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Feeling Stirred | Hooray for Monday

December 26, 2022

By Aleta Margolis, Founder and President of 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.

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There’s something about the end of the year – holidays filled with dazzling light, reflections on months gone by and the new beginnings that lie ahead – that stirs our emotions. This stirring can be complicated, but also awe inspiring. I find that it’s in the mixing, that strange swirl of highs and lows, initiated by experiences and memories, planned events, and spontaneous connections, where wonder happens. We can’t always pinpoint the exact thing that stirs us up, but I had occasion recently to try.

A few weeks ago I wrote about Stirring Up Curiosity. Days after publishing that piece, my longtime mentor and friend Judy White engaged me in a conversation about stirring, a word that caught her attention.

As usual, Judy asked me thought-provoking questions. (She is, after all, an Inspired Teacher!) Our conversation went something like this:

Judy: What does stirring do?

Me: It mixes things together. It can change the consistency of ingredients. It makes disparate parts interact with each other. It can activate or catalyze.

Judy: Can you come up with an example of a way stirring can activate?

Me: Stirring baking soda together with other ingredients, like vinegar, activates the baking soda, and starts the process that causes batter to rise.

Judy: What are different tools for stirring?

Me: A whisk, a spoon, a fork, an electric mixer…

Judy: What kinds of tools might Leonardo da Vinci have used to paint the Sistine Chapel? How might he have stirred and mixed his paints to get the colors the way he wanted them? What kinds of preparation might he have needed to do before he was ready to stir the paints together? Can you imagine a group of students sitting together and pondering these questions?

Me: Oh yes, I can.

Judy: What kinds of tools might a teacher use to stir?

Me: Questions. A film. A field trip. A conversation between two classmates or more.

As always happens when Judy’s questions launch me into creative thinking, I kept going… I wondered:

  • What could we shift in our understanding of the work of teachers if we liken their planning process to Leonardo da Vinci’s?

  • What does it take to craft questions, like Judy’s, that activate creative thinking like baking soda and vinegar? What if asking those kinds of questions is the most important thing we can do to prepare our students for an uncertain future?

  • Is time also a tool teachers use to stir? After stirring, what happens when you let a problem or idea “rest” or “rise” overnight? New Insights may occur, deeper understanding too!

  • What other meanings does stir have? (Think… “Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.”)

Feeling stirred, by provocative questions from a friend or the glow of the season’s candles, connects us with what makes us uniquely human. Our capacity to feel, to try and understand the unknown, to puzzle through problems just beyond our reach, and to do these things in community – this great swirling mix of possibilities – is what keeps us moving forward. May you feel stirred this week. And may you seek that feeling in new and interesting ways when you head back to school in the New Year. 

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