I just can’t get it out of my head… “It’s our time, our place, our pace. Choice and voice, we co-create.” Almost two years ago a group of young people from schools around the state convened to compose a song that captured their vision of education. Once the song was ready, Vermont students of all ages performed this piece—string orchestras, bands, choirs, and even a high school dance troupe. It was then woven into a video: a rich mosaic of hopes and dreams.
The “Our Time” video premiered at an International Seminar on the theme of amplifying youth voice. In this era of social media, it was then shared around the world. Since then, it has served as the closing act of an INacol conference, a national convening of educators advocating for school change. It is now regularly used in the Penn State teacher training program as a catalyst for dialogue. It has opened faculty in-service week at Vermont schools and been aired at school-wide assemblies as a reminder of our shared wishes and responsibilities. It can also be a personal anthem; it is certainly my “go to” on challenging days.
Why does this song reverberate so deeply? I have often said I love working with young people because of their ability to “cut to the chase,” to name the heart of the issue at hand. Perhaps the song’s resonance lies in this ability to spark a universal chord; the youthful perspective on education names a life-long human quest. Let’s consider just the chorus….
“It’s our time, our place, our pace.” I flash to raising my own children and how important the security and predictability of their “place” was as a haven to weather the challenges of childhood. And the joy of feeling known in this place—always being greeted warmly by our post mistress or neighbors who stopped by to purchase lemonade at our daughter’s roadside stand. Our lives slowed down for that time because of our childrens’ rightful demands; it was a period when a hike up Elmore Mountain took twice as long because of countless detours to explore the otherwise untended rocks, sticks, and logs along the way. Our children reminded us of the wonder of this place and the time and pace it deserves.
I also think of the place-based initiatives I have been involved in, where elementary age youth in our town of Hardwick were able to connect to their history, grounding the sense of who they are within a larger context. I will never forget the faces of the fifth-graders who discovered the report cards of former students who had attended the one-room school houses of our town at the turn of the century, unearthed in a dusty supervisory union attic. The fifth-graders’ sense of wonder, belonging, and pride as local historians was nearly palpable as they brought that box of report cards, cradled in their arms, back to their classroom. We seek belonging throughout all the phases of our lives by connecting to “our place.” If we are lucky, we slow down enough to notice and relish the journey.
“Learning who we are, no, it’s not a race.” When I was young, I couldn’t wait to be an adult so that I would know everything. Now, in my later professional (and personal) phase of life, I realize this quest to figure out who we are, and what matters, endures throughout the decades. No time machine exists to speed up this process…or slow it down. I also realize that “knowing everything” is a fool’s journey, and that listening for the everyday lessons and delighting in my small discoveries is a gift.
“Choice and voice we co-create.” I remember that phase of parenting when my children demanded to dress themselves, or at the very least, have choice in their clothing for the day (or the hour). I realized that this desire for independence was non-negotiable! I acknowledge a life-time of finding my own voice and making my own choices, freeing myself over the years of the fear of judgement of others and sharpening my ability to hear and believe in my inner voice. I vividly recall the joy as a child “co-creating” a treehouse with my older brother, building forts from couch pillows with my children, and forming an organization called UP for Learning with passionate colleagues. We are born with a desire and ability to create, often sharing these experiences with others who are our friends, guides, teachers and mentors – those who honor our voices and bring forth our wisdom.
There is a movement afoot in Vermont to personalize learning; many are asking what that means. “Our Time” captures the spirit of this change, naming the attributes of a learning environment that mirror what we all need as human beings to learn, to thrive, and to find joy across the generations. Let these young people’s words be a touchstone for what matters at whatever stage we are in our life story, and let us celebrate that Vermont is designing an educational system that “cuts to the chase,” insuring that all youth will be enabled to fulfill their greatest potential.
Link Our Time video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7e09HE99DWc