I am guilty of tightly curating the information that flows into my life. I self-select the people I hang out with and the news that I read. That’s why this looming Trump presidency is so shocking to me – because (admittedly in my white left-leaning world) I never considered there was even another point of view. As President Obama counselled us in his farewell speech, “If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the Internet, try talking with one of them in real life.”
This year I’ve vowed to venture outside my bubble with a commitment to learn more. Just validating what I already know has become pretty boring. In 2017, I’d like to be surprised with something new, to be pushed to think outside what I believe to be true.
Yesterday I drove east into the sunrise to Fort Langley to attend TEDxLangleyED. The theme was the future of learning with a side of courage and curiosity. As added incentive to get out of my warm bed early on a Saturday morning, I knew one of the speakers, Suzanne Perreault, and wanted to show up to show my support.
I won’t do eight hours of speakers justice by synthesizing it here. (The organizers promise that the videos will be up on the TED site by March). But I will attempt to share one thing I learned from each speaker. The problem with conference or events is that we walk out of them inspired and roaring to change, and then we get into our cars and drive back home and all that energy disappears. Our take-aways get left in the lobby of the venue. Writing down what I learned yesterday helps make it real and this makes it stick.
From the organizers, I learned about the importance of planning an agenda and crackerjack moderation. Maria LeRose was seamless in her introductions – she stayed on stage for just the right amount of time and said exactly the right thing to sum up the previous talk and usher in the new one. She was invisible but she was there – stitching together the speakers and moving things along. I’ve moderated sessions in the past, and this was a good reminder that moderation is not about the moderator.
Again, a hat tip to the organizers with their planning of the day. It was the right mix of different styles of talks: music plus interviews plus talks with slides plus talks without slides plus archived TED videos. Mixing up the format made the day whizz by and kept things surprising and energizing.
I scribbled notes from the speakers in the dark. Here are some quotes I remember:
“Do you look at yourself and smile?” – Bruce Cairnie
“Failure will always tell you what you need to hear.” -Brent Hayden
“When did we as a society forget how to move through grief?” -Gabe Penner
“There’s no such thing as problem youth, just youth with problems.”-Sandy Balascak
I learned about interesting presentation styles, like Savanna Flakes, who compared designing meaningful school experiences for all students to the process of creating the Dorito. She memorably said, referring to kids with exceptional needs: “all learners have something to contribute to the school community.” Jefferson Hsu, age 10, gave a heartfelt violin performance. Young and talented student Brett Dick shared a lovely song.
Kathleen Forsythe emphasized the importance of wonder and allowing the capacity to imagine. John Harris set the stage for the demonstrations of three student virtual reality projects. Then I felt about a hundred years old, like my dear Grandma when she used to leave a message on my answering machine, saying: I hate this machine! But it was good to recognize this in me too.
The three TED videos shown were outstanding, too:
The Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers – Adam Grant
You Have No Idea Where Camels Really Come From – Latif Nasser
What I Learned from 100 Days of Rejection – Jia Jiang
From these videos, I realized that I’m drawn to speakers who explain left-brain concepts (science, biology) in a right-brain way – with humour and storytelling.
I went for a walk at lunchtime to think about what I had heard. I thought of Kathleen’s words about the wonder of the world – that every moment was a surprise, because you never know what could happen. My walk was unsurprising, except I stopped to appreciate the warmth of the sun on the cold west coast day, thankful it wasn’t raining (and that one small wonder was enough).
My husband is obsessed with climate change and electric cars, and he would have loved Tim Stephenson’s talk – a science teacher who asks: what is it that breaks your heart and what are you going to do about it is pretty special. His call to action, to take a step was enough to make me feel conflicted driving my gas-guzzling car back home.
I had been looking forward to hearing Truepayna Moo speak and was not disappointed. She spoke about coming to Canada as a Karen person from a refugee camp on the Burma/Thailand border and challenged the idea of the ‘glossed over’ Canadian notion of multiculturalism. With grace and eloquence, this young woman reminded us to teach our children to ask questions of people who are different, so we can get to know each other on a deeper level. She pointed out that being a refugee is a badge of honour, of strength and courage, not someone to feel pity for.
Are you still with me? This is a wholly self-serving post to help me remember my day. I learned something from everybody. Katherine Mulski used humour to tackle the topic of busy (I don’t have time to slow down), Luke Dandurand brought me to tears with his video of his family and shame about what I don’t understand about reconciliation and our treatment of the First Nations people in Canada. My friend Suzanne Perrault arrived on stage in her sparkly red shoes, full of passion for families who have children with autism, like hers. She outlined the loss and grief families with children with differences go through, and asked the educators to consider how they organize the (dreaded) IEP meetings at school with families. I was awed by her own courage to be up there, standing under the blazing lights on a red dotted carpet, and grateful she used the opportunity to give mama bears a voice.
I sat at the back by myself, on the aisle. I had been fortunate enough to choose a spot behind an immensely talented woman named Victoria Olsen who was drawing a gorgeous sketch for the TEDTalks. She was drawing on her iPad as people spoke, synthesizing their messages into a quote and illustration. It was fascinating to watch. She’d pull out a message, draw a colourful quote and then change her mind and erase it and start over again. She did so much erasing until she was satisfied with the image. Then she’d have to leave the graphic to move onto the next speaker’s message. My chance eavesdropping taught me this: perfect is the enemy of done, and don’t be afraid to erase and start over again. These are good lessons for life.
We must not assume that we know. In fact, the wonder in this world is about the unknowing, the being open to surprise, the joy in the warm sun on my face, the listening to understand. Events like TEDTalks remind me that I know nothing for sure. This is both humbling and revolutionary at the very same time.