Opal School has a collection of guiding principles for teaching and learning (that you can find here ) that support the ways we approach our thinking, planning, observations, and instruction across the grades at Opal School. It is with these guiding principles in mind that we begin to prepare what we hope will become meaningful experiences that support the building of new connections within a new community at the beginning of each school year. The first three of these principles stick out most strongly in my mind as we work to find ways to build new relationships with each other. These include:
- Children as Protagonists: Children are competent, resourceful, and creative with imagination and curiosity about the world around them. They come to school full of experience and wisdom in their natural attempts to make meaning of their lives.
- Children as Collaborators: No child lives in isolation. A child is always in search of relationships. Children learn and become themselves through interaction and relationships with other people, ideas, and symbols.
- Children as Communicators: Children make their thinking visible through interaction and relationship with other people, ideas, objects, and symbols.
One goal I have at the beginning of the year, during the first few weeks of school is to create something together as a community. I like to call it leaving "a trace," a trace of who we were at the very beginning of the year. I see this as a time to get to know each other, and combine the most important parts of our separate selves together into one whole. It is a way to get to know more about each other, to learn about the ways we might express our thinking, to discover the endless possibilities a new material might hold and more. This is a trace that will stay with us in our environment as we think, change, and grow together this year. A trace that we might even revisit to remind us of where we've come from and to remind us of the unimagined possibilities of where we will go. With these goals in mind we asked the children in Opal 2:
What do you want your new community to know about what is in your heart?
How can you use the collage materials to show what is in your heart?
As small groups of children are invited into the studio to explore these ideas, we immediately begin to hear exchanges between students who have not had the opportunity to interact or connect in this way before.
ED: Are there any more of these?
VVN: You can use these from mine.
LH: My heart is in the middle here. It shows I like cool things and I like scary things.
LW: I like scary things too! High five!
And we also listen carefully and appreciate the openness in which the children approach this invitation as the most important parts of themselves and their lives come pouring out into the world for others to hear:
LD: I love going to my granddaddy's pastures to find arrowheads and I love fishing in his pond.
KC: Friends. This is a part of friendship because I like picking flowers for my friends and I like playing with friends. It reminds me of SR and she said, "Make new friends."
VVN: I really like going to my grandma's cabin near the beach. It's usually sunny there and sometimes horses walk by.
ZB: This is a little robot thingy. It gets powered by a switch. It represents me because I like to build things and look at things like structures.
JP: I like gadgets. I like making stuff. Once I even unlocked my grandma's door with a little paper clip!
SS: When you're really happy for a minute you're quiet, then you explode with laughter. The laughter is like stairs and it keeps going up and up and you're happy. Then you might get a stomach ache if you laugh too much. But I love to laugh!
BV: It represents this little turtle my grandpa gave me. It's silver with a green shell. On the shell it has "believe." He gave it to me so I can not be afraid because sometimes I am. I put it in the middle because it's really special and I don't want to lose it.
LW: I'm making steps-like steps to the heart, the steps to my heart.
And finally, MC provided us with an idea to consider, to wonder about, to experience, and learn from, and begin to trust in. She gave us something worth revisiting, worth striving towards, and worth checking back to again and again as we move forward as a new community this year together.
MC: What I really like about Opal 2 is that no matter how you are, you always have a spot in the class.