Monday, August 5, 2013

Summer 2013: Lessons Learned while Riding a Bike

Lessons on Navigating, Balancing, Teaching & Learning
Part I
By Stella Villalba

It was summer of 2012.  A loud, dark and intense thunderstorm hits Columbus, Ohio. It happened fast. The winds were strong. We knew about that 30% chance of thunderstorm but that could’ve also meant 70% of good weather. I decided to focus on that 70% chance and decided to still venture out for dinner. The city was covered in a shade of gray that makes you wonder how much time you have to do anything: to seek shelter, to drive back home, to wait it out. The storm came as strong as that 30% chance predicted yet stronger than what we all expected. It brought down trees and power. The city lost power.  Next thing I know, I’m in line with 20 other people at the store buying flashlights and batteries. The rumors: we would be without power for at least 5 days.

What to do in the next 5 days without power? Well, this is where creativity kicked in. I love to journal and love working with pictures. These were all perfect activities to be entertained during the day. But during nighttime, it provided a different kind of problem. Until it hit me. Just like that storm that hit Columbus. The idea came rushing to me, feeling fast and energetic. With this new idea the numbers were in reverse: 70% chance I could make this work. 30% I’d fail. Sounds like any idea in real life, actually. But you see, I’ve been carrying this secret for many years. Too afraid and embarrassed to confess it to anyone, I kept it all to myself. Just like a child after a mischievous act doesn’t want to confess. I felt like that child. It was hard to admit to anyone that I, soon to be 37 years old, didn’t know how to ride a bike.

However, there was a BLACKOUT on its way. My neighborhood was going to be covered in pitch-black skies as soon as the sun came down. Too embarrassed to learn how to ride in public, this blackout provided the perfect blanket for me to bloom as a learner. The darkness would be my best friend for the next 4 days. All of a sudden I couldn’t wait for the hours to pass by and for nighttime to begin.  I already owned a bike, a purchase I made years ago when I decided I wanted to learn how to ride bike. I never used it. Too embarrassed to expose myself to the ridicule of me falling when trying to balance on a bike. However, this time I took it out, dusted it off, and decided it was time to put this little companion to good use. I read somewhere that “when the learner is ready, the teacher shows up.” I was ready.

On Being Vulnerable
Making a decision to do something that most people may already know how to do (but you) is the 1st step in growing. This decision made me think about learning, about my students, about embarrassment and the conditions for learning. What does it feel like to be 10 years old and have to learn the ABC in another language? How does it feel to watch everyone else do something with so much ease, except for you is a mountain of hard-work? Do they want to hide like I did? Do they prefer not to be watched all the time while learning?

While I was learning how to ride my bike, I remembered several lines of one of my favorite read alouds for building community: Leo the Late Bloomer by Robert Kraus. In this book Leo couldn’t read, couldn’t write his name, was a messy eater and hasn’t learned to say a word.  Dad was worried and watched him all the time for “signs of blooming.” Mom, however, knew that Leo just needed time. Over time Leo absorbed what others have been doing and eventually blossoms with a newfound love for life. Many of our ELLs students start with a quiet Leo inside of them. Their knowledge or lack of knowledge is exposed. Their success is measured by their understanding of the English language. A 10-year old child who was an accomplished reader and writer in his home country may find himself in a foreign place where he is not sure he belongs. He has to learn the basics starting with the alphabet. It’s important to remember how already vulnerable these students feel even if they lack the proper words to communicate those feelings. They will bloom eventually but they’ll need TIME to absorb and process. This time is not linear and rigid. It comes with twists, turns and falls. All of which I’ve experienced learning how to ride a bike as an adult. Sometimes a pat on the back, a high-five, a “well-done” is all it’s needed to recharge energy and try again the next day. 

****Come back Friday for Part II of this blog post. More in reflecting on this experience, teaching and the parallels between both journeys!****


Cathy said...

So glad to see your post on Facebook. There are so many things we hope to do, but shy away from them because they seem too difficult or we're too embarrassed that we can't already do them. Yet, we all have these things. Wouldn't it be nice if it didn't take the dark of night for us to practice. It is hardest to tackle those things that seem easy for others, but are very difficult for us. In school, kids don't always have the choice of where and when to tackle learning that is difficult. They often have to do this learning in front of their friends and in their learning communities. How do we, as educators, set up learning environments in which peers reach for the seat to hold on to friends until they're riding on their own?

Looking forward to part two.

michelle said...

Stella, this is one of your strongest pieces--I love the connections you made between the chances of a storm and the chances of learning something new. Brilliant. And, Bravo on learning to do something that many of us take for granted. :)

Norajill said...

Amiga! Por esto te admiro...porque sabes aprovechar todo momento que la vida te ofrece. Te felicito, no solamente por aprender algo nuevo sino por tambien compartirlo tambien. Es todo un orgullo verdad inspiras algo positivo. Our vunerabilities are part of learning & allowing us to grow.