What do you do when see five baby ducks stuck in a flower planter outside of a convention center? What do you do when you watch the mother duck jump into the planter and jump down, quacking for her ducklings over and over and over again? You apply the knowledge you just learned at the convention. You rely on action.
I have spent the past three days at the Monona Terrace Convention Center right down the road from me at the Professional Learning Community Institute. This is three intense days of reflection and planning, hoping and strategizing. At the crux of the institute are the four essential questions: 1)What do we want our students to learn? 2) How will we know they are learning? 3) How will we respond when they don’t learn? 4) How will we respond when they do learn (or learned it eons ago, I’d add.) But the institute’s work cannot progress if we educators aren’t willing to step in thoughtfully and commit.
When we left Dr. Muhammad’s keynote, there was a mother duck and her five ducklings in a planter. The mother duck would jump into the planter and out of the planter, quacking for the ducklings, only little balls of fluff, to follow. They were like “heck, no!” They were right. Look at it. Here is a picture of the lip of the planter the ducklings would have to jump over. For comparison sake, look at the lip vs my mega coffee cup.
Then look at what they would have to jump down. I put my camera on the edge and took the picture, looking down. Remember, these are tiny ducklings.
Criminey. I’ve seen baby ducks jump amazing heights, but I think they were right. Jumping from that planter was an impossible ask. (What do we demand of our students that is an impossible ask, I wonder?)
So I did what every nature loving soul would do. I told two conference workers, who cheerfully got on it, contacting building staff. Then I went to the bookstore.
But then I went to check on the ducks again, where there was no change except momma duck was getting exhausted and frantic. I saw her try each side of the planter with no different results. So I decided to help her out. I gingerly lifted each baby duckling down, where quacking, they scampered to their mom.
And then I realized I made an error. I just got the ducks out and now they were in the middle of a huge concrete structure and on the edge of a curved bike and running lane. Not safe. Not safe at all.
I tried to get the ducks to move. Nope. Not happening. Did you know that ducks, like their “cousin” the cobra-goose, can hiss? Yep. True.
Back into the convention center I went. At this point, it is the third time I left the convention center to check on the ducks. Re-entering the building requires walking around the building, entering a stairwell, going up some floors to get to the public entrance level, and then walking through the building and then going down some floors. Its decent exercise. I ventured back into the building, talked to the same amazing convention workers, and got a box from them.
When back outside, I kidnapped a duck. That means I had to be brave enough to reach under hissing momma duck and carefully grab a duckling. This did not go unpunished. Momma ducks, even terrified ones, aren’t bad at pecking. The duckling went into the box and its quacking lured the momma duck to follow me, slowly, slowly, toward water. I walked backwards, continually looking out for bikes and warning riders and runners of the duck family. Here is the baby in the box, and hurried pictures trying to capture the family following me. Crazy nuts trying to rescue ducks and take pictures.
The journey was tedious and precarious. It took some juggling to keep the box open enough for the baby’s quacking to be loud enough for the mom to hear but closed enough for the baby not to be able to jump.
And then success. I could put the box down and on its side… and the family could reunite and get to water.
Whew. That was sweaty and time-consuming.
What are the lessons?
1. Action is necessary. One of the lessons learned these days is that education often says “hey, the opportunity is there. Just do it.” That’s the meritocracy and the status quo. That view needs to change. The momma duck was trying hard. Those baby ducks were trying hard. But without some intervention, I don’t know that things would have changed.
2. Taking action isn’t comfortable. I don’t know if I should have left them. Maybe some duck expert will believe me to be completely wrong. Being hissed at is uncomfortable. Getting pecked by a rightfully angry duck isn’t pleasant. And that was sweaty, sweaty work. Action isn’t comfortable.
3. Things might seem worse before they are better. That huddled family on the cusp of the bike path reminded me of every significant change in my classroom or English department; it feels worse before it gets better.
4. Celebrate what is done. Look at these ducks. Pure happiness! There is so much to confront in my classroom, my department, my school. Take that uncomfortable action, knowing it is going to be hard, and celebrate the experience.