Day one of the Global Issues Network (GIN) Conference is under way, bringing a record number of student attendees and their teacher chaperoning counterparts.
We received a most heartfelt welcome from Linda Sills, Director of the Global Issues Network. She implored us to be fully present with each other to make this conference “the best place to be on planet Earth for the next three days.” This inspired a few teary eyes as Linda is a beloved leader and friend to many students, teachers, and colleagues in our AASSA network.
Her message reverberated through an impressive crowd of student leaders who are running the whole show without a hitch. They have been MCing keynotes, managing the crowd flow, running tech, and even tracking the carbon footprint of the conference, not to mention the music ensembles, bands at lunch, and all the work they completed in the submission of entries for a mini film festival.
Following the openings, we heard from two keynotes speakers, Marina Mansilla Hermann and Yoca Arditi-Rocha. Both women spoke of their current work for environmental change and gave students encouragement to reach their goals.
A highlight so far has been hearing about Marina Mansilla Hermann’s lifelong pursuit for environmental change-making in her community, later country. Her story is unique in that she was a child activist who is still fully living the same dream. As she told her story, we found ourselves increasingly engaged by the gentleness and earnestness of her story and delivery. She so closely resembled her child self from the videos and photos that it made me wonder if finding your calling at age 12, or in youth, can preserve a certain kind of innocence that many people spend an adulthood seeking to reclaim.
My take away from Marina’s speech was that, even in the harshest of realities, we may still find grace in our language to communicate a certain special softness amid the wreckage of global material society, and that is maybe a lesson in compassion many activists still need to learn. She reminded me that taking an aggressive stance on issues reveals a lack of trust in ourselves and in others, and that climate cannot be conducive moving forward together to accomplish enduring societal change. We must forgive and start where we are.
The above sketch is by Silvia Tolisano, who I’ve finally had the pleasure to meet after much Twitter chit chat over the past few months. Much of my conference lay time has been spent absorbed in conversation with her around capacity building within AASSA regarding teacher networking and authenticity in the pursuit of innovation (or innovation in the pursuit of authenticity).
As I watch this conference and hear from these inspired teachers and students, I’ve been experiencing some personal reflection on what brought me not only to this conference, but to South America (Brazil) to begin with. It was the opportunity to work for leaders who exhibited great compassion, a school with a magnificent garden and culture of care, and the opportunity of time to consider what really mattered to me as an educator.
GIN is a welcome reminder of everything and everyone I came for. I also hope it’s a promise of what’s to come. Looking forward to the next days!