They say, “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”
My teachers were right under my nose the whole time; I just didn’t see them.
It all started with a conversation…
One sunny spring day, a few years ago, Mark and I stood at our kitchen window looking out at a terribly neglected vegetable garden.
Rosie, one of my young horsemanship students, was happily digging in her bare feet and preparing the garden for the growing season. She was a farm girl in her element, dancing in the freshly turned soil, in one of those utterly authentic moments you can have when you’re sure no one’s watching.
We were captivated and went out to join her, hoping that whatever moved her would be contagious. As we settled into weeding, with our toes in the cool earth, I said to her, “I really enjoy teaching you.”
Without hesitation, she replied, “I enjoy teaching you, too! Oh wait, I mean learning from you!”
I felt goose bumps rising on my arms like they do any time someone speaks the truth, even by accident, and I said, “I learn a lot from teaching you. In fact, I think I learn as much from you as you do from me.”
Before I sat down to write this story, I called Rosie, now a young woman of 17, and asked her to remember our conversation.
She said, “I think I knew intuitively that my teachers were also learning from me, but this was the first time anyone in a teaching role had acknowledged or vocalized it. That moment was empowering because, for the first time, I realized I was making a contribution in your life as well. It was a two-sided relationship, and I began seeing you and I as equals.”
This was a turning point in our relationship which set the tone for a conversation that would call everything I thought I knew about teaching into question. I had to admit, I didn’t know the answers.
What would it take to build a learning community based on equality?
And, what would it take for me to let go of having to be the expert, to share the teaching and leadership roles with others, and to really become a learner?
I tried for over two years to answer these questions. I struggled through draft after unsuccessful draft, trying to do it the way I’d always done it…alone.
Then I had a thought. What if I asked my students?
It began with a few rich conversations with Rosie, and grew to a small gathering of young women who’s youthful energy and cutting edge ideas breathed new life into the conversation. I’m still blown away by the creativity and insight of these young women who were able to understand and articulate, even better than I could, what I was trying to create.
We began referring to one another as “learning partners,” instead of teachers and students, and together we have formed the framework for a totally new learning community.
Thank you, Dani, Rhiannon, Rosie, Soleina, Chris, and all my teachers, two and four legged, past and present, for believing in me and giving so much of yourselves to make this vision possible.
You are my inspiration!
To learn more about our youth mentoring program which we now call REACH. Click here