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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Dreams When We're Awake



This excerpt from our January 2012 Flat Classroom Book was written on a plane returning from Qatar and the first Flat Classroom conference. January 2009. I'm printing the full text here as editing is forcing me to cut it down for the final book! There are a few times in my life, I tell my husband, that I feel like I've put my "gutts on a page." This vision from this plane ride has in it a lot of what I do. Oh that you could see this too!

I am nestled amidst the quiescent heaps of jetlagged tourists, businessmen, families, and a mom with one colicky golden haired baby while contentedly listening to Van Morrison about 20,000 feet above the border between Iran and Iraq pondering the meaning of life. 
The lady two seats up is watching Eagle Eye (a movie) with Arabic subtitles. The man beside me left his seat a while back to remove his Arabic garb and put on a pair of comfortable black flannel sleeping pants. Katie, my exhausted student from south Georgia USA snuggles against a window that, if open, would show her Eastern Europe approaching at a pace of 500 miles an hour.

And that is really how I feel at this moment, with the rush of oncoming air; a vision is coming upon me for what this flat world truly means.
In my whole life, I have never seen what I saw this weekend. I daresay any peacekeeper on earth would sob at the sight of students from the US, Qatar, Syria, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Oman, Iraq,  India, Australia and so many other places laughing contentedly together in the midst of Qatar’s famous market, the Souk. 

Flat Classroom Conference - Qatar 2009
Lounging in chairs at Haagen Daaz, the students laughed, told jokes, switched intermittently into various greetings in different languages, and pronounced each other’s names like native speakers.
“John! Yaksan! Katie! Ahkmed! Tayler! Latecia! Steve! Muhammad! Violet! Sonwalbie!” 

Are these students the cosmopolitan types who travel the world and already know lots of people? Well, not necessarily. Among the students are mine from rural South Georgia, students from rural Australia, inner city Houston, the deserts of Oman, inner Ethiopia, Pakistan, and some who’ve traveled the world. More eclectic than the music on my iPod, representing not one curriculum or type of school – US public and private, IB, British Curriculum – these students were as diverse a group of kids I’ve ever seen together in my life.  

The sight of such a group, many in the native garb of their country – colorful hats, shoes, and western jeans – made many stop and stare.  Who are these people?  Who are these kids?  What has happened that such a site should occur out in the open in plain sight in a Middle Eastern market? Is it a dream?

Some women strolled by in black, not visible except for their eyes wide in interest and wonder. Children with gold-flecked eyes pointed. Our students continued to laugh and have fun, oblivious of the spectacle they were making.  

I haven’t blogged what I’ve seen as of yet, because somehow I thought I’d feel a stewardess tug on my sleeve and tell me it was time to deplane in Qatar. Surely, I wasn’t awake. I still do not know what has happened. We will not know until we see reflections on the Ning and watch these kids grow up.

All I know is what I saw.

The flattening of the world means that we can build bridges for the children of tomorrow to walk across.

We wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for one blog post and one comment.

After students wrote reflections on Thomas Friedman’s chapter on finding your passion from his book The World is Flat, Julie Lindsay in Bangladesh read my blog post summarizing their work, and sent me comment. And then, the world started flying at me at over 500 miles per hour. That was almost three years ago and now; I sit on a plane at 20,000 feet contemplating students from around the world laughing in a Middle Eastern Market, wiping off the tears that have fallen upon my gold wedding band.

Stereotype bashing.

That was what one group of students said that we were doing at the conference. They had been assigned to teams purposefully as they entered a project based conference experience – not allowed to be on the same team with a member of their school. The students envisioned the future of education with proposals that would harness social media for learning and for improvement of global social issues.

Without that first email, first blog post, first Flat Classroom project, Thomas Friedman finding Julie’s blog and our project through some random search on the Internet, the many bloggers who’ve linked, talked about it, passed along information on the project, voted for it, and been a part of it -- these students would have never I repeat NEVER have made it to Qatar. I doubt they would have known of its existence!  

