Last Friday we were extremely fortunate to have Jane Goodall speak here at YIS. Although she was only with us for a short time, her speech was so inspiring that I’m sure it will have a lasting impact on our school!
Listening to her life story, from her earliest memories of bringing handfuls of earthworms to bed as a toddler, to traveling the world promoting a sustainable lifestyle in her 70’s was absolutely amazing. Not only is she a natural storyteller, keeping the students captivated at the very end of the day in our stiflingly hot gym, but in every theme she discussed, there was a wonderfully simple and inspiring message.
Here are a few that really resonated with me:
The Power of Encouragement
Many of Jane’s stories centered around the caring and supportive environment provided by her mother. She started by sharing the memory of taking a handful of earthworms to bed as a toddler and her mother’s reaction – not of disgust or laughter – but of honest concern, teaching her daughter that the earthworms need soil to survive. This simple, but defining moment, was the beginning of Jane’s fascination with nature.
Although a teacher may not have the same impact that a parent can have, it’s humbling to think what a powerful impact words can have on a young person’s life. It will be this story that I remind myself of when a student proposes an “outlandish” idea or challenges an assignment or shares a unique perspective in class. You never know what the result of a little extra encouragement at exactly the right time could be!
Follow Your Passion
I always like to tell my students to study subjects they enjoy, because if they end up in a career they love, they will be successful (which is exactly what my parents told me). Jane told several anecdotes about her childhood love of animals, and of books like Dr. Doolittle and Tarzan which inspired her at a young age. It was this early passion which showed her what direction to take in life, helped her to succeed, and which still drives her.
She made amazing advances in her field and became a global celebrity not through education in a particular subject, or because her family had money to send her a certain school, or because she listened to other peoples’ advice – but because she discovered what she wanted to do, found a way to do it, and never gave up. It’s a great example of the power of internal motivation, and a good reminder to us teachers that we should always take students’ interests and dreams seriously, no matter how unlikely or unconventional they might seem.
Be A Risk Taker
My favorite story that Jane shared was about her first trip to Africa, when she was only 23. She vividly described her feelings of excitement and apprehension setting off, alone and by boat, to a continent that she knew almost nothing about in order to follow her dreams. Just the thought of leaving everything and everyone you know behind for an almost completely unknown experience, in the hopes of finding a career is almost completely unimaginable to me. Sure, I’ve lived in 4 countries in the last 10 years, but I’ve always been just an e-mail, Skype, phone call, or (relatively) short flight away from family and friends back home.
When we talk about the IB Learner Profile and being a risk taker, I always think of examples like speaking up in class, or trying to solve a problem in a different way, but this is another whole level of risk-taking. One I’m not so sure even exists anymore. Nevertheless, we need to make taking risks more of a habit than a rarity for fear of failure. The more risks you take, the more willing you are to try another, and the more failure becomes a learning opportunity rather than an end result.
I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to hear Jane speak, and to see the impact her story has already had on our students. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the day-to-day world of teaching and learning, but there is something extra special about hearing different stories, particularly from speakers outside the field of education, that really remind me why I became a teacher in the first place.
What or who has inspired you lately?