Begin at the Beginning

“Begin at the beginning!” was the counsel I received when thinking about how to approach cultivating a blog to share my thoughts and reflections about learning and leading, as well as sharing my professional and personal journey of living and working in schools. The enthusiastic advice I received got me thinking… just what would count as my “beginning” when it comes to education?

I became a school administrator at the age of 29. That was definitely a new beginning and boy, did I learn a lot as a high school assistant principal… if you think the job is difficult, you should try doing it as a blond 29 year old single female. It adds a certain… twist… to the work, that’s for sure! But that job was really just continuing a journey I’d started when I became a teacher several years earlier.

I suppose I could drift back to my first day as a classroom teacher. With my heart racing and my stomach churning, standing in brand new clothes that I used my very last saved-up dollars to buy, I stood up in front of six classes of ninth graders and somehow managed to get them to believe that I was, in fact, their teacher for the year. I have some distinct memories of that day, including having a student throw up during second period, me managing to mangle at least 1/3 of my new students’ names on roll-call, and not being able to eat my lunch due to my unsettled nerves.

I could hearken back to my first day of student teaching even, when I was but 21 years old standing up in front of a room full of high school seniors who were just barely younger than I was at that point in time. My first day of “teaching” (and I use quotation marks here liberally given the circumstances and what actually transpired in the classroom that day) came at the 11th hour when my cooperating teacher let me know at 4am on my third day at the school that he was called away due to a family medical emergency… and that I’d be taking on all of the classes that day. I can’t say that quality teaching and learning happened on that day in the classroom, but I can say that I survived, and my students managed to emerge without harm.

I could go back to my countless beginnings as a student… college, high school, middle school, and the six different elementary schools I attended as a young child; I was perennially the “new kid” as my family moved each and every year of my childhood. Each beginning held its own challenges and triumphs, but none of them is where I began learning.

But for me, thinking about “begin at the beginning” in my life in education, I think that I would really have to go even further back that my first day of kindergarten, all the way back to early, early childhood. If you’ve ever taken an early childhood development class, you quickly realize that some of the most profound learning comes in the early years of life. The curve is steep and the outcomes incredible, and all of this happens with no formalized educational context around the child. It’s pretty amazing to think about, really. I imagine that those formative years were my true “beginning”.

And so when I think about and share thoughts about learning and leading, I will of course generally do this within the context of formalized education. But I will also look to discuss larger educational questions and pursuits in posts and discussions. Why? Because not all learning happens in the school house. In fact, the majority of “real life learning” happens out there, in the “real world” that is away form the school house. Plus, if you believe what research is pointing to recently, it becomes clear that realistic, meaningful, experiential learning is what leads to long lasting impact and retention for students. Given that context, and the probability that blending formal and informal venues of learning will be where education moves in the coming years, I will do my best to smudge the line between those two venues and provide thoughts and considerations accordingly.

If you’re here reading this, and you have thoughts to share, please do so. I look forward to engaging in conversation with you. Who knows… along the way we might just stumble on to some things that could change learning for kids and adults for the better.

Finally, before I forget: Photo credit and genuine heartfelt thanks for the ¬†banner photo gracing this page goes to Adrian Collier photography ¬©2012. Adrian is a very talented photographer in the Seattle area and I will happily provide you with his contact information if you’re interested in his work!