June 28, 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.
I dance in my basement as often as I can, taking class as part of a wonderful, now online, community of dancers. During each class, we learn a piece of choreography; then our teacher divides us into two groups – so we can take turns dancing and observing the other students, and so we can rest. For me, the “rest” time, which lasts around 120 seconds, consists of a mad rush to put on my reading glasses (so I can see the other dancers); grab a sip from my water bottle; lie on the floor to roll my left hip on a tennis ball to release my recurring muscle spasm, and get back on my feet in time for my group to start dancing.
During a recent class, while my group was observing the other group dance, I spotted another student across the zoom screen – a young woman taking the class from her college dorm room. As the music was playing and I was on the floor with my tennis ball, I noticed that this young woman was singing. She was just sitting there smiling at the screen, bouncing up and down, singing. Her microphone was muted, but she was definitely singing out loud. (And it was clear she knew every word of the pop song accompanying our dance combination.)
When it was time for our group to dance again, as I was climbing up off the floor, I saw her literally bouncing up and down, as if her body just couldn’t wait for the music to start again.
I wondered: Where does her energy come from?
And then, for a moment, I remembered feeling young.
I wonder what she thinks of me, a 54-year-old dancing alongside her, but of course, she’s not thinking about me at all. Because she’s young.
How should I feel about the fact that she has so much energy? Should I feel jealous (because it’s clear her hip doesn’t hurt at all!)? Grateful because I get to be in her company and dance alongside her? Joyful because I am witnessing the joyful learning of a young dancer? Something else?
It’s a useful exercise to pause and reflect, once in a while, on how we feel when we are in the presence of young people. Whether we are in the role of teacher or parent or even the role of classmate, how do we respond when we encounter the energy of young people? Sometimes they bubble over with joy, as the energetic young dancer did during my class. Sometimes they become deeply sad for reasons that are hard for us to understand. Sometimes they rush to conclusions, certain of the rightness of their passionate viewpoints and the wrongness of our outdated perspectives. Sometimes – whether they are preschoolers, middle schoolers, or young adults – they do things that feel reckless to us: like forgetting to brush their teeth or running too fast down the hallway or skipping their math homework, or going outside in the middle of winter without gloves or a hat!
In these moments, it can be easy to default to judgment. There’s a reason so many of us smile and nod when we hear the well-worn phrase, “Youth is wasted on the young.” It’s easy to think, “These young people don’t appreciate what they have,” or “They really need to settle down and be serious,” or “How do I get them to listen to reason?”
Instead of defaulting to judgment:
What if we engaged our empathy?
What if we tried to remember what it felt like to be young?
What if we went even further and asked the young people in our lives about their lived experiences?
What if we asked what they feel and think, about the role of social media in society or the Covid guidelines in our city, or whether summer school should be mandatory?
What if we asked because we know that asking these kinds of questions is good for students’ social and emotional learning, and also because we are truly curious?
How might an ensuing conversation remind us of the wonder we can access in ourselves?
What might we learn if we listen fully to what they have to say?
One of the hallmarks of feeling young, as I remember it, is feeling curious, of being in an almost constant state of wonder. That’s a great place to be, for a learner of any age.
Whether you are teaching students in summer school or interacting with children in your family or other parts of your community, I invite you to engage your empathy and encourage that youthful sense of wonder – in your students and yourself.
If you’re in Washington, DC this Wednesday, join us at Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens at 9 AM ET for an exploration of wonder, together in the great outdoors!