One of the blessings of teaching at Friends is the two hours we give ourselves on the first Wednesday of the month to collaborate across disciplines, divisions, and grades. Known as PLUSS, for Professional Learning to Uphold Student Success, these ongoing professional development sessions are generated by faculty for faculty and provide the space and time to explore emerging ideas in teaching and learning -- opportunities we would not normally have during the busy school week.
For the past six years one consistent component of these experiences has been a shared reading and consideration of a piece of writing on Quakerism, the philosophy upon which our 234-year old school was founded. On this particular morning, we were discussing “Meeting for Learning; Education in a Quaker Context,” an essay by Parker Palmer, a prominent Quaker teacher and author.
In his essay, Parker makes the case for the Quaker practice of Meeting as a useful construct to envision what happens in our classrooms when we are at our best. In a “Meeting for Learning,” as opposed to a traditional class, he writes, “the individual is always in relationship, and knowledge emerges in dialogue. It is not only what the student knows, but what the student says back that counts. Here learning happens between persons and not simply within the learner.”
He goes on to point out that, like Meeting for Worship, Meeting for Learning requires time: “We must also bring … a capacity for patient waiting and expectation … Authentic education is not necessarily quick in achieving results, nor are its results predictable in advance. And education suffers when we keep uprooting the plant to see how well it’s growing. We must trust that growth is happening and have patience to wait it out.”
As we considered these points, my colleagues and I wrestled with just how often in our own classes we “uproot the plant to see how well it’s growing.” Several minutes passed as each of us reckoned with Palmer’s powerful analogy and our unwitting culpability.
Parker concludes his essay with a reminder that resonated with all of us: “The most important consequence of any meeting is the nurture of community, of recentered and reconnected selves. Education (as contrasted with training) comes from a community and creates community.” Walking back across campus, I was warmed by the invigorating experience of learning amidst the community of my colleagues, and I couldn’t help thinking about the importance of discussions like this one – and dozens of others during our PLUSS days – in allowing us to envision the environment we seek to create in our School.
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