Teaching The Pebbles

Teaching The Pebbles

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When Mr. Penn approached me, as he had others, with the opportunity to create a guest post for him in his absence, I was initially and naturally quite honored.  That feeling, however, turned like spring weather in the Midwest often does to a horrible feeling of dread.  How could I, far from a professional or even remotely consistent blogger of letters, possibly hold a candle burning at both ends to the likes of Mr. WallMs. HoffmanMr. Kownacki, or even Mr. Penn himself?

It took me a few days of fighting a Xanax-resistant strain of seizing panic to finally realize what he did here: not only was this an opportunity to fill space on Mr. Penn’s website while he racked up more frequent flyer miles than Clark Kent, it was a teaching moment directed squarely at me, and that’s a superpower we all possess.

Despite the reflexive reach for a gas mask that the term “life coach” compels out of me, we all possess some knowledge of some subject we can convey to someone else in the world.  It could be a mechanical, philosophical, intellectual, or an artistic skill or talent, but the unrealized superpower in all of us is this: No matter the pursuit and how much you think you know or don’t know about it, there is always someone who knows less about that subject than you.  These people are your target, your audience, and your unrealized opportunities.

It’s important to remember that whatever your subject or level of expertise, your students will almost never be blank slates. Like pebbles on a mountaintop, each student will behave differently in accordance with their natural gifts, needs, and their own unique imperfections.  Some of these pebbles will stubbornly refuse to move, fighting the push of external force and the pull of gravity and in doing so deny themselves their own innate potential, accepting a destiny of forever remaining where they lie.  Some will veer off too soon, impulsive and without direction, and tumble off the mountain, never to be heard from again.  Some only seem to move when forcefully motivated by the boot of the teacher.  Many will sadly slide down the smoothest path available, avoiding friction and resistance at every possible turn, safely landing at the goal of the bottom without so much as a scratch, but at the same time unnoticed and with little fanfare — they will have traded away their potential for an easy victory but are left with nothing to build on of their own.

The best students, however, will be the ones that show patience.  They recognize their flaws and they wait — waiting to be shaped by the teacher’s tools — however limited those tools may seem — and allowing the experience and the environment to smooth away the imperfections.  They’re the last pebbles to leave the mountaintop.  Once these pebbles are ready and set down the path of the mountain, however, they become immense, awe-inspiring forces unto themselves that even the teacher dares not stand in the way of.  They command a following of the very environment around them they once waited unassumingly in — water, ice, wind, boulders the size of cities — and transform it all into a crushing, unconquerable force of an avalanche that changes the landscape of the world.

What about the teacher, you ask?  Of course the teacher is a pebble himself influenced by his own teacher until set free to become the foundation of his own mountain.  Turn enough pebbles into unstoppable waves of energy, however, and you will be seen as the real definition of a superhero — something everyone will fear and respect for your ability as a kingmaker to unleash the power of the pebbles under your care.

My own pebble is the girl in the picture above, and my shaping tool is a camera.  She’s ever the patient student and has taken well to learning my photographic philosophy of being part of the world she imagines inside the camera — as opposed to being simply on the world with a camera in hand.  You can see the rounding of the corners and the smoothing of the jagged edges of this pebble with every new photograph she captures. Should it continue to be her pursuit, it will not be long before she is ready to be set upon a world that will never see her coming — and I will take great joy in watching the elements at her command rush past me and form something more amazing than I could ever imagine for myself.

It’s one of the many open secrets of the universe that we all possess this ability — most of us simply fail to realize it.  We are content to be our own unassuming pebbles gliding down the easiest route possible on someone else’s mountain.

Your challenge and biggest reward as a teacher is to find these pebbles of opportunity on your own mountaintop and set them upon the unsuspecting world below, transforming them from a humble start into something unimaginatively powerful.  These pebbles do not necessarily need to be children or relatives — we are surrounded by potential pebbles of all ages in nearly every interactive aspect of our daily lives.

Be a superhero: Find a pebble and teach it to become its own mountain.

Bryce Moore (@abiteofsanity) is an IT professional by day, a photographer by love, and one of Christopher Penn’s many pebbles by grace and choice.  While trying to duck out of the way of boots thrown in the area of his cranium, he photoblogs daily and writes not nearly enough according to some people at abiteofsanity.com.

  • http://www.thefourthrevolution.org Jeremie Averous

    Have you been in Tibet or Nepal? There people start putting a pebble on the side of the way, at some particularly notable point: a ridge, a mountain pass. And it is a tradition for each voyager passing by to throw an additional pebble on top of the others, as a sign of luck. Soon enough this stack of pebbles becomes a landmark, a navigation help, a stupa, a natural temple to the power of the gods.
    Your post made me think about those. We want to be the pebbles that start the stupas. As people travel on the path, they throw their own pebble to contribute. And soon enough we have a new navigation landmark for humankind.
    Thanks for the creative minute.

  • http://twitter.com/helenabouchez Helena Bouchez

    Bryce, thanks for this. I read something somewhere recently that said that the most personal accounts are actually the most universal and have the most power to connect, and I totally connected with this generous, thoughtful post. I picked up a pebble from our patio and put it on my desk, to remind me.