There is so much happening at the school. This is how it should be—a hive of activity, noise, color, projects in progress, and messes. It should not be too predictable. When kids miss a day, there should be no way it can be recreated for them. When they come back into the class after, we want it to be that when they ask, “Did I miss anything?” the answer is a resounding and unequivocal, “Yes!” If you blink, you will miss something great.
We want the school to be interesting to look at with many points of visual interest: gardens, flowers, posters, sculptures, tools, paint, pictures, scraps of paper, poems, photos, books, apparatus, junk, building materials, toys, space, woods, light, animals, plants. There should be nooks and crannies filled with small objects made by the kids. They should be layers of work, a kind of historical-archeological sense of the past, small talismans gathering dust that speak of the past life of the school.
But more important is the life one finds upon walking in on any given day. There will be conversations, laughter, argument, disagreement, and unanswerable questions. Questions: as a teacher, I ask between 100-200 per day. The questions range from the factual (“Does anyone know where the Strait of Gibraltar is and why it is important?“ to the historical (“When did Thoreau first move into his cabin?”) to the nuts and bolts, “Did you read the email?”) to the technical “How do you properly write dialogue in a speech?” to the personal (“How was your football game?”) to the probing (“Why do you describe doing your homework as ‘boring?’”) to the corrective (“How can you re-do that tomorrow and make it better?”) to the mystical (“What is the difference between having ‘heart’ and having ‘soul?’”). We ask questions to which there are no answers and questions that, properly lived in, will still be vibrant in a year’s time.
A visitor or parent coming in to the school should notice that the kids are busy, happy, moving, listening, talking about both themselves and what they are all doing in school. The noise of the kids should be greater than the noise of adults. Students should be looking at each other, facing each other. There should be regular changing of constellations of kids—in who they are with and in what they are doing. Conflict should be allowed to be expressed, and the responsibility to negotiate conflicts should be initiated and handled by the kids with help from grown-ups. There should be a wide variety of feelings and emotions expressed moment by moment: there should be laughter and shock and dismay and awe and tears and mystification and doubt and assuredness being expressed in an ongoing way throughout the day, every day.
In short, there should be a kind of wild, divine, measured chaos. Inside that chaos is order and solidity and a structure of safety and kindness.
And no matter what happens, we have to move all together. Those in the “lead” must constantly be looping back to bring up those riding in the caboose. This allows others to climb to the front, and it allows for a kind intellectual/creative/emotional fluidity and mobility.
It was said in meeting this week that there are any number of ways that kids here can “show themselves.” “Usually, the way is by talking,” the girl said. “But there are so many other ways you can be yourself here.”
I am thinking of Griffin digging a ditch for the Buddha garden. Juliette coming to Math Counts and working harder than anyone else even though math is not her greatest strength; Hannah bringing her violin to after-school music to play with the older kids; Anika baking gluten-free brownies for Math Counts; Owen saying he needs to work alone in his class to be great; Wren reading a poem she read last year and saying, “When I read it last year I didn’t really understand it, but now it makes more sense to me;” Eden closing out the week standing at the podium reading her speech with tears running down her cheeks; Will standing in goal on the soccer field even though he has never done it before; Merry scampering tirelessly around the soccer field on Friday afternoon, her energy undiminished, even though her team was down by a larger number; Leeya addressing her response to Rosemary’s Speech “My friend;” or Sam standing high on the ladder under the ridge-pole of the Thoreau cabin with drill in hand.
The above is a small snap-shot of what a school should look like.
Below is an even better one.