Collective Effervescence: Hooray for Monday

July 19, 2021

By Aleta Margolis, Founder and President, Center for Inspired Teaching

Hooray for Monday is a weekly blog filled with questions, ideas, reflections, and actions we can all take to remodel the school experience for students. 

What does it mean to be together, learn together, do something together?

Earlier this week, my family hosted another family at our house for dinner. A year and a half ago, an evening like this would have been a common occurrence. But as we step softly out of quarantine, having a people over – cooking the food, cleaning the house, putting on pants – requires a kind of energy that’s been dormant for a while. In fact, after preparing for our friends’ arrival, I was so tired that I had to lie down and close my eyes, and I worried I wouldn’t be able to stay awake once they arrived. The doorbell rang, and I pulled myself together, hoping the night wouldn’t last too long. When our friends left four hours later, I realized I’d had such a wonderful time talking, laughing, and enjoying their company, that I’d lost track of time, and had completely forgotten about the exhaustion I’d felt moments before they arrived. Being in the presence of friends energized me. I’d forgotten about that wonderful part of the in-person experience.

This past year and a half, my colleagues at Inspired Teaching and I have had the opportunity to learn together with teachers and students from across the DC region, across the country, and around the world. It has been a joy to hear one another’s voices and see one another’s faces as we spoke and sang together, sharpened our observation skills together, and developed engaging lessons on all kinds of content together – all from our respective living wrooms, bedrooms, and basements.

And yet, there is something extra, something even more nourishing that happens when gathering and learning together happens in person.

The theme of this past week’s Summer Inspired Teaching Excursions was Experiment, the central part of our Wonder-Experiment-Learn Cycle.

In our in-person session at Rock Creek Park, teachers conducted a series of experiments to find out how different variables affect the stability of structures. The structures at the core of these experiments ranged from stacks of rocks to our own bodies. Teachers also experimented with new materials like light-sensitive paper and plant dyes and with the most versatile tool everyone has on hand – observation driven by all 5 senses. With each experiment new questions arose: How does light sensitive paper react to shadows? Why do I feel cooler when I stand still? Each question prompted discussion and discovery. There’s power in coming together in this way.

As this recent New York Times article illustrates, “Joy shared is joy sustained.” When people gather together and engage in activities that offer each person a chance to contribute to the group experience, we often experience collective effervescence, which Adam Grant, the author of the article, explains is “a concept coined in the early 20th century by the pioneering sociologist Émile Durkheim to describe the sense of energy and harmony people feel when they come together in a group around a shared purpose.”

This can happen online too, if we are intentional about creating opportunities for each member of the group to engage and contribute. We held an online version of this same Summer Inspired Teaching Excursion, and experienced the kind of joy that togetherness through a screen can offer. Our experiments in the virtual session included engaging in the dominant eye test and the Invisible Gorilla experiment, and coming up with findings on what constitutes an experiment. As we did in-person, we observed our surroundings using each of our senses to test the hypothesis that sharpening one sense would sharpen them all. And we exchanged reflections on the ways each of us had changed, and what we’d discovered, during the two hours of the workshop, and during the past year and a half. We supported each other in our plans to engage in these kinds of experiments and reflections with our students this fall.

Reconnecting with others, especially after a long time apart, can spark all kinds of feelings – from joy and comfort to anxiety and exhaustion. If we are intentional about engaging with our students and our colleagues with a shared purpose, we can bring more joy to the experience of reconnecting, and maybe even enjoy the positive energy and harmony of collective effervescence.

Whether you are coming together with others virtually or in person this summer, I invite you to turn your attention to how it feels to contribute to a group – to affect others and to let yourself be affected by them.

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