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.
This weekend my family wanted to get outside and do something fun while maintaining social distancing. So my mother, my daughter, my dog Wally, and I decided to travel to Cox Farms for their self-driven hayride. I had been to Cox Farms when my children were young, and we all enjoyed the giant slides, pumpkin picking, hayrides on tractor-pulled wagons, and other in-person activities they usually offer. I knew a hayride where you stayed in your own car would be safe, and I figured driving around and looking at corn stalks was better than sitting at home.
The drive to the farm took about an hour. When we arrived, we were greeted by a series of signs that read, “Covid is here…So sorry no slides…But drive your car on our hayride!” After we turned into the driveway, a cheerful person thanked us for coming, and reminded us to follow the white line, stay in our car, and abide the 5mph speed limit. Next we saw a hand-painted sign declaring, “Windows down for sound!” We put down our windows, and immediately the melody of Otis Redding’s Sitting on the Dock of The Bay and the sweet smell of kettle corn wafted into our car.
The next 25 minutes were fabulous. After driving past the expected dried corn stalks and tractors with costumed skeletons in the drivers’ seats, we spotted a small hand-painted sign that read, “What has ears but can’t hear?” About 50 feet later we passed another small sign reading, “A cornfield!” We were then challenged to find Little Bo Peep’s five lost sheep, and later on to spot six aliens hiding in the corn. Several more jokes followed (“Why can’t you tell a secret in a cornfield?” “It has too many ears!” “What kind of corn can you eat but never grow?” “Candy corn!”), along with gigantic dinosaurs, witches and black cats, a gnomes vs. aliens football game, a giant praying mantis, and a creature I incorrectly identified as a goblin which my daughter explained was a satyr.
Each creature was life-sized and built and painted by hand. Interspersed among the sculptures were live humans including a Fun-Checker whose job it was to ask every car full of people if we were having fun, and dancing aliens who waved at us from behind life-size sculptures of Presidents Washington, Lincoln, and Nixon while the Theme from Star Wars filled the air.
We met our favorite character after passing a sign saying “Warning: Troll bridge ahead!” As we drove under said bridge, a young woman dressed in black hollered at us “Hey you! Do you like football?” I responded, “Yes I do!” She retorted, “That’s a miserable answer! I hope you have a horrible day!” She then proceeded to holler at the people in the car behind us about an entirely different subject. Troll indeed!
There was a moment when the path diverged, with one sign pointing toward the “Easy Way” and one pointing toward the “Hard Way.” The “Hard Way” was, however, blocked by an orange cone. As I turned the car to follow the Easy Way, my only option, we were greeted with a sign that read, “We wanted something to be easy in 2020!”
By my estimate, the one mile long self-driven hayride included at least 500 hand-painted sculptures, several dozen live animals (did I mention the goats and Chewie, the resident llama?), and a dozen live actors. In addition to that, there were easily a hundred other people stationed at the beginning for visitors who wanted to buy cider, donuts, and kettle corn to enjoy on the ride, and at the market near the exit.
At the end there was an option to park your car and get out briefly to take socially distanced photos, and we joyfully took advantage of that option. Then we got back in our car, received our two prepaid carving pumpkins from the market, and began the journey back home, serenaded by Stevie Wonder‘s Overjoyed blasting on the speaker as we turned out of the driveway.
Throughout our adventure at the farm, we were deeply aware of the radical creativity we were witnessing, of the vision, hard work, and willingness to try something new that the staff at the farm must have embraced several months ago when it became clear they wouldn’t be able to run their Fall Festival as usual. The new experience drew from the strengths of the past (we recognized old favorite sculptures along the way) and combined them into something new. It was a joyful, sensory filled, vividly colorful, low-tech, and very much needed 25 minutes for me, and for the rest of my family.
There are so many other examples of radical creativity – and the structured execution needed to turn ideas into concrete action – at play right now. Much of this radical creativity and structured execution is taking place in our classrooms, as the ideas of school leaders, teachers, parents, and the students themselves spark engaging and meaningful ways of exploring content, building skills, and learning from and with each other.
As educators we are familiar with the practice of finding silver linings, of making the best of challenges. At Inspired Teaching, our teacher education is based in improvisational theatre. We teach teachers to embrace the unknown, and incorporate the unexpected, while remaining laser focused on instructional goals.
We know this means doing things the hard way right now. In the world beyond self-guided hayrides, there’s no traffic cone leading us to the easy path. But there are many wonders to be found along this difficult road. How are you imagining new ways of doing things right now? We’re looking for examples of radical creativity and structured execution to share with our community.