“What after all has maintained the human race on this old world despite all the calamities of nature and all the tragic failings of mankind, if not faith in new possibilities and courage to advocate them.” – Jane Addams
“We need to spread the word,” B exclaimed, clearly feeling passionate about the content of our group. We had just spent the last several minutes of the morning exploring endangered animals and discovering together the different things that were impacting the creatures we all so dearly loved. As you might expect with a group of young children, the emotions were high as I moved through a collection of some of our most treasured animals telling them more about their status on the endangered species list. This experience had certainly struck a chord with them, shifting their perspective and opening their eyes to the sad realities that accompany many of these creatures.
Being part of this group while also sharing that deep love for animals, I could easily relate to the emotions the children were feeling. Each “oh no” I heard from the children at the discovery of a new endangered species and every sigh of relief for those that were not on the list, echoed my own thoughts and feelings perfectly. In this moment with the children I felt completely connected, each of us sharing a common interest and concern for all the living things we share our world with.
But it wasn’t until B shared his thoughts that I suddenly realized the difference between the children and I. Where I was focused on researching and knowing the experience of these animals, the children wanted to change it.
Immediately after B expressed his concerns a chorus of voices started to rise up from our group, sharing ideas about all the ways we could make B’s vision so.
“We could make a newspaper!”
“Yeah! We can tell people don’t cut down trees.”
“If they need to cut them they can just trim them!”
“We can say don’t hunt animals!”
“We can let them know about all the animals that are endangered!”
“We need to protect the rhinos!”
“We can make signs!”
What I had seen as an opportunity to reflect on new information had quickly transformed into a call to action, inspired by the deep level of empathy at each of these children’s core. Together the children and I, over the next several days, worked to create signs, posters and even a “newspaper” detailing (and often times demanding) the changes we wanted to see. We shared ideas and new possibilities, and as we did I felt a collective fire start to grow. A fire that I had a feeling would continue to burn even as we welcomed the final days of our school year.
It seemed only fitting then that after a few weeks of this work with the children, that I would head directly into a conference at Opal School in Portland focused on “change making” and our role in creating environments where that process can take place. Not knowing what to expect from the conference before I left, it felt so serendipitous to walk into a space designed to nurture and inspire those seeds of change that my children and I had spent the last few weeks planting.
I listened to the speakers over the next few days as they so eloquently described their experiences working with children of various ages who delved deep into complex works of perspective taking, empathy, and inquiry. In awe of the work being done by these children, I could feel that fire inside me (the one my children had started) warm my heart and awaken my mind.
Imagining my own children as I continued to walk through the classrooms of Opal and listen to their teachers stories, I thought about how so many of them had started to crack open deep and meaningful topics like this. I wondered what might come next for them. I thought about the heart that had driven them up to that point and how closely it resembled the heart that made up the essence of every one of these stories. The heart that made up the essence of what it means to be a change maker. I thought about everything the children at my school, at Opal, and in the world had done and what they might continue to work toward. I wondered….
What kind of world is grown when children believe they have the power to change it?