All weekend, I have been listening to NPR while I enter grades and work… and many people are talking about the Rwandan genocide. Most recently, I heard an interview with Paul Rusesabagina, the man featured in Hotel Rwanda and it sent me looking back on a pivotal moment in my teaching career. I was able to take a group of middle school students to hear Mr. Rusesabagina speak in Flagstaff during the 2006-2007 school year. This was also right around the time when I first started blogging, and I must say that I am grateful that I wrote down the process of our learning and my thinking at that time, it is important to be able to look back on it. Here are some snippets from the series of reflections I had while teaching The Power of One unit with 7th and 8th grade students.
In Never Again, I wrote, “This is a new topic for me, and uncharted territory… I have faith that this will be a meaningful story to tell and path to take with the students”
Then as the unit progressed, I wrote Telling the Story…, “The story is powerful in the written word, becomes vivid with the audio, transforms to mesmerizing with video… the kids get this in a way that I cannot ‘tell’ the story of 200 years ago. The capability to bring this digital information to the students revolutionizes the way I teach, transforms the way they learn and transcends any bubble test the ‘powers that be’ come up with…. Starting on Monday the students will begin to tell their stories and I look forward to the challenge that this will bring for all of us.”
and toward the end of the unit, I wrote Transcending the Bubble, which is probably the first time I wrote down my frustrations with how we were trending way too hard toward testing and said, “I wish that the field that I worked in is concerned with more than the ability of a child to bubble. The conversation in mass media education is too focused on hurdling a low bar of expectations, while we fail to see the potential of all kids to transcend not only the bar… but also the bubble. What will it take to turn the conversation from one of certainty to one of untold possibility?”
The class was also featured in the local newspaper, The Power of One Inspires middle schoolers.
What I didn’t have a chance to write was about meeting Mr. Rusesabagina. I found my way into the event with the students by offering to drive the van. Mr. Rusesabagina spent the entire lunch talking with the students while the adults all had lunch together. It was perfect, he was there for the kids and I could not have been more thrilled with the amount of time that those students had to spend with him. At the end of the lunch all of the adults were introduced to Mr. Rusesabagina and I don’t think I have ever seen a person more focused on both an intro and then a thoughtful comment. He was totally present, listening and appreciating the work of the teachers. While I know he must meet thousands of people each year, when he shook my hand, he was totally present. To this day, it stays with me, his capacity to be present in the moment of not only sharing his story but listening to learn the stories of others. It was quite a day.
The project we worked through is called The Power of One and was the first time I chose to let go a bit and really empower students to make choices about their learning, and what they felt strongly about researching. The resulting videos are rough, technically (another example, and another), but for me it signaled a shift in how I saw my role as a teacher. Students stepped up in a way that was new and invigorated. This unit was incredibly important from a content standpoint, but for me it was also a turning point in my career. While I do not blog nearly as much as others, I am so glad that I was moved to document this unit. Looking back on this over the years has been instructive in my own development and for that I am grateful.