TEDxRedmond: Lessons From Children - Celebrating Our Youngest Teachers

By Ardith Davis Cole, teacher, author, literacy consultant

When I was six I taught my neighbor who was seven to ride a bike. Years later, as a teacher of six-year-olds, I watched as my students taught others in their class. They even participated in conferences with me; thus, our audiences learned lessons from children. Now, the Internet allows viewers all over the world to witness the teaching ability of students. We can see for ourselves what great teachers kids can! If you find that hard to believe, read on.

Brennan Labrie, at age nine became Spruce Street's local kid-reporter. By the age of ten, he offered some lessons to even national reporters who interviewed him in Vancouver at the Olympics. Brennan, reporting for Time for Kids, was the only child-reporter there. "I didn't have much time to interview," Brennan said, "because all the reporters kept interviewing ME!" I, like those reporters, also learned lessons from Brennan. (Google: Brennan Labrie)

Yet even I, a believer, couldn't imagine a large conference organized by kids and for kids. But on September 18, the TEDxRedmond "Power to the Students" conference at Microsoft Center in Redmond, WA was indeed the full-day conference that left me with no doubts that it is the students who are leading us into a brave new world. I've attended and run a ton of conferences, but this one was by far, the most inspiring professional event I have ever attended.

Adora Svitak came up with the idea after speaking at a TED conference less than a year ago in California. As this young student investigated the ideas of other students from her generation, she realized they were ideas worth sharing. "These are ideas that will affect my generation as much as they will affect adults–––perhaps even more . . . So I thought it would be a good idea to start my own TEDx event here," Adora contended.

When student-reporter Olivia, wondered how such ideas could be transformed into reality, Adora told her, "This is a conference that couldn't have taken place earlier than the 21st Century 'cause we've used the Internet so extensively to do our research, to find all of our speakers." Adora hopes to continue student-to-student discussions, as well as those between kids and adults. "I think one of the greatest things is to teach others . . . and I really enjoy talking to other kids about how we can make the world a better place." Adora is twelve years old. We have much to learn from her–––and others.

Priya Ganesan was on the all-student planning committee, as well as a speaker at conference. She too had lessons to teach. A school incident had inspired her to champion creativity. Her message included personal vignettes demonstrating our basic need to create–––even if it sometimes means breaking the rules.

"If you could give one piece of advice to anyone here, what would you give?" Olivia asked Priya.

"I would encourage everyone here to just like really listen to the speakers. They all have amazing messages."

"How about the adults here?" asked Olivia.

"Pay attention to your kids," Priya said with a smile. "I think they all have a lot more ideas than most adults think they do . . . Both adults and kids can learn from each other."

So what does this mean for education?

This conference–––and those that follow–––will inspire us to trust students, to see them as responsible learners, teachers, and active citizens. Education will transform, if only we can learn to let go and let kids. I have no idea what that new form will be; I only know that it will not resemble today's school structure–––at all.

The kids I mention here were not teaching reading, writing, and math as most adults would envision them being taught; they were using all kinds of literacy skills to accomplish feats of altruism, collaboration, art, music, and citizenship. And some were as young as nine years old! They spoke with passion and commitment, and we felt it. TEDxRedmond speakers were out there raising $250,000 for brain tumor research, using art to save Gulf Coast wildlife, studying to preserve a tribal language, developing the Hoops for Hope foundation, and creating a charity Rwandan students. Along the way they were learning–––and then, we learned from them.

"We want people to come away knowing they can do something to change the world, even though they may be under 18," attested Maya Ganesan. Again and again, conference participants said they felt inspired. A young man from Tacoma's Outward Bound group shared, "It got me thinking about all the things we could and I could do, like writing letters to government about changing education to incorporate understanding between people. It inspired me to, like, go back to my school and start a club about something I really care about."

Ten-year-old speaker and film critic, Perry Chen, tells kids, "Follow your dreams and have your parents engaged if they're willing. And don't let anything stop you."

We listened as young musicians demonstrated the essence of Perry's message. Talented teens and tweens sang and played their messages in ways that touched the heart as only music can. Violin or voice, guitar, piano, or cello, the message was pure.

Is this what can happen when a young person follows his or her dream, I asked?

Participants commented on all the powerful messages, like that of Brigitte Berman, who campaigns and writes about bullying. And even near the end of the day, Alec Loorz, founder of Kids vs. Global Warming, drew the audience to their feet, committing to get out there and do something! Yet again, I shivered as goose-bumps spoke their silent voice. Something important was occurring here.

These kids led us into a brave new world–––a world of commitment, collaboration, and community. This world did not involve a "race to the top", test scores, or failing schools, but instead, a call to action. That audience of 800 kids was called to commit, to change the world into a better place. Even after five hours, speakers still held those young listeners in the palm of their hands. That audience–––kids from six to 18–––sat rapt, leaning forward, nodding their heads, and raising their hands as they volunteered to help the world. My hand went up, too.

If you're wondering what happened that day in Redmond, watch the TEDxRedmond videos and learn a few lessons from children.

NOTE: This article was submitted to Education Week.

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Tags: Ardith, Cole, Davis, adora, svitak, tedxredmond


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