On the day before Winter Break Mr. Kutney’s math classes developed dances that reviewed math terms, laughing and learning as they allowed themselves to be goofy in the service of mathematics and fun. When they finished, in addition to praising specific interpretations of math terms (“I liked how you linked hands to show that sine wave.”), Mr. Kutney said something that struck me as wonderful. “I’m really proud,” he said, “of the way you supported each other and made an atmosphere where it’s okay to get up in front of each other and be a little silly. I love that.”
I did too.
I also loved that I was in the room because kids had called out to me through an open window, interrupting me as I crossed campus to invite me to watch them perform. A measure of health in a school is how much the students (and teachers too) want to show off what they’re doing in classrooms.
And beyond. The last day of classes before break also brought an invitation to watch science students launch rockets into the air above our soccer field. Seeing their faces as they returned, victorious, to their classroom, bottles with cardboard fins tucked under their arms, made me proud to be an educator.
Across campus the last week of December saw active learning in classrooms from all disciplines. Art students created stop motion videos, English classes debated morals as related to The Outsiders, and physical science students donned safety goggles and oven mitts (this is middle school, after all) for an experiment on the salt content of seawater.
This isn’t to say that the smell of hot chocolate didn’t drift out of the chemistry lab or that the sound of students singing along with “Let it Go” couldn’t be heard outside the drama room. It was the week before Winter Break, after all, and a part of me believes that Frozen may become the Rocky Horror Picture Show of this generation.
But even as they wore red tasseled Santa hats and enjoyed pajama day on Friday, students were actively engaged in learning. That final week before break saw a reenactment of the first Constitutional Convention, students learning about natural selection through a bird beak lab, and young musicians putting the finishing touches on their performance for the band’s Winter Concert.
And in Mr. Kutney’s class they danced.
Before the bell rang to end class, after the last group of students had performed, I asked a question that I knew the answer to. “When he introduced this lesson,” I said to the kids, “did Mr. Kutney demonstrate how to do it?” The smiles that accompanied the students’ collective “YES!” will stick with me for a long time.
“Show him! Please!” The kids said, turning to their teacher. He looked at me with a sheepish grin, a young teacher I’m proud felt comfortable to be a little goofy in front of his principal.
I’m a fan of teachers taking risks and having fun, of creating a school culture that expects rigor and welcomes whimsy. I want to be a part of a school family that supports each other as we engage in this celebration of learning with our kids.
So when he turned to me I said the only sensible thing a person in my position would say. With a smile that rivaled the kids’ and a whisper of my 1980s past, I told him: “You can dance if you want to…”
…and he did!