Quite often, we relegate celebratory accolades to people we have never met, legendary heroes in a mythical world when, in truth, heroes work right next to us. I have been blessed twofold. First, I worked with such a person for six years. Ruth was and is an educational pioneer. Seventeen years ago, she embarked on an educational quest. I recently had the opportunity to acknowledge Ruth, her wisdom, her courage, and her pioneering spirit as she retired. I am fortunate and grateful I could articulate these characteristics first in a public setting and, now, virtually. We rarely seize opportunities to speak from the heart. We can describe Ruth as a “teacher who met children where they were in their learning.”
The second person I am acknowledging is Deborah Meier. I have never met Ms. Meier, but her writings have inspired and encouraged me to believe I can be a better teacher by being a better learner. I am currently reading In Schools We Trust: Creating Communities of Learning in an Era of Testing and Standardization, and I previously had read The Power of Their Ideas: Lessons for America from a Small School in Harlem plus several articles. Her pioneering vision, her work in innovative school settings inNew York andBoston, and her candour have provided me with great insight into the possibilities that exist in public education. Today, as I was reading, she offered the following: “I believe we can reinvent schools to better conform to what we know about teaching and learning. Such reinvention will require patience … ‘One teaches best by listening and learns best by telling’” (Meier, 2002, p. 23).
Although this quote comes from Deborah Meier, it could have easily come from Ruth. When children speak, when their parents speak, we should listen attentively as if they were the only people who mattered in the world at that moment. When it comes time to tell, it is narrative of who we are that matters to the person in front of us.
Personal mastery calls on us to be present and responsive to the children we inherit the earth from. It calls on us to learn from those with wisdom in this quest. In a wonderful book edited by Mike Seymour called Educating for Humanity: Rethinking the Purposes of Education, Sam Intrator (2004) explained “a companion is the person with whom you share bread on a journey; a companion is a messmate, a comrade, and a fellow sojourner. In my own journey as a teacher, I cherish those people and resources that help me do my best and most inspired work. Their presence in my life helps beat back the forces that would otherwise exhaust me, deplete me, or leave me feeling too lonely to be fully present for my students” (p. 63). Ruth provides an example of such a person and Deborah Meier of a resource, allowing me to be present on a daily basis. To grow, we need both and must be attentive to their words and actions.