Delivered before the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development March 19, 1996 by Stephanie Pace Marshall, President of the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy.

Creating Sustainable Learning Communities for the 21st Century

Thank you and good morning. It is wonderful to see so many friends and colleagues. I am grateful that you were willing to get up so early. You are either very eager or so chronically sleep deprived that it really didn’t make any difference! In any event, thank you for coming.

In the brief time we have together this morning, I hope to invite each of you into a dialogue With your Inner and often silent self,-and pose some questions I believe we must each answer, if we are serious about writing a new story of Teaching and Learning and of who we are and what we are capable of becoming. This dialogue requires that you listen more to your own voice than to mine, although I hope to provoke some thoughts for your conversation.

Our conference theme, Dancing to the Rhythm of Life an invitation to becoming and the need for us to be very clear about and focused on the work that lies ahead, reminded me of two story/poems by Brian Andreas; the first is called The Mailman, the second is called Fog.

The Mailman

Our mailman was a dance teacher at night. I would watch him sometimes to see if he would deliver mail differently than the others. I expected to see him leap over bushes with his toes pointing like arrows. But all he ever did was walk.

There are your fog people and your sun people, he said.

I said I wasn’t sure which kind I was.

He nodded. Fog’ll do that to you, he said.

I share these poems because they capture the essence of this conference, and what I want to convey – which is: we must be who we are, and we must dance if we are dancers; it is time for us to embrace the legacy which can be ours, and that is to lead in the creation of democratic learning communities that will help to reclaim and then sustain a world supportive of human endeavor.

I entitled my thoughts, “Leaders, Learners and the Hero’s Journey – Understanding the Dancer Through the Dance, Within this framework there are many things I want to share.

I want to talk about the crisis in learning and the creation of sustainable learning communities.

I want to explore the concept of mental models and the metaphors, stories and language we use to shape the patterns and contexts of our work and our being.

I want to talk about soulfulness and creativity, about interdependence, and about the hero’s journey we are on; and I want to connect all of this to learning and to life – to our learning and our life as well as our children’s.

This is a cultural and life defining time for us and we must pay attention to our remarkable opportunities – or they will be lost and others will be given the gift that is now ours – to create a new and compelling vision of a learning society that honors and affirms the dignity and potential of each learner. And we now have some new “tools” to guide us.

Because of revolutionary new insights about the natural world and the human brain, we can now create a new story for public education and develop communities that truly engage the fullness of human capacities.

And this will require all the knowledge, wisdom, love and energy we can give, because unintentionally, I believe we created Schools where many children and adults have become intellectually, creatively and emotionally anorexic because we have systematically deprived them (children and ourselves) of the nutrients required for health and life.

Although the deprivation was unintentional, the structures we designed within our schools were not. They were based upon what we knew about schooling, learning and the brain itself, and how one efficiently organizes educational environments.

But our knowledge about learning has grown so dramatically that we have a moral obligation to use what we now know to transform public schooling as it now exists. Because if it isn’t us, then who might it be? – the options right now are quite frightening…

If we don’t lead in this transformation, this redefinition, this reconceptualization of public education, our institutions will become increasingly incapable of enhancing the quality of a child’s life or the hopefulness of her potential.

Now, when education is again under siege, and we are in a phase of educational tectonics (ground shifting) our individual and collective voice must be heard and must be unwavering. And we must demonstrate the heart, mind and soul of a pioneer.