We’ve had this dream of a conference for such a long time; a conference as the next step of linking up classrooms from various walks of life and of building relationships to work with one another across the world.  

For, if we are to solve the global issues we have, we are going to have to link up good people working in many places from around the world WHERE THEY ARE. And to do this, we must be together sometimes to cement those relationships – to strengthen those bonds.

Change takes time. It takes baby steps.  

The defining moment for me came last year when my mother was diagnosed with cancer. On several occasions, I had debated NOT going to Qatar. Being from rural Georgia, I had SOOOO many people tell me I was “crazy” and “why couldn’t you just be a normal person and have the conference in Atlanta. Why go to Qatar?”  “ What if you don’t come back?”

Every time I looked at my three kids, despite the assurances of safety in Qatar and the fact that an attack has been quite some time ago, I reconsidered going. When my headmaster, Ross Worsham, looked at me with incredulity when first I took it to him, I reconsidered again.  Thank goodness for my supportive, amazing, husband, Kip: the best friend and closest companion of my life and my innovative, wise headmaster who researched the facts for himself to make the decision for us to go.

Then, in November, I had to tell the Flat Classroom teachers about Mom’s situation, they are my dearest friends! I’ll never forget it, we had about seven of us on the Elluminate weekly teacher’s meeting and we were nearing the end of the meeting. I told them about Mom and put my mike on mute as I choked back the tears.
I don’t know what he wrote in the chat – I’ll have to look at the transcript, but Salim al Busaidi from near the gleaming deserts of Oman wrote me a one sentence message. I wish I could remember what it was. But that one sentence of peace and good wishes, coming from him, a Muslim male in the Middle East, to me, a Christian woman in the US, was so kind and so touching that a light switch flipped in my heart, and I knew that it was going to be OK.  

It was going to be OK because I knew that if there was one person like Salim in the Middle East that there must be more.  

And that, my friends, is how we build bridges. We build them through the little ropes coming out of the back of our computers into the wall that travel under our oceans and through our skies into the little ropes or through the air into the computers of our colleagues across the world.  
Flat Classroom Students from Oman.
We connect, one person at a time to build trust. Now we must now connect classrooms one at a time.
There is no more time for the mindless debates of where a school is going to “put” this in their curriculum. Such virtual and eventually face-to-face connections are one of the most essential ingredients in a successful modern education.

Greta from HSBC bank (a major sponsor of the first conference) and I were talking about the workforce in general and how difficult it is for businesses to have workers who are problem solving, big-picture focused employees who do not have to be supervised. Our schools are producing hordes of students who know how to memorize facts and do what they are told. These students have to be retrained and many cannot be.
We have thoughts, but I’m on a plane at 20,000 feet and now over England. Julie is back in Qatar finishing up her school day and we have a lot to talk about.

But now, I think I will don my sleeping mask, put in my earplugs, and quietly slumber, dreaming of seeing such things as I saw this weekend again one day. And imagine the impact that each of these students will have when they go back home.

Talking to Paul McMahon over dinner, I told him – what I want is to be part of a grassroots movement of teachers to improve education from the bottom up.

To be a part of YOU, the teacher who loves working with students. To help YOU learn something and learn something from YOU in return. To stay in the classroom as long as I can and bask in the enjoyment of doing great work that is worth doing – the noblest of callings. All I really want to be is a teacher and a Mom.
I am so grateful to my God to have the privilege of being a teacher and also part of a movement to improve our world from this generation onwards by using technology not just to spread music and culture but to spread hope, understanding, knowledge, and learning.

You can call me an idealist but, colleagues; I wasn’t an idealist going into the conference. We knew it would either be a disaster or a dream but that if we didn’t take the risk, we’d never know if it could be done.

And now, my friends, as we fly over Stockholm, and we rush on, I shall dream and know that when I am roused from my slumber, that the best dreams are the ones you see when you’re awake
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