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Magic in Learning

blog_newOur Morning Meetings are always informative, sometimes riveting. At least they are in my estimation; I have no hard data to back this up. For some, this may be a problem. Our educational system has become increasingly obsessed with accountability – asking schools for measureable outcomes to justify all time spent. This is a problem. Don’t take me wrong, I’m in favor of working hard to create powerful formative and summative assessments that connect to and inform our curriculum and instruction decisions. But I also believe that we can overdo analysis. So much of the process of growing up is more magic than metrics.   We need to nurture and honor the magic of schools in addition to measuring learning outcomes.

The other day in Morning Meeting, Seth (one of our teachers) did a presentation on mosquitoes that followed up on a previous current event Morning Meeting about the Zika virus. IMG_2533Seth presented the student body with a simple ethical question – if we have the power to eradicate a species of mosquitoes (and he shared the science behind how we may well have this capability), is it ethical and/or wise to do so? As always in Morning Meeting, we only spent 15 minutes on the topic and only a handful of students had the chance to share their thoughts publicly. But from their body language, it appeared to me that 95% of the kids were deeply engaged in thinking about the issue.

Later I was discussing the morning with some colleagues and we wondered if it was enough to believe that students were getting something out of it. It was suggested that perhaps we should do some sort of weekly quiz – nothing too heavy, we could make it fun – to up the accountability and to give us some more information about how much they are learning from these experiences. It may happen, but I’m definitely conflicted about it.

Here’s what may seem like a tangential story:

The other day after seeing The Book of Mormon (hysterical, btw), a former student ran up to me to let me know that she had just gotten accepted into Med School. After hugging and congratulating her she shared this, “I have to tell you that I often think about a story you told us – you know the story about the wine bottle on BART.” I looked at her blankly, so she continued, “You said that you were going to a dinner party and bought a particularly expensive bottle of wine that you left on the BART train and at first you were really bummed, but then you thought that you had just made the someone who found that bottle really, really happy. I think about that story all the time.”

I can remember that incident now – though I have no memory of sharing it with my class. I’m sure I didn’t plan to tell the story; somehow it just connected with something we were learning. Teachers never know what will make an impact on their kids. We can make educated guesses about what seems inspirational and then hope it has an impact, but ultimately there is no way to really know what makes a difference over time with our kids. IMG_2624It is ludicrous for me to imagine, after telling that story, asking my students to use their clickers and rate how affected they were by what I said.

As a 50 year old woman, I have lived millions of moments. For some reason there are moments that I remember and that I consistently turn to for wisdom, consolation, enjoyment, guidance. Most of the others fade away – often within the same day. I just wrote a thank you note to one of my college professors for taking time during one of his lectures to share data on how students from low income backgrounds catch up to their peers after a few years in college. That information was a life line to me, a struggling freshman. It took me 30 years to finally get around to thanking him – which I did this past week..

IMG_1947Schools are not factories, and teachers and students are not robots. Inspiration, beauty, passion, curiosity, art, laughter, tears, empathy, outrage, hope – as humans these experiences and emotions matter even if they can’t be quantified. They are an integral, daily part of our lives at Paulo Freire and hopefully every school. It’s what makes me, and probably most of our teachers and students, want to return to school each morning.  It’s what we are likely to remember over the long haul.


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