Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Powerful Learning: Heard, not herd

Sunday 2 pm. Snow is falling and six of us sit at each table. The conversation among the educators from LOMED congregations flow with the courses of our meal. In the Kosher restaurant waiting for the waitress we learned about each other's travels, and birth places and books read.

"I just finished the book by Mimi Alford, the JFK intern. She says it wasn't rape, but you could give it another name that isn't legal." And just as quickly the life chatter jumps to, "Here's a picture of my daughter on a wooden horse. She's one already."

Over appetizers of humas, pita and meat cigars descriptions of high impact models are shared.

Mara, dark hair pulled back behind her ears, describes, "A new model for fourth graders. We tried it this year with ten families. Every Sunday parents join their children for 45 minutes of learning. Sometimes it is with the rabbi and sometimes it is with their children," sipping her tea she continues. "We had a gathering of all the fourth grade families. yes, the largest group who participated were the families in the new model. And I loved hearing from a father, 'I talk to my son during the week about what we learn here on Sundays."

Marcie describes in detail and then promises to write up "the highlight of my 25 years as a Jewish educator."

Over shish kabobs, yellow rice and okra, Ed talks about the challenge of getting sixth graders to listen to one another. Joan and Stephanie offer seasoned advice. Ed is wiling to try.

By time the baklava and black coffee (no non dairy creamer allowed) come we have turned over the difference between conversation and discussion.

We agree that the intimacy of conversation acts to forge relationship.

We explore the challenge of educators getting out of the way, and allowing the learner to be at the center.

We delve into texts from the rabbis and from folks like Parker Palmer on conversational learning.

Each educator identifies ways to create an environment that sets a context for social and functional conversations. Ed considers David Leiberman's advice to use a lava lamp and create a ritual like sitting around a camp fire.

If we know that Jews are on a life journey where there isn't one path, the big idea is to be a Jew is to "talk it out" with others.

Jewish education that lights a life, not just a candle, helps the tweeting generation develop the Jewish art of conversation.

We teach life wrestling: conversation an essential hold. We have to struggle with the big and little issues. Are you learning how to listen?

Tip: Give each student three craft sticks. Each time they speak put a stick down. When you are out of sticks, you have to listen.

Before the check came I heard:
*This is the best living and learning
*I wish the teachers I mentor could have been here
*Everyone got to speak

Earlier in the year when these leading teachers met in homes for our Living and Learning they received the NPR short story collection "Listening is an Act of Love."

The title of the book reveals the power of this learning session for teachers.

Learners were not herded into one room for an activity and then herded into another room. I confess we've done the herding more than once

This time learning (2.5 hours) was characterized by time for relationship building, rich content , self discovery and content that applied to practice

Listening is in the learning. An act of Love?

If this was powerful learning for educators, what would it look like for children and families to be "hearded," not "herded."