It was as if we were middle schoolers, the dozen or so principals laughing, learning, and playing with fire.
We’d gathered for one of our monthly achievement meetings, when all conversation focuses on teaching and learning, and the topic of the morning was NGSS, the Next Generation Science Standards.
We talked a bit about integrated and coordinated models under the wise and well informed patience of our district Science ToSA (Teacher on Special Assignment), a gifted educator who knew that a pack of principals may be comparable to a classroom of 7th graders sometime after lunch on a day the student council hands out popsicles.
Rather than lecture us about the importance of experiencing science, she reminded us of NGSS’s “5 E’s” and brought out the matches.
At the sight of colored water, candles, and mason jars the room lit up.
We started in small groups, writing predictions and drawing models, borrowing ideas of what and why from our partners. Next, we placed the candle in the tray of water and covered it with the inverted mason jar.
Some of our predictions came true. Some of us were surprised. All of us learned in a way administrators don’t always when sitting at a meeting.
For the next twenty minutes we adjusted our variables and continued our experiments. How would things work if we used two candles? What would happen with a bigger jar?
Our smiling teacher circulated the room, asking questions and providing a collection of objects we could use to alter our experiments. My team used clay to eliminate the seal between the bottom of the tray and the jar.
Throughout the room everyone engaged with the experience and each other. The only time I saw a phone appear was when a principal took a video of her experiment to post on Twitter. This is a big deal in a room full of principals, whose schools are the centers of the universe, and whose cell phones are a tether.
Our attention was absorbed and our curiosity piqued. Grown people, we searched for words and pictures to tell our teacher and our peers what was happening in our labs.
It was, I realized as I watched the eager faces of these dedicated educators, a perfect example of the best teaching we see in classrooms across our district. To have this happen at a district administrator meeting was something really special, an experience that inspired us and would send us back to our sites with a renewed perspective on learning.
Education eternally evolves, new content and new expectations changing to meet the changing needs of the world. As it does, however, the heart of education remains as simple as it is profound: people gathering together to answer that enormous three letter long question: why?
We didn’t just learn that lesson today, we lived it. It was, in that moment, the proverbial lighting of a fire, not filling of a bucket.
Reminding ourselves to engage, to play, to be curious, and to work together is essential to creating and maintaining a healthy school. Allowing opportunities to wonder, to predict, to experiment (and as with any experiment, to fail as well as succeed), isn’t unique to science, but can be a part of learning in every discipline. Heck, it even has a place for administrators.
I don’t know what my next staff meeting will look like, but I do know that I’m inspired to make learning by doing a part of it. Will there be matches? I’m not sure about that, but I do hope that there will be some kind of lighting of a fire.