The Story of How I Found My Joy

Written by DEN STAR Diana Williams. Reposted from the Innovative Learning Blog

I have a confession to make.

I’m terrified of flying. After the harrowing experience of a “non standard landing” (translation: plane crash) I had had a difficult time with flying. If I had a choice between a three day camel ride or a flight, I’d take the camel. No question.

But this sunny Friday morning before the Thanksgiving weekend, there was nothing that could stop me from getting that airplane to San Fransisco.  I had to get there, the faster, the better!

So as I was sitting at the back of the plane, trying to remain calm, my mind wandered back to where this all began…

“It started with a single tweet…”

I can remember so clearly the words of Bill Ferriter as he began his talk about teaching the iGeneration at our District Engaging the Digital Learner Dinner Series on a dark, cold evening in January.  This was my first year attending the dinner series and my first year as a “connected” educator.

I had already had the honor of learning from great thought leaders such as Alec Couros, George Couros, Dean Shareski, and Shelley Wright.  I had visited Apple Canada to learn about Challenge Based Learning.  I had connected with a peer group on Twitter, and learned about the passions of my colleagues such as Global Classroom (Robyn Thiessen), Genius Hour (Gallit Zvi and Hugh MacDonald) Voice and Choice in Primary (Karen Lirenman) and Authenic Formative Assessment (Anne Middleton) and was making huge changes in my teaching practice.   The leadership in the Surrey School District is doing such an amazing job of giving teachers and administrators opportunities to learn and grow.

I loved how my classroom was now a place of curiosity and connection.  Something was still missing though.  I had yet to find something that was truly my passion.  Bill spoke about authentic learning tasks and how from reading a single tweet about KIVA on Christmas morning, he had used the KIVA lending platform to engage his social studies students in real life learning about other cultures, poverty and social change through microfinance.  My jaw dropped.   This was truly where my heart lay.  I remember looking across the table at my Principal, Carrie Burton who shared a similarly stunned expression and blurted out to her, “we are so going to do this!”  And just like that, the next thing Bill said, “if any of y’all want to Skype with my KIVA club, we would be happy to.”

So of course we did!  It took me a little bit to work up the courage to email Bill and ask, but as I should have known, his offer was genuine.  He was authentic, down to earth and so approachable.   He offered resources and advice and soon my fantastic grade three group was ready to Skype with Bill’s club.  The Skype went really well and his club decided to send us a very generous gift card to help us get started.

As we worked on needs vs. wants, community services and culture from the grade 3 social studies curriculum using Kiva as our anchor point, we also experienced hands-on learning about micro lending by taking out a small loan to buy beads to make bracelets to sell as a Kiva fundraiser. (you can read the project detailshere)Over the course of a few months, my little Kiva Ninjas had made over 20 loans to entrepreneurs in developing countries, and their legacy continues today.  The fact that 8 year olds from an inner-city school in Surrey can bring opportunity and hope to someone half way around the world through their school work, fills my heart with joy.

 We had promised Bill’s SMS Kiva club that we would make a little video to share about our learning though Kiva as a thank you for the generous gift.  And, as luck would have it, my “connected educator” Vice Principal, Tia Henriksen had the perfect connection for us.  We had the great honor to work with Dean Shareski to make our video.  (You can read about our day here.)

We recorded a song that we had re-written the lyrics to and then Dean taught us how to use green screen technology with Discovery Education video footage to tell our story.  (Another huge learning curve for me, you can read the blog posthere.

We uploaded our video to youTube,  and shared it with Bill’s club and our friends and families.

We tweeted out the link and made a fantastic connection to Kristen Goggin from Town School for Boys in San Francisco.  We learned together via Skype with her middle school students who had been doing amazing work with Kiva.  You can read her blog post here and see all the ways she is diving deep into Kiva with her middle school students–truly powerful teaching.

Somehow the engineers at Kiva saw the video and we got to Skype with Kiva Headquarters in San Francisco.   My grade three students did a fantastic job of preparing powerful questions and making meaningful conversation during the Skype call.  Not once did they ask if this was on the report card.  They didn’t care-they did their very best because it was real life and it mattered to them.

Real life learning.  Doing work that matters.

Posing Kiva-Ninja style with Matt Flannery, Kiva founder & CEO

Which brings me back to the reason for the flight to San Francisco.  Through the Kiva Ninja video and the connections we made with Kiva headquarters, I was flown down to San Francisco to attend the first annual Kiva Summit and to facilitate the K-8 (Elementary) Educators working group.   They even showed our Kiva Ninja video!  Here is a photo of the founder and CEO of Kiva, Matt Flannery and I doing our Kiva Ninja pose before the video started.

And then he re-tweeted my tweet of the photo to 300,000 followers! (which I have to admit, was pretty cool!).

I will be detailing my four days in San Francisco on my blog soon, but in brief, it was the most amazing, diverse gathering of passionate, compassionate, altruistic, brilliant people.   The summit organizers gave us a space to come together to dream, wonder and to think big.  I am energized, inspired and humbled by the kinship of like minded people I was able to be part of over the course of the Summit.  I can’t wait to connect my new friends with my #sd36learn colleagues.

The summit attendees ranged from the Founder of Kiva, the president of Kiva, the passionate and hardworking Kiva staff and interns, to high school through college/university students, elementary, secondary, college and university educators to Stanford graduates, the President of Harvard’s Forum for International Development, film makers, international community development visionaries, to even Bob Harris: writer for Fox, CBS and TLC, 13 time winner of Jeopardy! and author of “The International Bank of Bob”-a book about his travels visiting Kiva loan clients in their home countries.

And the truly astounding part was they checked all their international awards and accolades at the door and were simply real folks who cared deeply about ending extreme poverty in our lifetime. They simply wanted to learn from everyone so they could help others have some of the same opportunities we simply take for granted.

And isn’t that what life is all about?  Learning?

The word Kiva means equality.  We are part of a generation where we can all truly be equals.  Take advantage of the opportunities the Surrey School District offers.  Attend workshops, ask questions, find your passion.  Only you can follow your dreams.   The opportunities are there, take them!

And as Bill Ferriter so perfectly stated in a tweet just a few days ago:

“Education should prepare and empower students to change the world around them in meaningful ways”.

I whole-heartedly agree, Bill.  Let’s get to work.

Diana in San Francisco sharing her learning.

 

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