September 1, 2011

What if?

In my quest to transform my instructional practices, I made a commitment to take my class for a walk around our school grounds at least once a week.  This inspiration came from an article featured in "The Big Fresh" newsletter from Choice Literacy, The Benefits of Taking Students Outside to Inspire Writing.  Following in Stephen Hurley's footsteps, my 3rd graders and I set out on our "Wednesday Walk" each Wednesday morning.

Our first walk, we set a few expectations like focusing on our senses for observation, keeping up with the class, and leaving nature as we find it (or better!).  Last week, having our inaugural walk under our belts, we tromped in the opposite direction with a focus of observation to put our "think like a scientist" skills to work.  We stopped along the way to focus our senses and try to notice something new or interesting about our school setting.  The observations shared were great observations, but I really felt like there was an overall lack of enthusiasm for the Wednesday Walk.

This week, after a reading of Nothing Ever Happens on 90th Street, the focus for our walk struck me like Eva's ideas struck her: I wondered, "What if?"  What if we took our Writer's Notebooks with us on our walk?  After several minutes of an internal struggle about purpose of notebooks, control of what goes in the notebooks, and when the notebooks have been scheduled to go outside...  I finally realized I was waaaaaay too concerned about this decision, so with Writer's Notebooks in tow, we began our walk today, pausing here and there and wondering, "What if?"  

It was pure magic.  The ideas were practically tangible, scattered everywhere like treat filled Easter eggs there for the taking.  I watched in awe the imagination and wondering unleashed with a fury of pencils to notebooks.  A few of my students who might typically struggle with ideas were so engaged in their creativity and excited to share their ideas.

I learned a few valuable lessons today.  First, let go and let learning happen.  I had to get over my control to let this magical moment occur.  Second, there is time.  It is so easy to become overwhelmed with all there is to do and let the clock be a driving force.  No more!  I will fiercely guard the Wednesday Walk time each week.  The value in this experience has already become immeasurable and teacher and students alike can't wait for next week.  Third, it's a good thing to stop and wonder, "What if?"  Innovation, design, learning, and change are born out of wondering "What if?"  My students wondered, "what if it rained doughnuts?" "What if that plane landed on the soccer field and our whole class got on board and went to Florida?"  "What if there was a road right there [through the middle of the playground]?"  Suddenly they saw a whole new world of possibilities and ideas.  

What if we wondered "what if?" more often?  What if I teach with transparency, sharing openly and honestly with my colleagues, building and world-wide?  What if I challenge my students to see beyond the leaves of the trees, the mulch on the playground, the four walls of our classroom?   I wonder what innovation, design, change, and learning will be born out of wondering "what if?" this year.  

How do you wonder "what if?" with your students or about your teaching?


  1. Hi Sara Hunter,

    I'm so glad to hear that you have taken on this initiative as part of your practice. I'm thrilled to hear about all of the things that you're discovering...not only about your students, but about yourself as teacher.

    Control is such a huge elephant, isn't it. It takes courage to admit all that you have here. Beyond that, however, your "what if" approach is inspiring and powerful. "Awe", "magic", "wondering". What if these were to be woven through every curriculum document, every conversation about practice and every inservice or workshop that pretends to promote best practice? "What if?"

    To me the keyword that you have used is imagination. If you haven't read "Imagination First" by Eric Liu and Scott Nappe-Brandon, you may want to take a peek. They argue for a type of education that nurtures and cares for the seeds of imagination. When that imagination is applied to something tangible, it becomes creativity, and when that creativity pushes the form in some way, it becomes innovation.

    Thank you for your dedication to all of this, but especially to nurturing imagination!!! Kudos and thanks for sharing,

    Stephen Hurley

  2. Stephen,
    Thank you so much for taking the time to read my post and share your thoughts and reflections. I really connected with your statement, "When that imagination is applied to something tangible, it becomes creativity, and when that creativity pushes the form in some way, it becomes innovation." This should be the goal of education!!! I've always sought out "creativity" in my classroom, but the difference now is how it's facilitated and valued.
    I feel a call to action to truly transform my instructional practices, and also to teach with transparency and share it all. Power and control are indeed quite the elephants, but it is so freeing to lose and win because I've let go of that control. I believe this is how we empower students to embrace learning and take responsibility for their learning.
    I am deeply appreciative of your comment and will certainly be reading "Imagination First," which has been added to my Nook "to-read" list.
    Here's to many more magical Wednesday walks,
    - Sara