Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Unplugging Joy

This past weekend (Aug 5-7), an amazing event happened; thirty-seven Canadian educators came together in an idyllic, off-the-grid location to share thoughts about what really matters in education.

from Cleversheep's flickr stream
Unplug’d Canadian Education Summit was a ‘conference’ like no other:  no hotel conference halls, plastic nametags or workshop schedules here; just nature in all her summer splendor and intelligent, caring educators with important things to say about education in Canada.  Each participant came with a short essay (that will be available as an e-book shortly so stay tuned) and a personal story that explained the “________” in our prompt, “Why __________ matters in education”. For many, these essays were torturous to write.  How can I express what matters most to me in 250 words?  How can the ‘guts’ of an entire teaching career fit on one page?  The secret was in the story and the conversations that ensued from our shared stories. 

It makes complete sense when you think about it.  Our stories communicate the essence of who we are, what we have lived and our most cherished values.  They are tiny vessels of highly concentrated meaning packaged in metaphor, drama and emotions.  A good story is like a strong farm horse; it goes a long way and gets the job done.  So as I reflect on this past weekend, their stories will resonate for me well into this upcoming school year.   I learned so much but I will remember one story especially.

Rob Fisher shared this as we wrapped up the weekend Sunday morning.  He reflected on his wife’s parting words to him as she dropped him at the airport; “Have fun with your geeky friends!”   How was he going to describe to her exactly who we really were?   These people were much more than techno geeks!  I listened to his words and answered his wife with my own thoughts; “I met incredible educators with huge hearts!”  Rob paused a second, put his hand to his head and said, “I met people who care so much about education that it hurts.”  How did he do that?  How did he reach inside my head and pull those words right out of my thoughts? I felt exposed; I hid my face in my hands and (uncharacteristically) released the tears that had been hiding all weekend long; tears of frustration and hurt from years of feeling disconnected; tears of joy at having found my small place in an amazing community of real people who care, just like me.   In one second, in a flash, Rob’s story encapsulated not only the entire weekend but also the ‘guts’ of Unplug’d.  Thirty-seven educators came together, investing considerable resources to talk about what matters in education.  We spoke about curriculum, parents, power, politics, successes, failures and especially students learning.  We spoke about our hopes for the future and how we might ‘carry this forward’ (Darren Kuropatwa's words)so others could benefit from the tremendous community we began building.

Dean Shareski spoke about joy.  Learning is, after all, an experience of joy.  (I wonder about the neuroscience of this and the neurotransmitters responsible for this feeling of joy when we connect ideas and experience.)  When we learn, we instantly feel ‘bigger’ than whom we were one second ago.   Educators have a privileged position of vicariously participating in that joy; and that brings us our own special joy.  So Monday morning, feeling a bit sad at the sudden disconnect from the intensity of these new connections, I found myself re-reading students’ letters of gratitude and love from years gone by.  I reached for that green folder because I remembered Dean’s message about honouring joy.  Their letters reminded me of how one caring educator can make all the difference in a child’s life.  All I did was listen.  All they wanted was for someone to care.  Years later, their gratitude still morphs into my joy and reminds me that I am exactly where I want to be in my life, doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing but now, my community of caring educators has grown considerably. 

If these words have resonated with you, please leave me a comment and please visit Unplug’d so that you may see for yourself the faces of educators who care and listen to our stories when the book is published.  You can participate in this community of educators and help us to bring JOY forward this year. In a short time we will be back at school.  If this fills you with dread or sadness, go find your 'green folder' and remember how important you are to somebody who needs to see you light up with joy because learning is better than drugs, because growing is cool and especially because it forges a lifetime of irreplaceable and priceless meaning.  


  1. Your JOY in teaching and learning is something that I will remember when I begin my learning and child development class with a new cohort of aspiring teacher education candidates this Fall. That is what they can focus on when I begin my message about "who they are teaching", not "what." Thank you to all of the unplugd.com educators who care enough to think about what they are doing and share their thoughts with others. I especially connect with your choice of venue...going back to nature and "disconnecting" from the chaos of the "digital world".

  2. I can't wait for Unplug'd 2012!

  3. Thanks for the comment Julie and good luck with your new cohort.

  4. Wonderful reflection Daryl. Rob's words will stay with me for a very long time. And reaching for your green folder and then writing about it reminds us all to find something simple that brings JOY when we need it.

    Funny you mention the lack of plastic name tags. Early on in conversations with people I said "we should have name tags with our twitter pictures on them", but in hindsight the lack of names was key to beginning conversations with people. "Aren't you ...?" or "I think you might be ..." I don't know if this was intentional or not, but it opened me up to beginning conversations where I might not have felt the need otherwise.

    It was a pleasure meeting you and learning from you!

  5. Thank you for the comment Jeannine. It was great to meet you too and I look forward to learning from you in the future.

  6. Daryl,

    Wonderful post. One line really got me: "sharing our most cherished values".

    Why is it that it's so hard to share the vulnerability that we so often protect? While I could say I wish I knew so much more about this group going into unplugd11, I'm glad now I didn't. The feelings wouldn't have been so intense.

    Looking forward to someday meeting up again.

  7. Thanks Heather! I look forward to it as well.

  8. Daryl,
    I loved this line... Our stories communicate the essence of who we are, what we have lived and our most cherished values. Our F2F interactions allowed us to go deeper into each others' stories and I'm thankful to have met you. I hope we can meet up again some day. I love how Alana Callan said she can now hear our voices in our tweets.

    I hear your voice in your post.

  9. Thanks Kelly! The stories from Unplug'd will soon belong to the rest of the Canada and the world. I can't wait for the publication.

  10. I really enjoyed reading your post. Meeting with such a group sounds absolutely awesome. It is great to read about it, even second hand. Thanks so much for sharing. I am looking forward to reading the eBook as it is published.

  11. O.K.- now you've got me crying! I cannot believe how deeply your words resonate with me. You found me from my experiments posting to Posterous, and now I've found you. Isn't connected learning amazing? And this would not have been possible without our current communication tools facilitated by technology.
    I love what how you expressed the importance of stories. In another post you questioned why your story would be told since you were just "a little fish in a big pond." That is exactly what I was trying to express about my story that I told on the Classroom 2.0 featured teacher session on August 27. Why would anyone want to hear my story of evolving from a pretty traditional teacher to one who uses lots of tech tools to engage our students in their own learning adventures. So, I will follow you on twitter, read your blog, and look forward to having you in my PLN.