Reesa was lost in golden October. Shining maple trees bridged the concrete walk down the gentle hill. Brown-gold fallen leaves carpeted the hillside. Bright gold leaves floated toward this mottled carpet where, upon landing, they glittered like brilliant stars.
Alone in this golden splendor, Reesa seemed unaware that she should be with her classmates. Tall, slender, and light on her feet, she danced gleefully from falling leaf to falling leaf, catching a dazzling yellow bouquet of falling stars.
I was tempted to open the door and call out to Reesa. I knew I had only seconds before I must return to the classroom or risk disruption. But I didn’t call out. I wanted Reesa to learn to line up with the class. But I also wanted her to have this sacred moment. I made one of the one thousand judgment calls a teacher in a wonder-centered school makes each day. I just waited.
Teachers, visionaries, psychologists and politicians have long argued about the appropriate balance of work and play, of compliance and freedom at school. Advocates of open classrooms and home schooling might argue that Reesa should have been allowed unlimited time amid swirling leaves. In contrast, those who were successful in moving standards-based education into most public school classrooms in the early years of the new millennium might counter that the allocation of an hour or more a day for play in first grade cuts into time for reading instruction.
As a teacher in a wonder-centered classroom, my goal is to never sacrifice a moment of wonder. Yet, I know that while I work to protect each moment of awe, protecting every wondrous experience for every child in my care is ultimately impossible. I know too that the best shot at cultivating and protecting sacred moments at school is to entrust each child to teachers who are allowed to make, perhaps, one thousand judgment calls each day, who are given significant freedom in orchestrating the movement of children, dynamically balancing freedom and responsibility in each situation. Thus, the teacher demonstrates the dance itself, not just freedom, not just responsibility, but the art of living.
Condensed from Chapter Four, Attention, A Gift of Wonder, A True Story Showing School As It Should Be by Kim Allsup
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