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Syd with the Smrke Kid: Day 3

June 21, 2013

Ah, day three.

Woke up at 8:53 (I was up last night mistakenly awaiting a skype call to India that is actually happening tonight. Sigh.) and managed to get dressed and make it to the opening talk at 9. Moderately impressive, though I was pretty disheveled, so do what you will with that.

The talk was definitely an interesting way to begin. The speaker, a high school teacher and principal turned educational speaker/writer, talked about the need to prepare students differently for the twenty second century. He talked about colouring outside the lines and locating in each student a compelling sense of purpose, but I felt like the ideas lacked teeth. There wasn’t quite enough substance and there was a bit too much polish.

After a “nutrition break” (free fudge! That’s right!) I headed back to residence to take a nap and do a bit more preparation for the workshop I was co-running about defining and reclaiming campus leadership. We were pressed for time but I was so happy with how we worked together. We listened, we disagreed and we moved forward when prompted by Natalie. “We need to run a start-up together,” realized Emerson. Yes, I thought.

Anyways, then the session happened. And we were so lucky to attract a room full of open, candid and thoughtful people who rolled with some of the stranger portions of our session and were generous with their thoughts. I don’t think we necessarily broke new ground, but I’d like to think that we did get people thinking. We did get some agreement that leadership as a term seems stale and flaccid (I am not sure if those two qualities can coexist but forgive me it’s already 2:30 am…) because so much of it is contextual, so applying a name to it and trying to standardize a definition is like pinning a tail on a moving donkey. You keep stabbing at air.

From that session, I was whisked away by Ameena to a step dancing lesson. I loved it. I may have just been doing some random tapping in time to the music – even though the instructor was great, it was just that my body isn’t used to being extremely coordinated – but I responded to the music, to the jigs and reels. And someone came in, one of the attendees, and started playing the spoons on his leg as we were all dancing. It was a pretty demanding form of exercise but a great way to get out of our heads and into our bodies.

I snuck into a session and almost fell asleep (not the session’s fault, I assure you), but then it was time for the second group of fellows to hold their presentation. I made a graceful exit and raced up the stairs to find my cohort getting ready to address the role of the university student as volunteer, development worker and service learner. What I really appreciated about what they did is that they did not pull back from being bold. They faced, head-on, issues of privilege and ethics associated with these forms of learning. An especially quotable moment came from Vic’s response to a question/statement that service learning, yes, required an investment that could have been spent elsewhere, but that the value of the shift in thinking the individual gained could have been equal or higher – making it worthwhile. “Paradigm shifts are great, but you have to ask if the fulcrum for that shift is a member of a non-dominant group. We have to talk about that.” (I may be misquoting but the word fulcrum was definitely in there).

After the session was over I snuck back to residence for a quick nap. “All this girl does is sleep!” you observe, chuckling to yourself. Well, I didn’t just nap, I reply. I also read a psychology paper Emerson told me about – the role of chance encounters in the trajectory of life paths. The idea that things happen to you all the time that could change the course of your life, and sometimes these moments do. The author was poking around at the psychological mechanisms behind why these moments have the impact they do. Talked a lot about cults, actually. But what I took from it was that many moments have the potential to change things about you – many people you meet have something to share with you or to invite you to – but you have to be awake and aware that there are moments to be seized.

But yes, I also napped. “Told you!” you say. Yes, you did.

But I needed the nap. We were met at 6:30 back at the theatre to “block” (decide who was going to be where and how they would say it) our plenary. We stumbled out of the theatre around two hours later, exhausted but mostly finished. I won’t say that every moment of this time together was enjoyable, but I will say that I was challenged in ways I simply hadn’t been before. And I felt such respect and trust for the other fellows. The way we brought up questions. I was also thankful for Kari’s constant insistence that we show, not tell, – that we act out what was going to happen instead of just talking about it.

But yes, when I left off, we were stumbling towards a restaurant to meet up with the 3M Teaching Fellows. We entered the restaurant to rousing applause, which was a bit like coming into a room still half asleep and blinking uncomprehendingly at the brightness. Because they were very bright and shiny people, these fellows; engaging and excited to speak with us. Fighting exhaustion, we managed both to drink wine and have a pretty good time (perhaps these two activities were related).

We left the restaurant having said goodbye to Emerson – whose flight was leaving too early in the morning for us to see him beyond the evening. It was strange how attached we had gotten to each other in the short time we’d been together.

We looked up at the sky and were taken aback by the beauty of the moon hidden behind a grid of clouds. It looked like – and I’ll post a picture that can’t quite capture the essence – but it looked like we were under ice, underwater looking up at a small hole at the bright sky and world above. And as we walked back in the warm night to our beds (for an extended nap some might call a night’s worth of sleep), I felt grateful for having been pushed. Grateful for having been challenged like this. I can’t wait to see what happens tomorrow.

And then I had to wait up for a Skype call with India (lovely, as always. A lot of the same themes that our Fellow group had been discussing came up when I talked to Pradeep. Brain wavelengths were matching from across the world. What a hopeful feeling.)

Now, as you can see, my ability to form sentences has taken a sharp turn for the worse and I will sign off for the night.


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