Walking the Talk

The estimated reading time for this post is 3 minutes

A couple weeks ago, Team 21c and partners from around SAUSD (check out Wes Kriesel‘s 3/24 FB post for a more detailed list of credits/thank yous) pulled off an incredible event, our first ever #truth2power Student Forum. While the event itself only lasted about two hours, I can’t begin to estimate the number of hours spent in the ideation, creation, and implementation phases–hundreds, for sure.  The #truth2power event was really the culmination of years of skill-building, discussion, compromising, prestidigitation, and finger-crossing. Regardless of how much planning and skill development went into preparing for the event, the amount of learning we gained while “doing” it was at least as significant, if not more so. It occurred to me that we (Team 21c) were engaged in the Project-Based Learning, or PBL, that we have been advocating for SAUSD students! We were actually “walking the talk,” and I was left even more of a proponent that learning by doing works.

My responsibilities on the day were mostly centered around social media: my job was to run a Google Hangout (GHO) with participating Social Science classrooms from around SAUSD, then share their questions/reflections with the live audience and esteemed guests. Although I made sure to run several practice sessions, there were challenges that arose during the event that I could not have anticipated, like, “How do I hear my fellow Hangouters (“Hangoutsters?” “Hangers-out?”) without sending their audio to the whole auditorium?” or “How do we switch from Poll Everywhere on the display screens to GHO without too much transition time?” Sometimes the answer was a piece of technology, software/OS setting, special adapter, conversation with an expert, or a way to communicate with someone on the team during the show. Other times, the problem was solved through analytical, flexible, critical thinking or decision-making in the moment; either way, each hurdle encountered pushed each team member to make use of those hours of preparation and planning, as well as the hundreds of hours we’ve spent building trust and mutual respect between our team members.

At the end of the event, I remember feeling much the way I did after finishing my comprehensive exams back in grad school: simultaneously exhausted and exhilarated, proud, relieved, and unsure of how well I had performed.  The biggest difference between those two assessments was that, after #truth2power, I realized I had actually learned a great deal just by “doing” the event. I found that, after my comps exam, I could recall surprisingly little about all the literature I had digested to prepare for it. Perhaps if I had been challenged with actually designing a piece of criminal justice legislation that made our country better, rather than writing about a hypothetical one, the information would have “stuck” better? The magic ingredient here seems to be praxis, the Latin word for “process” or “doing”; there’s a famous quote about theory without praxis being dead, but I never had to use that quote for anything, so I can’t really remember it now.

Whether you are an educator or just an adult learner, I hereby challenge you to take your learning “to the streets.” I have found nothing in academia more motivating than the knowledge that one has to actually perform, or publicly demonstrate, one’s new skills via some kind of culminating product/project, especially with a hard deadline. Keep in mind that this approach only works if there is a safe, supportive structure in place to allow learners to make mistakes in a consequential, but not critical, way. So, start building trust now, set a goal, learn from your mistakes, and share your successes. I bet you’ll find that you have never learned so much so quickly, especially if you find a way to make it fun, too!

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Brad Swan

Brad Swan

Teacher on Special Assignment (TOSA): 21st Century Learning Team at Santa Ana Unified School District
I am an English teacher turned 21st Century Learning Specialist. My personal interests/areas of expertise include the law/criminology, "hard" science (especially theoretical astrophysics and cosmology), athletics/fitness, and general silliness!
Brad Swan

Latest posts by Brad Swan (see all)

Brad Swan

Brad Swan

I am an English teacher turned 21st Century Learning Specialist. My personal interests/areas of expertise include the law/criminology, "hard" science (especially theoretical astrophysics and cosmology), athletics/fitness, and general silliness!

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