“I’M STILL LEARNING.” ~MICHELANGELO
Quotes and Questions to Start the New School Year
We’re living through a period of enormous change right now – change in our daily habits, change in the ways we work and interact, change in the institutions that have been an assumed part of our communities. Change is not easy. It often requires examination of our inner feelings, attitudes, and beliefs. Change entails reflection on and about our experiences. No one can do this hard work for us – it is our job alone.
This month and next, I am sharing a selection of powerful quotes about change and questions to spark thinking related to these quotes. I hope you find these quotes and questions to be personally thought provoking and also useful in professional learning settings or even with students. My wish is that they empower us all to face and grow from the change and challenges that are a part of our current reality.
|We’re in a free fall into the future. We don’t know where we’re going. Things are changing so fast, and always when you’re going through a long tunnel, anxiety comes along. And all you have to do to transform your hell into a paradise is to turn your fall into a voluntary act. It’s a very interesting shift of perspective and that’s all it is…joyful participation in the sorrows and everything changes. ~ Joseph Campbell, Mythologist Questions for reflection or discussion: Why does change often produce anxiety?How does shifting your perspective from fear to curiosity combat anxiety?When anxiety shows up, what are some tools we can use (and teach students to use) to move into a stance of curiosity? Why would we want to do so?|
|I can change the story. I am the story. Begin. ~ Jeanette Winterson, Writer Questions for reflection or discussion: What does this quote mean to you? How does it apply to your context right now?How might this quote be helpful to students? How might you use this quote to help students build agency and efficacy?How might you model this quote in your own life?|
|You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf. ~ Osel Tendzin, Teacher Questions for reflection or discussion: What waves are you currently facing? What do you need to do to learn how to surf on these waves? What internal resources might you draw on as you learn how to manage the challenges? Which people might support you?Think of a student who is facing a challenge beyond his or her control. What skills might they learn that would help them to take control of these challenges?|
|Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change. ~ Stephen Hawking, Physicist Questions for reflection or discussion: What does this quote mean to you?In what ways is the ability to adapt to change a life skill?What types of experiences and supports help to build this ability in people?Why might we want to grow this capacity in ourselves? In our students? What concrete steps might we take this year toward this goal?|
|The universe is change; our life is what our thoughts make it. ~ Marcus Aurelius, Philosopher/Emperor Questions for reflection or discussion: Do you agree or disagree with this quote, and why?How do our internal thoughts affect our lives? What do they have to do with change?What are some ways we can learn to monitor and modify our internal thoughts? Why might we want to do so?|
|The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. ~Abraham Lincoln, President Questions for reflection or discussion: What might President Lincoln have been referring to in this quote?How are the difficulties of that era similar to and different from those we face today? What advice do you think President Lincoln might offer to us?|
|When we are no longer able to change a situation…we are challenged to change ourselves. ~Viktor Frankl, Holocaust Survivor Questions for reflection or discussion: How might Dr. Frankl’s experiences as prisoner in a Nazi death camp have shaped his perspectives?What aspects of our current situation are beyond our control? What changes can we make in ourselves to cope successfully with these challenges?What are some daily routines that can help you or your students strengthen these metacognitive abilities?|
|When we least expect it, life sets us a challenge to test our courage and willingness to change; at such a moment, there is no point in pretending that nothing has happened or in saying that we are not yet ready. The challenge will not wait. Life does not look back. A week is more than enough time for us to decide whether or not to accept our destiny. ~Paulo Coelho, Writer Questions for reflection or discussion: How does this quote apply to our current situation? What are some ways we can prepare ourselves now for an unknown future?|
|Chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge – even wisdom. ~ Toni Morrison, Writer Questions for reflection or discussion: How does this quote connect to your experiences?What are some of the things you are learning as a result of the chaos that is a part of our current reality? How might these insights help us to be more effective in our roles? How might we use this wisdom to improve our education system?|
|The world is more malleable than you think and it’s waiting for you to hammer it into shape. ~Bono, Singer Questions for reflection or discussion: How is this quote relevant to your life? What might you want to hammer into a new shape and why? What are some concrete first steps you can take towards creating this new reality?How might your colleagues answer these questions? Your students?|
|Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase. ~ Martin Luther King Jr. (paraphrased), Minister/Activist Questions for reflection and discussion: What might Dr. King have been referring to in this metaphor?How is this metaphor relevant to our current situation?What first steps will you take? Where do you hope they will lead you?|
|Try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun! ~ Julia Child, Chef Questions for reflection or discussion: How might this quote be a mantra for the new school year? What new recipes will you try?How will you be fearless?How will you have fun?|
Petra, K., & Petras, R. (2018). Change happens: A compendium of wisdom. New York: Workman Publishing.
