Author: İpek İnal (Grade 10)
Two Prep Students, one Grade 9 student, one Grade 10 student, and two Grade 12 students. Can they build a community of social innovators, designers, and creators through a weekly event at a high school? As a team, this was our design challenge! This is the learning journey of a group of teenagers building a community starting with 3 people and reaching out to 338 in five months in student facilitated sharing circles.
A team of 6 students from RC Social Entrepreneurship, Innovation, and Creativity Office (RC SEIC) have been organizing a weekly community building gathering entitled “On Wednesdays We Wonder (OWWW)” since the beginning of the academic year. We have been meeting on Zoom to listen to one of our community members talk about one of their interests for 20 minutes. Although the topics vary, all of the talks share a common vision: To remind ourselves that in a school, everyone is a learner, designer, creator, and social innovator!
As the designers and facilitators of the event, at the beginning of the process we were intimidated by the expectation of our audience to stay still and be all ears for twenty minutes every Wednesday AND during their lunch break. It didn’t strike me as the most enduring idea. What if they have no idea about what the speaker is talking about? Is it logical to disregard all of the emerging questions? Would the speakers be motivated to talk without a response from the audience? The list goes on and on. Nonetheless, we began because the idea of learning from a community member was too compelling to ignore.
The underlying aspiration behind OWWWs was to learn how to learn in a student facilitated environment. The conventional practice of learning comes in the form of a student-teacher relationship, most of the time. With OWWWs, we aimed for designing a learning experience where everyone holds space to create a learning circle together. We can learn from peers, teachers, the cook at our school, the security guard we say hi to every morning and they can learn from us. With the liberty of choosing a passion to talk about, our speakers didn’t fail to astound us with their unprecedented interests. Women’s place in sports, children’s rights, community service, the post-pandemic world, escapism in literature, stock market, photography, school spirit, black holes, toxic positivity are just a few examples. As we got familiar with an audience that wants to learn solely by their choice, it has become evident that the audience was not the only learners. Our speakers were learning, too. They were creating a deeper understanding of the topic they were eager to talk about. They were forming stronger bonds with the people that came to listen. They were learning to keep their passion alive. Therefore, although it is easier to name one person as a speaker and the rest as the audience, we are all learners.
Some insights from OWWW facilitators, another circle of learners:
- People want to come there only to learn and share their interests because it provides a judgement-free safe space.
- Learning from my peers has given me a different type of fulfilment. I am a person who is inspired by the concepts and the people around me, and OWWWs highlighted those aspects of my friends for me.
- In the beginning, I wasn’t expecting to see such a meaningful impact, but I saw that after people join OWWW sessions, they discover an interest that they may want to explore further in their lives. For example, I am considering “diving” as a hobby these days after the presentation by one of my friends in OWWW.
- With this event, I learned how valuable it is to connect with people.
- We often miss out on what people around us learn from the things that they like/hate. That’s why being able to dive deep into our friends’ learning experiences is something that OWWW brought that I will always cherish.
With all that being said, there is one more thing that keeps OWWW’s heart beating: progression. We have come a long way since our first OWWW on December 2nd. From reminding the speaker that only one minute is left to getting weekly announcements on time, we have learned a lot too. At first, we were getting ourselves into a big unknown. As OWWW initially launched with the name “How-to Wednesdays”, I felt like I was the one that needed a how-to on this event. As we entered this void, we started to notice a few people that were eager to explore this unknown with us. People started to gain the habit of coming to OWWWs, speakers were leaving their talk with smiles on their faces, and a picture was starting to form in the RC community’s mind when they came across the acronym “OWWW”. We have currently reached a total of 338 people from our community. Our mindset, as the designers & facilitators of the event, was gradually becoming more welcoming towards On Wednesdays We Wonder, too. While there were moments where we doubted ourselves, let’s say, only having three audience members, we learned to look at experience not just as a number but as a space to hold for meaningful connections. We were constantly creating a platform where people from various places at RC came together and shared beautiful and genuine moments in just 20 minutes.
Yet, if there is one thing that will live to be at the centre of OWWW, it is that we will all keep on learning from our community members.