Letting go for learning

I have been reading lately about positive education and feel pulled to integrate its ideas and theories into my practice.

Recently, in my junior English class, we watched the film Inside Out: a spirited Pixar animation that playfully explores the emotional tensions experienced in adolescence.

I had a clear plan: introduce the ideas of kindness, empathy and dedication in an accessible way, so that it could blend into our class culture over time. At the conclusion of the film, I hurried the students into action, instructing them to make visual the concepts we had discussed by working in small groups to draw connections to their school, home, and social lives.

Inside Out

The class energy was vibrant and positive and I left the room with a warm feeling, satisfied by the learning that I had seen occur and excited to see its impact on our classes to come.

Yet, as they often do, and should, an observer revealed insights hidden from my view.

The observer was my school mentor, who regularly sits in on my Wednesday morning classes. Her thoughts: “There’s one other thing I would have done.”

And wonderful advice:

Give the students time to bask in the treat. Hold the space for the dialogue that could emerge by allowing them a moment to relax and for it to wash over them.

Her words felt immediately true, drawing inspiration from Scharmer’s guidance I had read before:

Possibility concerns the willingness to go to the edge of the abyss, to let go, to lean into the unknown — and take the leap.

Meaning is stitched into the fabric of our experiences. Pulling out the magnifying glass and holding it up for my students is one way to reveal a lesson’s purpose. Another, more authentic approach, is to introduce the tools and frame the process, then give space for the wind to blow and the spark to light. The resulting fire is unending.

I am confident that my students did learn something new about kindness and empathy as a result of my teaching. But it’s also likely that my dedication to the plan paradoxically undermined the larger, more important lesson.

Next time, I’ll let go for learning.

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