A Flutter of Wings

When you work at any stop in a PreK – 12 school, you are given a very special responsibility — to meet young people who are in motion, traveling ever bumpily, from where they are each day, maybe even each minute, to where they are going.  All teachers forget that sometimes.  Most young people haven’t hardened or ossified or frozen . . . they try on views and ideas, get swept away in the drama of their lives and the subjects that they study and the schools that house all that happens to happen.  This “swept awayness” can make young people frustrating and wonderful, can make working with them complicated and challenging and utterly satisfying.  Learning is messy.

With that in mind, I offer three quotations followed by some light exegesis.

The first one comes from a speech by Robert Greenleaf wherein Greenleaf riffs on Camus:

I was deeply touched by a quote from a late lecture by Camus.  “Great ideas come into the world as gently as doves . . . Listen carefully and you will hear the flutter of their wings.” Only the solitary individual in the quietness of his own meditation gets these great ideas intuitively. They don’t come in stentorian tones, over the public address system to groups. That only happens after an individual has listened carefully to the flutter of their wings. The wings themselves do not flutter into the microphones.

The second comes from an Arthur Conan Doyle story.  It’s a quote that Reshan Richards often uses in his presentations.

“From a drop of water,” said the writer, “a logician could infer the possibility of an Atlantic or a Niagara without having seen or heard of one or the other. So all life is a great chain, the nature of which is known whenever we are shown a single link of it.”

And, finally, Jonathan Ive on Steve Jobs by way of Jason Fried:

And just as Steve loved ideas, and loved making stuff, he treated the process of creativity with a rare and a wonderful reverence. You see, I think he better than anyone understood that while ideas ultimately can be so powerful, they begin as fragile, barely formed thoughts, so easily missed, so easily compromised, so easily just squished.

Teachers, imagine for a second that your primary job is not to deliver content or skills.  Not to offer carrots or sticks.  Imagine, instead, that your job is to invent ways to get very, very close to the act of student learning and inquiry . . . and to use your head, heart, and will to protect, by recognizing properly, what is really happening in front of you.

What would your feedback to students look like if you promised to give it without causing harm to a flutter of wings or a drop of water on its way to becoming an ocean?

How would your relationships with students change if you saw each one as a vessel of barely formed thoughts and fragile ideas?

Getting better as a teacher could begin with an examination of what you revere and how you demonstrate that reverence on a daily basis in school.


Don M. Frick, Robert K. Greenleaf: A life of Servant Leadership 

Arthur Conan Doyle, A Study in Scarlet 

Jason Fried, “Give it Five Minutes.”


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