Learning from Suzanne
A new grandmother’s reflections on learning
Learning about Important Words
The Meaning of “Cat”
At six months Suzanne said her first word. Cat! she shouted every time the family pet made an appearance. Sadly for Suzanne, Catamaran didn’t share Suzanne’s enthusiasm about these meetings.
Now at 14 months, Suzanne understands many words. She points to her ears when prompted and brings Grandpa the frog when asked. But still, the only word Suzanne consistently produces is cat. Interestingly, the meaning Suzanne associates with the word cat is evolving. At the zoo, many animals, including the elephant, are cats. At times Suzanne uses the word cat to express a general sense of happiness. A fun day at the beach, for example, is described with a excited babble that includes the word cat. As she learns to share her internal thoughts, Suzanne continues to use her special word in conventional ways as well, now announcing cat before toddling off in search of her furry friend. Suzanne understands that words can represent abstract ideas as well as concrete things. She is exploring the various facets of the concept of cat.
Babies learn language as they play with sounds and see how the world responds to their verbal experiments. As they engage in this investigative process, they establish the social meaning of words.
The Meaning of “School”
Like Suzanne, I’m doing a lot of thinking these days about the meaning of a word that is important to me. Both the social meaning of the word school as well as my personal definition are evolving suddenly and dramatically. Here’s what school signifies to me at this moment:
- A school is a group of people working together to equip our youth to lead fulfilling lives, to be productive and responsible members of society. The purpose of school is not to achieve high scores on standardized tests. And it is not the purpose or responsibility of school to provide childcare so that parents can work outside the home. Prioritizing rapid economic recovery over the lives of teachers, students, and their family members is not a sane or humane choice.
- School can and should be a vehicle for disrupting patterns of racism and working toward social justice. We need to work actively and urgently to develop the understandings, skills, and systems that will allow school to achieve these important goals.
- Not all schools have walls. Learning can take place (sometimes more efficiently) in online settings. Online learning will certainly be part of our students’ futures. So, we’d be wise to figure out now how to teach effectively in virtual classrooms, how to help students develop the skills and dispositions they will need for success in online learning environments, and how to give all students access to technology learning tools. We also should be thinking about how we will make up for the experiential and social learning experiences our students are currently missing once face-to-face schooling is again possible.
Like Suzanne, we all need to explore our personal definitions of important words as well as their social meanings. Our experiments with and dialogue around the meaning of school at this moment are critical. They will shape the future of our education system, the character of our nation, and our ability to survive and thrive in an unknown future. The evolving social meaning of the word school deserves our best thinking and requires that we remain open to new ideas. If we engage thoughtfully in an exploration of the concept of school, we can avoid defaulting to a definition that is no longer relevant to our context and no longer serves our children or society effectively. Instead, we can create an education system that aligns with our values and promotes a socially, ethically, and economically healthy nation.
In the end, Suzanne will decide that an elephant is not a cat and that, while cats often inspire pleasurable feelings, there are better words for labeling these feelings.
In the end, the social meaning of school will evolve as a result of our current experiences, the dialogue we have about these experiences, and the actions we choose to take individually and collectively.
For a smile, watch this 7-minute video of young children exploring the meaning of the word square: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g65ZO7zbVKI&feature=youtu.be
Resources worth checking out
Math-Positive Mindsets: Growing a Child’s Mind Without Losing Yours
By Carrie S. Cutler
Math-Positive Mindsets is a gold mine of sound but practical ideas for parents committed to helping their children develop a healthy relationship with mathematics and confidence in their abilities to understand and use mathematics. It offers jargon-free explanations of research-based teaching practices and math learning targets across the elementary grades. The book is easy to navigate. Topics are organized as questions commonly asked by parents; these questions are answered with sensible advice and ideas for family-friendly activities.
Math-Positive Mindsets will be useful to teachers who recognize the importance of building partnership with parents and equipping parents to support their children’s math learning with easy-to-implement strategies. It includes “Teaching Tips” to help classroom teachers build students’ growth mindsets towards mathematics as they develop students’ mathematical understandings. This book will be helpful to school-based math coaches or teacher leaders who plan and coordinate parent education activities and family math nights. Perhaps PTAs will want to sell copies of the book at a family math night as a fund-raising activity. Math-Positive Mindsets will make a great book study for parent groups.
Author Carrie Cutler brings the gift of her multiple perspectives and experience to this guide for growing students as mathematicians – a former elementary teacher, mother of eight children, and college professor who now teaches pre-service teachers, Dr. Cutler lives her motto: All for math and math for all!
Cutler, C. S. (2020). Math-positive mindsets: Growing a child’s mind without losing yours. Boston: Math Solutions.