Taking Right Steps

Yesterday was the first Thursday of the month, Labyrinth Walk day for me.  As I walked the familiar route, I was reminded once again that every walk is pretty much the same (on the outside) as every other walk, but every walk is also vastly different (on the inside).  There was an unusually large crowd, and we all walked at different rates and for different purposes, of course.  We were, in some ways, a community, even though we didn’t all know each other and we didn’t speak as we passed each other or gathered, together but separate, in the center.  But we were all taking right steps – the right steps for each of us on that particular evening, and for a few moments we shared our journeys in a companionable, charged, and highly communicative silence.

For me personally, the walk seemed unusually timeless.  Sometimes I’m very aware that I’m moving slowly through those familiar-but-strange pathways; other times, it seems I’ve arrived at the center (or come back to the starting-and-ending point) without spending any time at all.  Thursday evening didn’t feel fast, but it didn’t feel slow either.  Oddly, the phrase that came to my mind as I walked was “restored a hundred-fold” – and I’m still pondering what that means for me and what the right steps might be in light of that phrase.

It’s a sunny, but very cold day here – I’m glad we avoided the snow that’s afflicting so many places today!  But the wind howled around the house last night, and when it woke me up, I was grateful for heat and shelter on such a bitterly cold night.  A friend in a much colder place had been debating, in a series of Facebook posts, about whether or not to join some neighbors in skating on a frozen pond in the thickly falling snow.  “You know you want to, and you probably need to!” I thought – and I was glad to see, this morning, that the deep desire and joy had won out over the practical concerns.

Sometimes the next right steps are like that: they don’t look all that logical or practical to a distant observer, snug in the warm, familiar comfort of How We’ve Always Done Things.  Sometimes you just have to listen to that inner voice that calls you out into the storm.

Responding to this Google+ thread, Dennis raised some excellent questions about words I wrote a few days ago:

When people come together in joyful learning communities or communities of practice or communities of any kind, spending time well is important because the time is necessarily limited and there’s some kind of goal or purpose you want to accomplish together.  Sometimes, if you know each other well, you agree on how to spend the time – there wasn’t any need for my family to discuss and negotiate our schedule on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, because we all had similar priorities for the time and the space.  But if you’re building a community, it’s important to bring those priorities and assumptions to the surface, to talk about them, to ask and not just assume.

 For Dennis, as a builder of online and fluid communities, time isn’t as much of a factor, and the goal or purpose of his community is more organic, less subject to external influences than the goals and purposes of a learning community that grows in the midst of a class in a 20th-century-model school.  Is it really necessary, he wondered, or even possible to “bring priorities and assumptions to the surface, to talk about them, to ask and not just assume?”  How can you have those kinds of conversations with a novice learner who questions (or just wonders about) a decision you made from a place of expertise?

I had a feeling Dennis and I were operating from slightly (or significantly) different definitions of building, in particular, and possibly of what it means to bring things to the surface.  I definitely don’t think you have to bring everything to the surface all the time; that’s a recipe for confusion and chaos, not community!  But at the same time, the very questions that Ms. X or Mr. Y might dismiss as “a stupid waste of time” are often full of profound wisdom, if only you’re open to look for it … and if only you’re willing to take right steps, to engage with the questioner, to look below the surface.  “Mr. S,” U asked me more than two decades ago, “do you mean to tell me that Latin and Greek is not the same thing?”  As a young teacher with “so much to cover,” I was annoyed and surprised … but I did take the time to try to understand and answer her question … and I’m still thinking about it, because there are important ways that different languages both are and are not the same thing as each other.  I wonder what Ms. X or Mr. Y would have said!

On this cold, windy, but sunny morning, I hope we’ll all be open to deep questions even when they present themselves as “a stupid waste of time” … and to next right steps even when they seem odd or ridiculous.  Go ahead and skate on that metaphorical pond, and go ahead and ask the “stupid question” that turns out to be profound … and go ahead and enjoy the learning community that forms when you least expected it!

I wonder what new adventures await us all today!

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Published in: on January 3, 2014 at 1:53 pm  Comments (3)  

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  1. Nice post. My fourth graders and I pondered our goals and protocols the other day. I presented three main goals and four main protocols. We talked about the meaning of team and my role as one who serves them. Then I asked them to add any new goals or protocols they had. They added a few. Every time we meet and have this goal setting conversation, I watch their shoulders relax and their minds open as they know the classroom is their learning and growing space. Now it’s time for the forward movement as our goals unfold in ways that will comfort, challenge, and surprise us. Thanks, as always, for keeping me thinking about life and times in education and elsewhere. I intend to spend this snowy day with reflection, writing, and perhaps some cooking too. Enjoy Justin!

  2. Thank you, Maureen! It’s so important for all learners at all levels to have a learning and growing space … and the more work I do on building (or helping to build) such a space, the more important I realize it is. I hope you enjoy your peaceful, snowy day!

  3. […] was going to call this post “Taking Right Steps,” but I realized I’d already used that title earlier this year.  Rereading that post, I’m struck by the amount of change since early […]


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