Byron's Babbles

Leading Like Charlotte’s Web

You all know I love intersectional learning, where I, or I have others, take a random object and create meaning about a seemingly unrelated topic. I never thought that a spider web would lead to the unbelievably deep conversation it did with our Florida 3D Leadership participants last night. To get things started for the evening, I asked them to look at a picture of a spider web I had come across in my barn to the journey they are on right now. When our small groups came back from their discussions I could tell from the energy it was going to be an amazing evening. When the first group started to report out, the participant said, “I loved my group.” Those of you who have facilitated before know how good that sounds and feels.

The participant went on to say that Lauren Berry, Curriculum Resource Teacher at Collier Charter Academy in Naples, Florida, had thought of all the lessons from Charlotte’s Web. You know, the 1952 classic written by E.B. White and then turned into a great movie in 2006. The genius of White’s work was that he used a deceptively mundane and ordinary setting, set of characters, and plot to explain the profundity of life in ways that people of all ages can understand. The perfect definition of intersectional learning! Without knowing it I had spurred this deep discussion with something as mundane, but incredibly complex, as a spider web – in a barn of all places.

So, what did Lauren and her group teach us? First of all, to sum up a 184 page book in a couple of sentences, Wilbur, a pig given to a little girl, Fern, yearns for companionship but is snubbed by the other animals. When he finds out he is be raised for slaughter he is befriended by a barn spider named Charlotte, whose web sits in a doorway overlooking Wilbur’s enclosure. Here are the points that Lauren and her group made to us:

  • Friendship and relationships are at the core of everything. Charlotte said, “After all, what’s a life, anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die. A spider’s life can’t help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.” Life is precious, wonderful and beautiful, especially when it is well-lived.
  • Celebrate diversity. Wilbur and Charlotte are very different, but friendship makes it possible to transcend those differences. Even Templeton the Rat, the self-serving one even learns to be a team player (sorry, I couldn’t help but put the rat in the mix, too).
  • Wilbur was humble. “Why did you do all this for me?” Wilbur asked. “I don’t deserve it. I’ve never done anything for you.” “You have been my friend,” replied Charlotte. “That in itself is a tremendous thing.” People respond well to humility because it shows that you place yourself at the same level as others, and not above them.

We were so blessed to be reminded of this story last night. My hope is that we will always keep in our hearts the lessons of friendship, life, and loss that will help us navigate through our lives to be better leaders, friends, and people in this diverse world.

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