Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Work That Matters

       For some reason, lately I've been thinking that I want to read Thoreau's Walden again sometime soon (and not on an e-reader!). Maybe it's been triggered by a visit to Concord and the pond last summer. Or that I recently wore my Thoreau Sauntering Society t-shirt ("'Tis a great art to saunter"). Perhaps because at home we've talked about watching Dead Poets' Society. Could it be that I simply want to escape for a while?
       In what I'm sure is a case of the Baafer-Meinhof Phenomenon, recently I've also seen several references to one of the oft-quoted lines Walden: "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." At the same time, I've also read several pieces in which the subject was asked a very common question: If you weren't ____, what would you be? It's interesting to juxtapose those two lines and ponder their possible relationship. Of course, the question is simply a way to know someone better. But it also suggests that many people are always dreaming of something else, perhaps of work more meaningful and fulfilling. I really don't know. But I sense it when I hear and read about people and their relationship to work in particular.
       It also reminds me how fortunate I am. Were I to be asked the question, my answer would be simple: I don't know. It's not lack of imagination, and certainly I experience moments of desperation. But I can't see myself as anything but a career educator. After all, what's better than doing work that matters?

Friday, March 6, 2015

Lost Time, But Learning Not Lost--Past Two Weeks at St. John's

     In some ways I'm having a hard time believing that today is the last school day before Spring break. Some of that comes from the usual time-sure-can-fly-by-when-you're-having-fun sense I derive from my job. But it's also pretty circumstantial. Last week we hit an inclement weather (in this case, ice) trifecta: closings, an early dismissal, and a late start! Yesterday we awoke to record-breaking snow in the DFW area, the accumulation reaching 7" in some spots. Most of it melted by yesterday afternoon, and we didn't have too much re-freezing overnight, so we get to enjoy one more day of school before a week off.
     Of course, during such times one naturally worries about learning being interrupted, especially with the break coming. So I found myself cataloging some of the really cool ways St. John's students have been engaged in deep learning experiences the past week. Before I start my list, I apologize to whomever I leave off, because I know from experience there are even more than I include. As you read the list, notice the variety of experiences, both in an out of the classroom, on campus and far away:

  • On Wednesday evening our sixth grade girls won their league championship last night.
  • Our sixth graders tested their science chops as detectives at the International Exhibition of Sherlock Holmes at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science.
  • Eighth graders served as tour guides for their classmates at historic monuments in D.C., later Skyping with first graders. They also placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
  • Those first graders are redesigning the dollar bill with key symbols of the United States.
  • Seventh graders trekked through Brazos Bend State Park while on their way to Galveston for science study.
  • Fourth graders have been practicing their Number the Stars monologues for the always-powerful original production based on the book. This comes after creating incredible works of art about the book that are now displayed in the school.
  • Fifth graders have been preparing their cases for their witch trials as a wrap-up of their study of The Witches of Blackbird Pond, also tied to their history work.
  • Second graders are collaborating on an All About Insects book work and watching the effects of the weather on the tulips they planted several months back, sharing that information with multiple partner schools.
  • Pre-k and K students continue to explore whatever catches their fancy while cementing those essential basic skills. Plus they're helping to create our approaching CultureFest event. Three adorable little bits just delivered my personal invitation to "our CultureFest 2015."
  • At various times during the weather episodes, our teachers connected with their students and their parents via RenWeb and other tech tools to keep the learning going.
  • Meanwhile, like many other schools, we've been celebrating Dr. Seuss week!
As one person here commented, "Interesting to me to think about how all of these individual moments in a single week contribute to the collective experience of being a student today. It's like a web, physically (geographically) stretched this week, but still tightly woven." This also suggests the integrated, holistic approach that we take at St. John's--the modern education that provides young people with what they need right now but with consideration of what they need to thrive in the future. Note, for example, how many of the examples include creativity and collaboration and relevance.             And it heartens me to think that all this has been happening during two crazy weeks when the learning could have been derailed. It thrills me to know that I could compile such lists just about any time of the year.