Nearly a week has passed since I boarded a plane headed for Maryland. It’s rare that I have the chance to visit schools just for the joy of being in them, but this trip had the perfect hat-trick necessary to justify it: service to a colleague, observation of good teaching and learning, and the development of new work around Critical Skills. The experience was everything I’d hoped it would be, but I was most impressed and surprised by the second element- my visit to Celebrating Using Minds Well Exhibition Night at Salem Avenue Elementary School in Hagerstown, MD. (This is part of the National Exhibition Month project from the Coalition of Essential Schools.) I expected a few parents, a few kids, some science-fair type presentations- you know, a general “feel good” evening. What I got was a whole other ball game.
I (along with 1500 of my new friends from the Hagerstown community) listened to kids tell me why the world would be a different place if Harriet Tubman hadn’t been in it. I learned why some of the students think “We the people” are the most important words in the constitution. I got advice on shrinking my carbon footprint and I heard The Flower Rainbow read (by its kindergartner author/ illustrator) so sweetly that it brought tears to my eyes. I witnessed a group of kids from every possible combination of race, family structure and socio-economic status creating a circle of community which included me- some strange chick from up north- as well as their own families, the families of their peers, their teachers and folks from town. In short, I saw the work that we’re all striving to do, done very, very well.
They have built a solid foundation for their future work- a collaborative culture- with the help of some bang-up school coaching from Mary Helen Spiri and Pam Ayres Chesapeake Coalition of Essential Schools. I’m exciting to think that, in the future, Critical Skills could become a part of their journey because I can barely contain my excitement when I imagine how this powerful community is going to take the Critical Skills Classroom to amazing new heights.
I think that a lot of us have had to be satisfied for a long time with “scattering seeds;” doing the work in a hostile political and social environment with limited resources. We’ve watched projects wither and tried to comfort ourselves with the idea that each fading project would scatter its seeds into the larger educational community and that those seeds would wait until sun, rain and fertile soil created conditions right for growth. In Maryland, I’m happy to say, things are blooming nicely.