Opal School closed in 2021. You can continue to access these resources for free at teachingpreschoolpartners.org/resource-library/.

Reflections on Opal School Visitation Days 2016

Reflections on Opal School Visitation Days 2016

Two weeks ago, teachers and administrators from more than thirty schools across North America gathered at Opal School for our annual Visitation Days, dedicated to investigating conditions that support a “playful inquiry” approach to learning.  Over two-and-a-half days, this diverse group of participants investigated classroom environments, observed class in session, responded to presentations by Opal School teachers, explored studio materials, and engaged in reflective practices individually and collectively around their experiences and their implications.

Below, I’ve decided to share the responses submitted by some of those participants.  Why?

Opal School community members – children, families, and staff – worked hard to produce Visitation Days.  I want them to know what their sacrifices mean to visiting educators and the communities they represent.

Visitation Days participants shared these responses in their evaluations as the close of the workshop.  I thought they’d appreciate the ways in which their experiences paralleled those of others in the room.

I think there is something here for others responsible for cultivating professional development experiences to think about regarding what teachers are hungry for.

Finally, I post these because it’s Valentines Day – and these comments are so full of love, I want to put them out in the world.


Structure, choice, play, accountability, and purpose can all work together at the same time to the ultimate benefit of students.  This is an environment needed to create/build the leaders of our future.

[It was] like a retreat into my thinking about my philosophy on teaching and learning

My job as a teacher feels even more important

Humanizing, empathetic, and strengthening and reinforcing my purpose of teaching!

I feel like my understanding of playful inquiry has been deepened much more than I thought was possible in two days.  I feel better able to implement certain routines now, especially with the support of my team.

I needed this experience to energize myself and reaffirm and remember why I became a teacher.  I had become too focused on scores and progress; I wasn’t spending enough time slowing it down; I wasn’t listening closely to my students.  I value Opal’s approach because it validates the changes that need to be made.

I came away from this experience with a changed image of my students.  They should be trusted and given the opportunity to express themselves in many ways.  They are capable of much more than what they are given.

It was incredibly inspiring…  It has really made me think about how I question/ phrase comments/ use language throughout the day… It really showed me the importance of nurturing.  By building the trust, confidence, respect, you can dig deeper.  Children feel safe and validated and are more wiling to take risks and engage.

Pushed me to think about my teaching and learning.  I feel energized and confused at the same time – which I think is a good place to be!

… I want to thank you for truly being honest and authentic about this difficult work we do with children.  Your vulnerability as a staff provides and environment where we can feel willing to explore and learn.

I valued meeting new colleagues all striving for better practices and wondering.

Your classrooms and staff validated my image of the child as capable and creative.  I saw children across the grades display a strong sense of community, connection, and joy with each other and the adults.  The mutual respect and enthusiasm for learning together was visible and the honesty and reality checks by the teachers about the challenges they face in their classrooms was refreshing.

I have more questions than I came with which is exciting because every question that has come up has endless possibilities for my own development and the development of the tiny humans I spend my days with.

Justice is what love looks like in public.  I saw that here.  I am changed profoundly.  Any expectations I held were shattered.  I am leaving a better person.  A better listener.  A kinder mother.  A more passionate teacher.  Value? Only those of patience, empathy, laughter, joy…  I get it now.  I had my lightbulb go off and explode.  I think I’ll be able to love my students unconditionally now – no shame.

By being open and vulnerable, you taught us to be.  My goodness, I haven’t felt this alive and empowered for years.  You gave us practical tools, but also showed us ways of being.  And my own assumptions have been challenged and some even destroyed in the creation and reconstruction of what I came here thinking that I knew.

An amazing time to reflect on why I became a teacher and refocus my love for children and teaching.

You honored and accepted the diverse levels of thinking in the room, while still challenging us to “strain” our thinking.

I loved the trust shown in children and their thinking.  This experience reinforced the complexity of teaching and learning. No “canned program” can get to it.

I appreciated the intention of how the days were scheduled so that we ourselves became researchers and authors and question askers.  I feel that I have more questions than when I started and yet I feel that that is a very positive way to leave.

I have never been comfortable with conflict.  From a young age, there was instilled in me a fear of it and an embarrassment for being wrong. I was moved to see how confident, respectful, and savvy the children were at navigating conflict.  They will be much better equipped as adults than I was.

