Monday, December 17, 2012

Thinking and Knowing

One of the reasons I love teaching is that sometimes students have amazing insights that they associate with me.  It is true that at times I say things that "click" with students, that flip a switch that brings a little more light to their understanding.  Other times I'm given undeserved credit for a student's evolution of thinking. Those are the times that I learn more from students than I teach, yet somehow I get credit for bringing them to new wisdom. That happened recently.

A couple weeks ago, I had the great privilege to talk to middle-schoolers at St. Leonard School abut my experiences in India.    My goals for the presentation were not only to teach students about India, but also to help them see how much they have in comparison to others in the world, to foster a sense of gratitude and sharing, and to empower them to step beyond their comfort zone towards the "other," whoever that may be.   To make these goals clear, I issued four challenges at the end of my presentation:  1) to make a gratitude list, 2) to get rid of things they no longer use and give them away, 3) to add something to their Christmas list that didn't benefit them (such as a donation to OxfamHeifer International, or a local charity), and 4) to step outside of their comfort zone by talking to someone they don't know or trying something new.  Perhaps I could have challenged them further, but I thought the above might be a good start.

Yesterday I had the equally great privilege of reading letters they wrote me as a follow-up to my presentation. In reading the letters, I see that between my talk and teacher follow-up, students did pick up on my intended messages. Certainly, many were intrigued by India itself, by the differences they saw between my students there and their own lives here.  Some told me how they had responded to the challenges I issued.  One gave away two garbage bags of clothes.  Another talked to someone new.  Some simply said that they wanted to follow through on the challenges.

And then I read the last letter, written by a seventh grader.  When I write above about undeserved credit, I'm referring to her letter.  Perhaps something I said triggered her thinking process, but she took what I said further than anything I communicated (a teacher's greatest hope).

I'd like to share her words, because they offer a wisdom worth repeating.

Dear Miss Cory, 

Thank you for coming to our school and teaching us about your trip to India. I really enjoyed the stories you had to share.  Thank you. 

I learned that you can make a huge difference in someone's life, or even a large impact on the world. I also learned what other kids my age have to go through each day. It made me think outside of my own life and about someone else's. 

When I first walked in, I remembered thinking: What could one person do to impact the world? But I walked out knowing what I could do to change the world for better, not for the worse. I also realized the difference between thinking and knowing. Thinking leads to knowing, but the difference between the two is phenominal. Thinking leads to doubting yourself and your abilities, where knowing is realizing your abilities and using them to change the world.  Finally, my question to you is: If one person can make a difference in someone's life, what can we all do together? 

St. Leonard student

How can we help each other take our doubt-full (but necessary) thinking to the empowerment of knowing?  What can we do together when we know and trust our abilities, know and trust the abilities of others, and know we can use them to change the world?  The world of possibilities grows...

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