When driving down the road the other day, I saw a mother and daughter in a car approaching in the oncoming traffic lane. I saw the teenage daughter smiling ear to ear as she was waving her hands and animatedly telling a story she was so excited to share. The mother, who was driving the car, had a smirk on her face as she kept her eyes on the road and listened intently. While I can only guess that there was music on in the car, I could see that neither was on their cell phone and they were conducting an age-old ritual called verbal communication. I could not hear what was being exchanged between the two of them, but I could tell it was one of those pleasant moments shared between a mother and a daughter.
Earlier this month, the schools were closed for spring recess. There was no instruction going on in the building and no children walking in the halls. The schools were silent. These buildings were made to embrace children, have them engage with each other, sing and practice instruments, laugh and play with classmates at lunch, and so much more. Each classroom becomes a cocoon unto itself so as not to disturb the learning next door. But when the dismissal bell rings, watch out, hundreds of children burst forth from the doors in a cacophony of sounds.
Silence, however, is crucial to learning. Students need to concentrate on exams or when practicing writing skills. They also need quiet to breathe, meditate, and collect their thoughts. Many teachers and schools build this quiet time into their routines to help the students refocus for a few minutes. Health and physical education classes teach yoga and other breathing techniques to calm nerves and give students positive skills to strengthen their mind-body control.
Students come to school as somewhat empty vessels. They come to school to learn and experience things that they may never be exposed to. These exposures allow students to open up and blossom. Yes, there will be defeats and failures along the way. This is part of life. Students need to experience these failures in a supportive environment so that they can dust themselves off and grow. And just like kintsugi, the Japanese art of putting broken pottery pieces back together with gold fixing the cracks, students emerge stronger and more beautiful from the learning experience. Nobody is perfect and the Japanese have come to admire and value kintsugi ceramic vessels more than the original piece.
As a superintendent, I do not get to experience the daily interaction with students in a classroom. It is the biggest aspect of education that I miss not being a teacher. So when I need to get out of the office and have my spirits uplifted, I visit the schools in the district. Instantly, my mood changes and a smile is brought to my face. There is so much going on with the academics, arts, athletics, and activities in our schools that one can only come away encouraged by the youth of today and the problems they will solve tomorrow.
Recently, we heard the sounds of the high school musical, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. The students’ voices were loud and beautiful. Combined with the playing of the musicians’ instruments, the audience was compelled to clap their hands and dance in the aisles of the finale.
With the start of the spring season also comes the sound of fans cheering and the crack of a bat. Spring sports have begun! Students and parents line the sidelines outside, rooting for friends and children in the beautiful spring weather.
While these activities occur after school and fill the air with sounds of excitement, inside the schools an equal amount of exuberance can be heard. During the fourth quarter of school, students have developed enough of a foundation to their learning, filling their empty vessels since September, to move their academics to higher levels of learning. Eureka moments can be heard as students “get it” and make connections to previous learning.
Schools were not built for silence. They were constructed to embrace the sounds of learning like the loving arms of a parent around their child at the end of the day. While we all cannot hear what goes on in the classroom everyday, we can tell how a child’s day went just by the expression on their face. As I recall the memory of that mother and daughter passing by me on the road, I too could not hear what was going on between them, but their smiles were infectious and made me happy.
-May 1, 2023
The "Superintendent's Column,"
by Dr. Thomas A. Gorman also appears in
"The Citizen" newspaper and on-line at "MontvilleTAP"