Nurturing Big Ideas

In July, 2013, I learned that being a Bezos scholar-teacher is both challenging and inspiring.  I have always been a bit of a distracted teacher with too many projects and too little time, and I was suddenly thrust into this world of notables who are both movers and shakers in their worlds.  I soaked up a lot of learning, but I still don’t know what I did with my room key.  Learn more about the Bezos Scholars Program.


Check this out:  While walking into one of the Aspen conference rooms, NBC’s Andrea Mitchell walked through the same door as I did-at the same time!  Andrea Mitchell!

And then for some amazing moments, Col. Stanley McChrystal and I talked about my classes that include current autobiographies of Afghan women.  And if that wasn’t cool enough, he asked if I want to have my picture taken with him.  Me, who can never find the bottom of my desk, had my picture taken with Col. McChrystal.  It was a week of seriously surreal moments for me, a high school teacher from Oregon’s Willamette Valley who lost her room key during one amazing week in July.

The days at the Aspen Festival began at 7:45 AM and ended at 9:30 PM.  And the hours in-between are jammed with ideas, research, and courageous people who were changing the way the world thinks and acts.  Imagine spending the day listening to the stories of the women from the Middle East and their inspiring stories of Taliban, rioting mobs and cultural norms that prevented them from safety and education.  I was changed again and again at the Festival by stories, technology and ideas may shape my students’ lives.  I’m changed again, just remembering and writing about my experience from that week in July.

More importantly than mere exposure to big ideas, the ideas were not just bandied about, but put into action, which creates change.  And this change could make a better life for everyone.  See “Mining Big Ideas”.

Isn’t that what teaching is about?

Fast forward into my second week of teaching, and I wonder how my July learning will impact me as I open learning to my new students.    My charge is not to review my notes from the Festival, but to Teach It Forward.  I must continue to change the way I approach school, and I invite you to join me.

How?  First, there is a world of passion and excitement outside of the textbook.  We must march into the future, not with a page number and five-paragraph essay, but with a changed heart that creates students that are fully human because they know they are a part of this world and they can make it better for everyone.

Students must know that stories of heroes are not meant to be read and comprehended (although that was the sole goal of No Child Left Behind), but rather deep lessons to be replicated through their lives, true companions to inform future decisions and informed compassion.  Read “How Moments of Good Transformed My High School” by Molly Freed.

The bell for fifth period has rung, and I have to return to my classroom because it is time for another session.  But here’s what I’m thinking, behind the blooming piles of student writing to read and the blinking emails, beyond the 20+ more tasks I must do before I leave for the day: I shook hands with Madeline Albright!  I am forever changed, and I allow that change to live with me, informing me even now.  Shazam!


About Teaching it Forward

We are high school language arts teachers in Oregon.
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