Time to be Playful
Faculty, staff, students, Matt - Welcome to the 2017-18 academic year. I hope that you all had a wonderful summer. We start the year with a Convocation to symbolize the ushering in of a new year, a new beginning. The academic calendar allows us to start fresh every September. Every year, we bring new energy, new ideas and, for many of you, new growth, both physically and emotionally.
I imagine that all of you arrived at school this morning with a certain amount of excitement, anxiety, or trepidation. It happens to us all – students, faculty and staff, and even parents.
I am happy to have the opportunity this morning to reflect on this new beginning, as we move in to transformational new spaces and embark on an exciting new schedule.
When I lived in Delaware, I had a particular running loop along the athletic fields, through the cornfields, and around Noxontown Pond, and on every run, I always checked my time. I never went for a run without my watch, and at certain points along the run, I would check my time to ensure that I was keeping up a good pace. While I would certainly pay attention to the natural world around me, noting a fox in the distance, a herd of deer, or a Cooper's Hawk flying overhead, and I would let my mind wander, I was always cognizant of my speed and where I was at specific check points in relation to the clock. My attention to time was two-pronged. I would want to confirm that I was as fast as ever, and often I would want to get back to school in time for something else. Today I am going to call into question both of those needs.
This keen attention to time was certainly with us last spring as the Class of 2017 counted down to graduation as though there was a finish line they were racing towards. Have you ever noticed, however, that once you have arrived to this arbitrary finish line, you want time to slow down? While I would hear the seniors rejoice in the proximity of graduation day, I would also hear them say that time had gone too fast, and occasionally I would hear students confess to each other "I don't want to leave."
Our understanding of time is inconsistent. Those of you in the middle school may yearn for it to go faster. You feel that time is creeping along until you can get your driver's license or before you can enjoy the experience of free periods in ninth grade. In contrast, believe it or not, some of you seniors at some point during this year, will feel that time is going too fast.
Today I want you to consider revising your perception of time, particularly as you develop your daily habits during the year with our new schedule.
You might anticipate that I am about to encourage you to use your time efficiently and productively, to get as much "done" as fast as you can and cross items off your "to do" list, somewhat the way I would approach my run when I lived in Delaware, where my focus was on speed and efficiency. But you would be wrong.
Today I am going to encourage you to use your unscheduled time, particularly the collaborative blocks that come in the middle and at the end of each day, to engage in play. One of the most important elements of play is a freedom from the restraints of time. Freeing yourself from the notion of an arbitrary finish line will allow you to engage in all the opportunities in front of you. Perhaps a definition of play attributed to Albert Einstein best defines the type of play that I am suggesting:
"All play is associated with intense thought activity and rapid intellectual growth. The desire to arrive finally at logically connected concepts is the emotional basis of a vague play with basic ideas. The highest form of research is essentially play. -Einstein
So, to be playful is to creatively and imaginatively engage yourself with others, and you have two opportunities during the day where you can play. I want you to look at these blocks of time as a chance to do something that you could not do anywhere but at Morristown-Beard School because this is where your resources are. Here is where you have your peers, the faculty, and the space to fully engage.
Play takes many different forms, and I hope you experiment with all of them. Perhaps you gather with some friends and rewrite the screenplay for the final episode of Game of Thrones. Maybe you ask some tap dancing friends to give you an introductory lesson. Possibly you ask your math teacher if she will play cribbage with you. Maybe you ask your chemistry teacher if he will help you find a sustainable alternative to plastics. Perhaps you engage in a playful hurling of insults in different languages with a language teacher. Maybe you head to the gym and play a game of pick up basketball. Challenge yourself to experiment with different forms of play. Do not always do the same thing.
With our new schedule, you have the power to create space in your life where you can move across boundaries, experiment with different ways of engaging your peers and your teachers. Both the new schedule and the physical spaces that we now have in the new math/science facility, the Science on a Sphere, the fact that the English and history classrooms are next to each other, all allow for interdisciplinary discovery. You have the power to resist the cultural forces that keep us from play, activities where you are passive not active, where you are alone not in collaboration. These cultural forces encourage passivity and they are often connected with technology, but that does not mean, that all technology is exempt from play. You know the difference.
It might be that it is in these collaborative blocks where you will have your "aha" moments, moments where you suddenly realize what you truly care about, moments where you can merge your passion with a project.
Our most significant "aha" moments are not in the moments where we are rushing through classes, but in the still moments. For 19 years I ran through those cornfields, and my most memorable runs were not when I did my fastest time. They were when I was able to embrace the unexpected or commune with nature and another person.
Here at MBS you have the time and space to enhance your creativity and to seize ownership of your learning. What we want for you is to be lifelong learners, to be creative and independent thinkers, to be good citizens. If we embrace the collaborative periods as an opportunity to explore education to its fullest, to use the Greek word, paideia, which means both education and play, we will have a wonderful and transformational year.
Hamman, Jaco. "The Power of Play." University of Findlay. Findlay. September 2011.
Lichtman, Grant. #EdJourney San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2014.