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Serendipity, distraction, and meaningful metaphor

Serendipity, distraction, and meaningful metaphor
In her research on serendipity, Pagan Kennedy describes three different groups of people by the way they respond to unexpected moments. The group that she describes as the most open to such moments are the “super-encounterers.” She writes that this group, “reports that happy surprises pop up wherever they look” and that they “count on finding treasures in the oddest places.” Kennedy advises that you become a super-encounterer simply by believing that you are one and that “you possess special powers of perception, like an invisible set of antennas, that will lead you to clues.”
In the Cottonwood community this year (kindergarten and first-grade), Lauren and I have been curious about times that we and the children become super-encounterers. Recently in the arboretum, we had a surprising moment amidst a conflict in the Lower Meadow. This year, we have been bringing fabric outside with us, which has resulted in a variety of possibilities for play. A group of children have enjoyed building a treehouse with the fabric. As is often the case, differences of opinion arise when a large number of people come together to collaborate on an idea. The treehouse project has provided many opportunities for us to work through these bumps together.
I was observing the treehouse construction and noticed a disagreement brewing over a specific piece of fabric. I stood back to observe, not wanting to intervene before the children had an opportunity to resolve it themselves. When it became apparent that conflict was escalating and I noticed tugging of fabric between children beginning, I walked over to offer some support. Just as I began to ask what was happening, something entirely unexpected happened: A hawk landed on the light pole directly above our heads. One of the children heard the hawk’s talons scrape the metal, glanced upward, and exclaimed in surprise “Look! A hawk!!”
The following is an excerpt from my notes that day:
First the hawk landed on the light pole right by the Lower Meadow tree, where the children were again building a treehouse, and then it glided to the pole in the middle of the nearby parking lot. All the children at the tree house ran over and were mesmerized by it: laughing; talking to it; noticing size, color, and wing span. Everyone followed the hawk with their eyes and cheered it on. The children even began talking to the hawk. Anne invited the hawk into our classroom for Story Workshop and Samantha added, “Yeah! I bet he has a story!” Michael (who had been frustrated at the treehouse) began to sing and dance. The children from the treehouse ran around the playground and invited everyone else over to see the hawk, “Look! Look! There’s a hawk!!!” Some children grabbed fabric pieces and used them in a variety of ways to celebrate our visitor. Nearly the entire class moved over to the fence and most children spent the remainder of outdoor break there, watching the hawk.
This moment was so joyful yet I noticed myself feeling tense. There were two choices in front of me; I could bring the children back to the treehouse to process or I could stand back and observe where this moment with the hawk might take us. Both options were unpredictable. I wondered about the impact of not processing in the moment at the treehouse. Was I allowing the children to be distracted; avoiding the discomfort of navigating a disagreement together? Were we missing a conflict resolution that might be meaningful?
However, I also noticed that celebrating the hawk was bringing children together who had been at odds just moments before. This seemed impactful to me. I wondered about the children and myself as super-encounterers. Specifically, what might come of this joyful moment with the hawk if I let it go uninterrupted? Will this moment inspire later insight that might provide our community with fresh ideas for remaining open while navigating conflict? As a teacher, how might I remain a super-encounterer? Striving to be open to unexpected ideas and possibilities that the children present?

After this experience, Lauren and I have been curious about our next steps as teachers. What other “hawks” are we encountering as a community in moments of discomfort and uncertainty? How might the hawk serve as a metaphor for other moments of serendipity and wondrous happenstance? How might a chance encounter propel us on a journey of reconnection and research of the hawk? How might our interest in the unknown and the spectacular support us on a collective mission to uncover more: about the hawk, ourselves, each other, and the we that I am?

These questions are ongoing for us. We wonder: What “hawks” are you encountering in moments of conflict and problem-solving?

November 21, 2017