Ice cream, Astronomy and Leadership

I was watching Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with my friend’s daughter, Alegra. We were immersed in the magical land of sweet possibilities, having one of my favorite types of conversations that you can have with a child…the conversation of ”What ifs…” What if rivers were really made of chocolate? What if flowers were made of candy? etc. As the movie came to an end I told Alegra that my first job was working in an ice cream store. This news launched Alegra into a new series of questions. Alegra was filled with wonder and awe!

Photo by Harry Cunningham @harry.digital from Pexels

The next day my friend called me to tell me about the conversation she had with Alegra while tucking her into bed that night. The last thing Alegra said before falling asleep was, “why would Kristen ever leave her job at the ice cream store?” 

That question got me thinking about my dream job when I was a child. I desperately wanted to be an astronomer. I was so passionate about space. When I was in second grade the only thing I wanted for Christmas was the book Cosmos by Carl Sagan. I wanted to go to Cornell University so Carl Sagan could be my teacher.

I constantly sang:

 Twinkle twinkle little star, I know exactly what you are. If you wonder how I know, Carl Sagan told me so. Twinkle, Twinkle little star, I know exactly what you are.

Photo by Chris Leggat on Unsplash

How could a parent refuse the wish of a book? I got Cosmos for Christmas and spent hours looking through the amazing photographs trying to understand the words that went with the images. I still have the book 40 years later.

As a learner who struggled throughout school to understand mathematical concepts and barely made my way through physics I think back to my 8 year old self, who was desperate to be an astronomer, and wonder, “what was it that I thought an astronomer did?” because I am certain I did not think it involved any math.

I actually spent a lot of time thinking about that question this week after listening to an inspiring interview with America Ferrera on the Dare to Lead podcast where she was talking about her dream, as a kindergartner, to be a human rights lawyer.

My 8 year old self defined an astronomer as a person who looked at the sky and saw endless possibilities of what could be. An astronomer experienced wonder and awe every day as part of their work. Astronomers were curious. An astronomer was an explorer. A person who looked for places that no one had been before and tried to learn everything possible about that place whether it was a planet, a moon, a star, a black hole or a galaxy. An astronomer was a person who could see things in different ways through different types of powerful telescopes. An astronomer provided some direction for the astronauts so they knew where to go in space. Finally, Carl Sagan, who hosted of my favorite PBS show as a child, Cosmos, could take really complicated concepts and make them somewhat accessible or, at least, really interesting to an 8 year old girl and I admired that skill.

When I think about my 8 year old self’s definition of an astronomer, I think I captured the essence of my career dreams in my current leadership work in international schools. Living in different countries and learning about new cultures and ways of being inspires me- it helps feed my soul. I have a passion for gathering data, especially the kind of data that really helps me to understand how things work and how to improve systems or even rethink systems so they support everyone. Data sparks my curiosity and leads me to ask lots of questions. I deeply value different perspectives especially when I talk with someone who pushes my thinking and stops me in my tracks, resulting in those really meaningful aha moments that lead to new learning and professional growth. I also do my best to try and take complex concepts and break those ideas into meaningful, actionable steps. This process helps set a vision or course for our collective work, our discoveries in teaching and learning.

I may not be exploring the galaxy, but exploring the field of education, especially over the past two years, which has been filled with so much uncertainty, is unlocking new frontiers worthy of wonder and further learning.

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? How did that dream inform your current practice?

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