Letting Go of the Side of the Pool

“You cannot swim for new horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore.” – William Faulkner


For the first time ever, my exuberant 6-yr-old daughter takes a series of quick, deep breaths and—triple checking that I am close by, watching attentively in case she needs support—determinedly pushes off with both feet from the side of the pool and…with rapid, purposeful, if not always productive, movements… she is… swimming!… Giving a final kick, she reaches out, grasps the far edge of the pool, and raises her fist in triumph “YES!” She SWAM!

I can almost watch her identity shifting before my eyes: she is now, and will always be, “a swimmer.” She already seems to be looking around in a more knowing way, as though to silently assert, “I can overcome my fear; I can take things one step at a time; I can learn to do new things; I can persevere; I am maturing and I have some control over how that happens.” Even just moments after achieving this milestone she is looking across the pool thinking about what next challenge she will undertake; it won’t be long before the deep end beckons.

Sharing the joy of this intensely personal, experiential and transformative learning was just one highlight of an end of 2015 “off the grid” rejuvenating family vacation week. I was reminded again that often it is only by leaving the false comfort of our regular daily routines that we create opportunities for novel learning experiences. We can only learn to swim by swimming.

As I reflect on 2015 and look ahead to 2016, I could certainly identify plenty of ongoing challenges, and obstacles yet to be surmounted (who knows what monsters might lie in the deep end?), but I also feel that there is much to be proud of and celebrate in the now completed first 20 years of BPL. Every day I am newly inspired. Every day I see evidence of students, families, mentors, and educators across Big Picture Learning schools (and beyond!) who demonstrate boldness and vigor.

The Big Picture Learning community is filled with exuberance and reflection, it is motivated by compassionate solidarity, and it is staunchly committed to equity. We work in service to support every single individual one of our students through close collaboration so that they don’t have to wait until graduation to begin to make a difference in the world. As they dive into experiences, their learning, work and influence spread like ripples beyond the classroom.

I am privileged to be in this work with a community of learners who are unafraid to take risks for the sake of positive outcomes, who demand much of others for the sake of learning, who put ourselves out there for the sake of others. We won’t be content in 2016 or beyond until we have created opportunities for all students to “let go of the side of the pool.”