This was the best professional development that I have been to…  I loved the protocols, loved listening to teachers speak, loved seeing the classrooms, loved the reflective time…

It immersed us not just in the rudimentary elements but the deeper structure thinking.  The process modeled the practice of curiosity, questioning, lingering, playing, reflecting, fleshing it out… It allowed me to refine processes as well as deepen them.  I was able to snap together some ideas I had been grappling with.  It helped me really see what believing in the competence of children and community looks like.  The welcoming of conflict, particularly the conflict children feel as they grapple with ideas, was a revelation for me.  The deeper layers of teaching and learning were unpacked.  You gently jostled my thinking, feelings, values, while connecting it all to what it essentially means to be human and part of a community.  Staff were amazing, open, generous.

I feel that I am going back with many new possibilities for my classroom and renewed energy for teaching… I think I am really coming away thinking about quality and complexity in teaching and learning – thinking about deeper learning – quality over quantity.

I think you did a great job of allowing us to feel comfortable to share our own journeys, doubts, fears, etc. This was a supportive and caring community.

[I valued] the importance of pushing students not with demands and expectations but with questions that inspire their curiosity.  I am extremely excited to go back and share my experience with my team teachers to find a way for us to commit to documenting the voices of students as we engage in inquiry and use their ideas to make thoughtful decisions as we plan.  I 100% appreciate the honesty and transparency of the teachers here at Opal School.

It was a refreshing, exhilarating, and rewarding experience.  To see the care that goes into the planning and the love within the school is amazing… We were led to question, to think, to push past the comfort zone.  This was great for our own personal development.

TREMENDOUS! Having heard about Opal School for years, it was a privilege to have such access to the classroom spaces and to presentations and opportunities for reflection and sharing that really expanded and clarified my thinking.

I feel very energized and hopeful that I will be able to share experiences, ideas, and tools that can make a real shift for my staff, children, and families.  I am leaving with lots of work to do, too – articles and books to read, notes and photos to ponder… but that’s pretty exciting!

It really confirmed my thinking about the complexity of the learning process and the ways in which we enter into this dynamic with young children.  It cracked wide open my understanding of the role of thoughtful questions posed within a trusting relationship and a caring community and how understandings can be extended, challenged, and shared.

The numerous opportunities for reflection and sharing within a safe, supported environment allowed attendees who had never met before to share some of their deep thinking, concerns, wonderings, and questions, and to do so while also listening carefully to one another.  A great gift.

I appreciated Opal teachers’ willingness to be vulnerable and open their classrooms to us and orally share with us.  Susan’s presentation where she so openly admitted to struggling with how she is doing as a teacher. My friend turned to me at that moment and whispered, “She feels it too!” Your structure of the sessions was brilliant.

[I feel] very energized – there is hope for improving this world.  Your work is making a huge difference for the families you serve and for the teachers you welcome into your classrooms.

I can see now why people can come and then revisit again and again.  This experience has been breathtaking, challenging, inquisitive, thought-provoking, and I am so thankful to have had this opportunity to be here….

It was well balanced – pushed me to lean into my not-so-comfortable zone, made me really think, question, reflect… and then do it again!

Time is essential and I didn’t feel rushed.  Hearing the teachers speak so passionately about their experiences was inspiring.

In the last couple of weeks, moving outside of the classroom into a position filled with unfamiliarity, politics, and complexity, this experience acted as my way to process and plan rooted in what I strongly believe about learning.  The idea of leaning into conflict as necessary has comforted me and energized my commitment to being engaged despite all the unknowns.  I’ll be able to listen rather than defend when conflict arises.

Thinking in questions seemed to invite a willingness to go places that were unfamiliar…

After 20 years of teaching and learning, nothing has offered this same authentic feeling of depth, of community, of commitment to children and our world.  Thank you. I’ll be back!

Being in classrooms where children are empowered, respected, acknowledged and appreciated is inspiring.

Seeing theory put into action is priceless.

Invaluable! It feels amazing to be asked and pushed to reflect and engage in very thoughtful, honest, and challenging conversations.

It was invaluable.  It has given me the time to reflect deeply on what teaching means to me… You have created a safe space to be reflective and vulnerable while challenging us to think deeply and to question the very essence of what education means…. I’m so happy and grateful to have had this experience.

It provided me an opportunity to reflect on my own teaching practice, engage in meaningful dialogue (and thought) and peek into one of the most amazing learning environments I’ve seen.

February 14, 2016