Play Big | Hooray For Monday

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. Prefer audio? Listen to the Hooray For Monday podcast! Available on your favorite platforms here.

October 30, 2023

By Aleta Margolis, Founder and President

I have a problem with the thesaurus.

 According to the Oxford Languages thesaurus, the opposite of play is work. But consider this:

 When Brittney Griner is in the middle of playing a basketball game, engaging her mind, heart, and body to contribute to her team and score on close shots, she is hard at work, and hard at play.

 When virtuoso cellist Yo-Yo Ma is in the midst of playing a Brahms sonata, bringing his exceptional technique developed over decades to the complex and emotional experience of creating the sound with his instrument, he is hard at work in the midst of play.

 When toddlers are playing dress up or building a city of blocks or racing around the playground on tricycles, they are hard at work, and immersed in play.

Play Big is the fourth Rule of Inspired Teaching Improv. Playing big means embracing joy and being guided by imagination. Sometimes playing big is whimsical, with no concrete goal other than to follow where your imagination leads – like a child playing dress up whose purpose may simply be to feel what it’s like to pretend to be a princess, or dinosaur, or spaceship. Other times, play is focused and goal-oriented. In an academic setting, playing big means bringing your full self to solving the math problem or understanding a historical moment or researching sources for your essay or creating your work of art.

When we play big, we jump in with both feet. We commit fully to what we are doing. When we play big, we are fully present. We aren’t checking our phones or looking for something else to do. We are all in.

 When teachers come to Inspired Teaching’s Institutes, we invite them to play. We engage teachers in improvisation-based learning: building engaging strategies for teaching fractions by first dividing our group into thirds, fourths, and twelfths; or learning technical and expressive writing skills by first making up stories about issues that are important to us; or devising engaging methods of teaching science by choreographing dances about covalent versus ionic bonds; or deepening understanding of student needs by first examining our own needs.

When humans play, we learn. When we engage our imaginations – whether a three-year-old is imagining what it would feel like to be a robot, or a 16-year-old is imagining himself solving a complicated chemistry problem – we open ourselves up to possibilities for extraordinary learning and growth.

So I’d like to correct the Oxford Languages thesaurus.  Play and work are not antonyms. Play and work are teammates that enable us to embrace learning with our whole hearts, minds, and bodies.

 Wishing you and your students a week of playing big and learning big.

For additional insights, resources, and information on Inspired Teaching teacher and youth programming, subscribe to the Hooray For Monday newsletter!

Hooray For Monday is an award-winning weekly publication by Center for Inspired Teaching, an independent nonprofit organization that invests in and supports teachers. Inspired Teaching provides transformative, improvisation-based professional learning for teachers that is 100% engaging – intellectually, emotionally, and physically. Our mission is to create radical change in the school experience – away from compliance and toward authentic engagement.

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