The Partnership for Change, with the efforts of Fellow Sarah Bertucci and IDEA, recently organized a 30+ person trip to tour innovative schools in New York City. We Megabussed our diverse caravan down and back, saw between us over a dozen schools in 48 hours, ate some street food, and ran ourselves all over Manhattan and the outer Boroughs soaking up all the wisdom from a host of cool schools and learning institutions. The trip was eye opening and inspiring to all those who attended and the subsequent conversations have had the gleam of boldness and new paradigms in their eyes. It was a good reminder of the simple, and somewhat self-evident, value of stepping away from your day to day and challenging yourself to re-think what you know.
Let’s face it, we are creatures of habit. Even the best and brightest and most open seeming people you know are stuck in their ways, albeit in ways they may not even understand, much less notice. Try mentioning it to them and see what happens. Such is human nature.
Don’t worry, there’s a “but” coming…
But let’s imagine we decided to turn this into a positive. Let’s imagine that if we acknowledge this truism, if we own it fully, we can gain some control over it. And let’s further imagine that if we not only acknowledge this truism but seek to transcend it, or at least bend it a little, there’s no limit to our potential for growth and change. Here’s the good news: if there’s no limit to that, there’s no limit to our compassion and humanity and our ability to do good.
That’s what the New York trip was all about, I’m starting to think. Yes, we saw many innovative practices and a host of specific ideas and tools that are worth learning from and even building off. In many ways that’s why we went, so we could see innovative practices first hand and engage with the innovators themselves; however, as valuable as any one “thing” learned, I’m thinking, was the collective value of all of us staring down our own assumptions about school, and the extent to which we’ve, without even knowing, built little boxes around our thinking. Around what’s possible.
Despite the commonality of the cliche that we should challenge ourselves to become more actualized as human beings, it’s not that easy to do. We always talk of “getting out of our comfort zones,” or of the “zone of proximal development,” as if it’s the easiest thing in the world. It isn’t. It’s downright scary at times. It takes courage. It takes practice. And nurturing. And second chances. And friends nearby. But once you develop the habit, and once you get a little better at it, challenging yourself and questioning your assumptions is a hard habit to break. You start to wonder…what else have I not been seeing? What other parts of my brain have I built a box around? What else can I learn if I scramble up and peek over the walls? Come over here, give me a boost, then I’ll pull you up.
My work with the Partnership for Change this year has made me stare down the fairly rigid ideas I’d developed around what school was and should be, which was far more traditional than I’d even realized. It’s made me see the walls of the box I built. Now, the bad news is that there’s no guarantee that what’s outside is better than what’s inside. It would be nice, but sorry. Once you know something else is out there, though, you have to see it, and once you see it, what’s in the box is forever changed. Too, the walls start to annoy you. You get mad at yourself for having ever put them there in the first place and then you want to kick them down. So you do.
And then you want to go up to your friend, the one who you see has built quite a few boxes of his own, the one you know could really use it, and whisper, “hey, you’re not going to believe this, but…”