8 A Network to Call On

Donald Birx

I’ve been sitting here reading and rereading the last paragraph of Cathie’s “meta” take away and it really resonates with me and puts the summer’s experiences into context. When I started developing the ideas behind clusters, I was driven by the same concerns and anxieties that Cathie expressed. I saw a world our kids weren’t prepared for and I was desperate to find pathways that would give them the type of education that could sustain them, the country, and the world through the crises that were emerging. I wanted them to have lives of impact and not feel overwhelmed or under-challenged. I felt like we were that proverbial frog in the pot where the water temperature was increasing slowly…too slowly for us to notice and react…for our and our student’s sake. When I came to Plymouth, that fear was heightened by the realization that this great institution was in a struggle similar to those it had faced in its past…creating its very future and those of its students in a time when change was everywhere and each path presented incredible challenges.

But there was also great hope in that PSU had always somehow managed to come out better than ever in the end – growing and diversifying to meet the challenges and opportunities of the times. This summer, together with all 70+ of you, I have seen why that has always happened. Everyone involved from the leadership, to the participants shared a common bond of creating an education that was up to the challenge our students will be facing in their future. We were giving them the tools to have real impact in their lives, to try things and fail, to work together to solve the unsolvable, to communicate, learn and grow throughout a lifetime. We shared ideas and experiences and I learned so much about mind maps, spider diagrams, and all the creative things you can do with Yo Yos. But, most importantly I learned from, shared, and brainstormed with, others about how to develop the engaging pedagogy that is launching the four tools of clusters. There was a sense of shared community, openness, and participation that was not only contagiously exciting, but illuminating and encouraging, and made me feel incredibly hopeful. So many offered to help and shared their creative expertise and resources (which I eagerly gobbled up) – so much so that I now feel at least somewhat equipped to tackle this. Actually, I’m still a little scared about teaching/sharing subject matter outside of what anyone would call my area of expertise, but I feel like I have a network of friends to share the experience with so that come next Monday I am not swimming alone, but sharing and learning together with my students and my colleagues. My heartfelt thanks goes to all of you!

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