One of the best gifts a new principal can get is a copy of the most recent yearbook. Beyond seeing what matters most to a school (the football team gets two pages; the drama club gets one) it’s the rows of school photos that help the most by providing a cheat sheet by which to learn names.
How happy I was then when last June I visited ACMA, my new home, and not only did I get to spend a full day on campus, but on my way out the yearbook advisor presented me with a copy of The Spectrum. I would know every teacher’s name by the first staff meeting, I thought. So prepared.
Now at ACMA the unexpected is expected, the unconventional is commonplace, and as if to underscore that fact, when I got back to my hotel after an amazing ACMA dance recital, I saw that like so much of what we do here, the faculty mug shots were just a little different.
These were not going to help me learn names.
What the staff photos were, however, were perfect windows into the playful soul of a place with an imagination large enough to contain professional quality art, profound learning, and an unapologetic sense of whimsy.
Fast forward to this fall, and our registration day before the start of the year. We had all the usual stations: paperwork, bookkeeping, class schedule pick up, and ID card photos, and then, at the end of the line, tucked in a dressing room in the back of the theater, two yearbook students with a pile of props and a camera welcomed every soul coming to ACMA with a smile and the invitation to do something out of the ordinary.
Anxiety melted from many of our incoming sixth graders’ faces as they heard from two smiling teachers and the yearbook kids: “Here at ACMA we take silly yearbook photos!” Some of our returning students grinned as they pulled out their own props. Two girls took their yearbook photo holding their pet pug.
Never in my life have I laughed so much on registration day.
The next week that laughter returned as we ended our staff meeting with a photo shoot and a baby shower. Unrelated, except for joy.
Like the kids, our staff grabbed hats and glasses, wigs, buckets, and clown noses and created their own bit of silliness as we posed for the yearbook photographers. One of my favorite parts of that day was seeing the kids taking the pictures laughing at the teachers, just big kids themselves.
When we stepped out front of the school to take our staff photo, a brand new baby and a few little kids joined us. Unapologetic whimsy.
In this serious world, and in a profession that matters so very much, I am thankful every day that I work at a place that makes room for the ridiculous.
It’s true that we can take what we do (art, teaching, learning) seriously and ourselves a little less so.
And if our yearbook makes it harder to learn names, then the playfulness inside does something else, something maybe more important. It serves as a reminder that laughter and fun have a place in everything we do. To forget that would be silly.