Ecological Teaching and Learning Graduate Talks About Transformation
Below is the text of the speech given by the Graduate School of Education's 2013 Student Commencement Speaker, Margaret Burke. Burke (pictured), a graduate of the M.S. in Ecological Teaching and Learning program, shared the stage with administration and faculty, as well as honorary degree recipients TV journalist and humanitarian Liz Walker and former Massachusetts Secretary of Education Paul Reville.
I have here a packet of radish seeds. With the support of complex ecological systems these seeds will profoundly transform. In one season, they'll ripen and grow full, be unearthed from the garden, and are ready to be consumed by human or groundhog or by the systems in the soil. In some way, they are reabsorbed into the whole.Like the radish seed, we (graduates, professors, parents, partners, friends) are changing every moment. Yet, I suspect most of us do not spend every second focusing on the ways in which we are ever evolving. Luckily, in this human life, there are occasional moments when we are called to pause and reflect.On this day, we sit among loved ones, teachers, and colleagues - here to witness the shift and watch us leap from one edge to another. I suspect that neither they nor we could point to a singular moment when we became different from how we were before we embarked on this particular learning journey. Yet we are transformed by inspiration, by knowledge, by reflection, by time; and they are here to watch us as we are acknowledged for our passion, for our commitment, for our perseverance, and for our aspirations. It is not every day that we are able to stand before an audience this large, or even an audience of one, to be honored for the evolution of ourselves.For those who are here to mark this moment: I thank you for noticing. I thank you for witnessing. I thank you for supporting. Transformation comes in many forms. I hope you will continue to recognize it as it reveals itself. The lessons gleaned from living and learning do not all arrive neatly and immediately when one receives a diploma. The documents we are here to receive mark the commencement of new growth in our lives. For me, this phase of graduate learning and personal growth has been a wild and surprising thing. I came to Lesley University, to pursue graduate work alongside my professional endeavors. I wanted to keep doing what I was doing but better. I wanted to strengthen my skills educating teachers and students in natural science, agriculture, and creative place-based pedagogy. Yet subsequent to this program, doors have opened and revealed change. It is a basic ecological process. I cannot simply keep doing what I was doing because the world is changing and I am changing. Constantly.
Years ago, I chose an unconventional path by wanting to participate in education designed to occur without walls (and sometimes without shoes), by wanting students to experience complex natural systems through personal connection, and by wanting to be in deep and unique relationships with learners. Each day at work, I watch young people explore physics, biology, meteorology, ecology, botany, zoology, entomology, health and wellness, life cycles, water cycles, soil cycles, mathematics, history, literature, research methods, and endless other disciplines driven by their own curiosity and unique gifts. I am intentional about creating space for movement, play, risk taking, investigation, critical discourse, and reflection in learning environments. Yet, some parents and classroom teachers have asked me, "Do you think you'll ever become a teacher?"
I assume they meant to ask me if I will ever choose a more conventional path. After all, what makes a "teacher?" The answer cannot be exclusive to a room with desks and a smart board. And now that I have a Master's Degree in Ecological Teaching and Learning, am I expected to get a "real" job? Do I have to be conventional? This contemplation got me asking questions about my unconventional choices. I found that the term "conventional" comes from the Latin term "conventionalis: pertaining to agreement." And then I found that "agreement," in the late 14th century, meant "mutual conformity of things." While traditions have their place, our world is evolving and I believe it may be time to renegotiate the agreements. And I believe that conformity alone is not going to serve my generation or those which follow.
In fact, I think that this is a time for the radical. The term, "radical" comes from the Latin word, "radicalis" and according to Merriam Webster, it means "of, relating to, or proceeding from a root." Isn't that refreshing?! It made me wonder about radishes, and I discovered that their name comes from the Latin source as well.
As educators (and I believe we're all educators in some way), roots are exactly what we need and what our graduate programs have helped us to strengthen. Strong roots are our essential foundation as we stretch upward and outward reaching the world with our creative and unique ways of inspiring learners. Strong roots soak up nutrients and nourishment, as we too must do to sustain ourselves, to stay innovative and inspired in a professional realm that can be exhausting. Strong roots help us to be upright in the face of challenges.The Ecological Teaching and Learning program at Lesley University has helped me to identify and strengthen my own roots and my capacities as a teacher and learner. Being a part of the intimate ETL learning community has had transformational impacts on my work and on my life. And in this moment, with the doors of possibility and understanding wide open, we have the privilege of choosing consciously and intentionally where we shall go from here. I brought a whole radish this talk as well. I admire the way it's grown from such a tiny seed into something so strong and ripe. I hope that seeing and holding the early fruit of the garden helps us to remember the importance of roots and reminds us of what it means to be fundamentally radical.--Margaret Burke
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Learn more about the M.S. in Ecological Teaching and Learning program, which pairs online learning with two summer residencies, one in a rural and one in an urban location.