. Just moments before this meeting, she had asked the usual questions regarding punishments, detentions, and possible suspension for stealing. The unexpectedness of it all was more than she anticipated. She then saw what I saw — a little girl that already lived in a world of turmoil and confusion. Today was our opportunity to bring her out of that world, if only for a moment, and empower her instead of the expected belittling we so often justify.
I think my heart grew yesterday and even more today. I may need a bigger sleeve to wear it on after all this.
To do the unexpected leaves us vulnerable; vulnerable to unwanted criticism; vulnerable to the judgements of our peers; sets us up for failure; and often challenges tradition. That’s why as teachers, as humans, we often live for the predictable. We crave habit. It’s easy. It’s comfortable. I could have raised hell, I could have had the principal, SRO, and parents all in there to yell at her. That was the expected response; the easy way out for anyone involved, except for her.
And that’s why the unexpected can be so powerful. Today a little girl walked out ready to serve instead of walking out afraid of what awaited her.
Do something unexpected. Empower in place of belittle or be-bored. Only you can make that choice. You might like it, whether you expect it or not.