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Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Transnational Teachable Moment

The Transnational Teachable Moment

By Dr. Ryan Donlan
Assistant Professor
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University

This past week, I sat in the Milwaukee Brat House eating my 2nd “Loaded Brat” for the week with two new friends and colleagues from across the ocean.  We were attending and presenting at the first International Transnational Conference in Education and Learning.  The brat was incredible, a Milwaukee staple, as was the hospitality.
Particularly noteworthy about our conversation was our thankfulness that international conference organizers had the foresight to run with the suggestion of a presenter earlier that day that resulted in their completely turning the conference on its head, on a dime.
After rather lengthy ballroom introductions at the opening of this conference with attendees from what I counted among five continents, a collective interest in what each presenter was planning to share seemed present.
The question was posed to all presenting: Would you be willing to do something different?  Further: Would we be willing to set aside what had been advertised and planned? Would we be willing to change what we had prepared to present, ourselves?
The answer, “Yes,” was heard ballroom-wide, much to the delight of participants and organizers. 
A decision, thus, was made to allow all presenters to attend ALL presentations, rather than breaking things into concurrent sessions as had been planned for well over a year.  Admittedly, this was a bold move, one potentially fraught with pushback from those who had been readying in many cases their international presentations for hour-and-one-half timeslots.
Thank goodness my presentation was on Day Two.  I could adjust that evening.
Upon reflection, a well-planned conference morphed into something immeasurably more meaningful for the group, who many years hence will remember how the collective will of an international group turned something from “good” to “great,” with individual needs to showcase wares and provide home-court commercials set aside. 
In short, as Regier and King (2013) noted, conference-goer’s seemed to have a collective will for universal effectiveness over that of individual justification.  We each gave a bit of ourselves (quite a bit) to allow for a bigger part of us all. 
I’m not sure I have ever seen something so collectively “OK” that was as uncomfortable for some as it was.  Presenters traveled from Europe, Africa, Asia, and South America to offer their sessions, at quite the time and expense, not that those from North America didn’t.

As leaders, I’m asking you today to do a simply math problem.  Count the number of teachers in your building that would set aside and/or completely revamp something that they may have been planning for many months to deliver, with great resources expended, in the most public of venues, so that the collective learning of the group “might” be improved. 
Further, how many of them would do it the same day it is to be delivered?
How many of them would allow for the equivalent of that transnational teachable moment I experienced this past week?
Then after counting, think of one thing you can do to double the number you came up with here.  Think about how you can encourage the adults in your buildings to step beyond themselves, when it is uncomfortable for them.  What could you provide for them, so as to invite them into that “most-cool place” to be?

In thinking of that transnational teachable moment, I reflect upon the number of countries, cultures, ethnicities, races, and world perspectives that came together on a decision having to do with teaching and learning that seemed quite simply, to “make sense.”
 No back-channel conversations to speak of; no caucusing, no dinnertime regrets.  In fact, it wasn’t even the opposite; no one celebrated what a good decision it was, really (with possibly the exception of me, in this writing). 
We just moved on and enjoyed the learning, not saying a thing.


Regier, N., & King, J. (2013).  Beyond drama: Transcending energy vampires.  Newton, KS: Next Element Publishing.


Dr. Ryan Donlan is looking worldwide for answers that will help take our schools from where they are to a better place.  If you would like to share something from his homeland or from yours, please feel free to contact him at (812) 237-8624 or at

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