Two weeks ago, I was fortunate to be part of a really dynamic opening night line-up at the TEDxSummit in Doha, Qatar. I was asked to speak about the reaction to my initial talk in 2010 and how my life has been impacted by the reaction. It was filmed, but I am not sure that it will post online due to the odd nature of the talk… it was a talk about a talk (very meta). The trip allowed me to interact with a range of really wonderfully interesting people. I met Hans Rosling, a man I have thanked many times inside my classroom for Gapminder. Special thanks to Nate Mook, Bruno Guissani, Jaime Siordia and Andrada Romagno for all their help in the endeavor. It was an event that I was grateful to be included.
So, I am posting my slides and text of the talk. I didn’t deliver it word for word and was actually pretty frustrated that I missed an important line at the end… but here is what I crafted and (almost) delivered to the audience in the Katara Amphitheater on April 16th, 2012. So here it is…
Nearly 2 years ago I was on a river trip with 10 kids from Philadelphia. For 4 days we were completely unplugged. On our way back to Philadelphia, we heard of the Oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. My students were oblivious to the history of such events, man-made disasters. That conversation sparked an idea that I should do a series of environmental history lessons upon return. Those lessons were shared with teachers on the internet, one of whom invited me to his online show to talk more about it, that show was attended by a writer for the NYTimes who then asked me to write about, which was then read by an individual who shared it with the organizers of TEDxMidAtlantic. And on a sunny Friday afternoon, I received an email inviting me to join their event. I enthusiastically accepted.
I thought hard about what my big idea was and I ended up where I often end up, that we underestimate the potential of our young people. So few people share positive stories of children and schools, in the US. I wanted to use that time and space to share ideas about what can happen when you look to a more modern and connected version of learning. Let the kids voices tell their own stories, crafting their learning through real experiences and learning how to fail productively along the way. It was well received. Immediately after the talk I was approached by many of the attendees wanting to share their own stories of school and learning. This was a special event, carefully designed to allow for connection, bouncing ideas and thoughtfulness. It was positively delightful to be able to share that space with a diverse crowd from all walks of life and watch the ideas percolate, connect and grow.
Then I went back to my high school classroom, where 128 students were ready to dig back into the learning. Life went on. However, one month later, after a morning of teaching, I went to check in online. I had a ton of new twitter followers and hits on my blog. I thought, oh no… spammers. It took a minute for the realization of what had occurred to sink in… my talk was the TEDtalk of the day. To say things have not been the same since would be a bit of an understatement.
As a history teacher, you do a job that is intensely meaningful, are blessed to be welcomed into the lives of young people looking to maximize their potential but the occupation is not one where you see a ton of attention. And all of the sudden, I was receiving email from people around the world… parents with questions about how to find these types of learning spaces for their own children, teachers looking to reinvigorate their classrooms and schools, relatives checking in, journalists requesting time, a particularly amusing moment where someone I met in Ecuador 4 years ago randomly saw the video and reached out to say hi…. Former students have had professors show it and were able to say… hey, that’s my teacher. I’ve been interviewed on TV, filmed in my classroom, presented all over the US, and flown to Australia (twice). Opportunity, serendipity and chance have all combined to put me on a very interesting path. It has been an amazing and humbling experience.
But here is the truth of it all… its not about me.
I am the product of a network of people sharing, growing and learning, that started on a farm decades ago and continues on in my school and in online networked spaces, today. Its about being part of a community where ideas can be shared, built upon and grow. Its about the real spaces where we gather, like TEDx, to start this sharing and the digital spaces where the ideas take root, to grow into completely new versions of themselves. The message of an individual has never had such an opportunity to amplify as it does in our socially networked world, where the voice of an ordinary person can find agency and audience.
Everything can be different if we have the will to connect and build a version of the world that reflects the full measure of our potential. These events, like the classroom, are chock full of possibility. There is potential to identify problems, brainstorm solutions, ponder complexity, sit in awe of simplicity, celebrate joy, applaud both success and failure, and then go out and do something with that conversation that started on that one day…. because to only share ideas, but never act would be the greatest oversight with these experiences like TED and the classroom. The talking and sharing is only the beginning.
What I have come to believe about the success of my talk is that it is but a reflection of a world that wants to honor children with an education that is worthy of their potential. Being asked to speak widely about the thing I am most passionate about has been a gift. Much like my voice was amplified through TED, I challenge all of you to find those teacher and student voices from your community schools in need of audience and agency, amplify them. Honor them with your time and attention. And although I formerly spoke of embracing failure, these past 18 months have reminded me that when you experience success, you must never forget to graciously thank those that contributed and supported you along the way. Because my life and this whole experience is evidence that success is very much a collaborative effort.