Once, there was an emperor who was struggling with his people. They were so mean to each other! No matter how many rules he tried to set in place, they always broke them. He set out in search of the perfect people who lived under the perfect laws of the world …
Finally, he heard of a large house where a large family lived together and were known as the happiest people on earth. The emperor went to them and told him of his search. "Perfect people?" they said, "There are none! And perfect rules? Well, in our house we live by one word. There is one word that ensures everyone's happiness." The oldest member of the family wrote this one word on a piece of paper, and gave it to the emperor, who looked at it, recognized the task he had before him, folded it up and put it in his pocket. He thanked the family, returned to his home, and for the rest of his life, he ruled his people under one word that would ensure everyone's happiness.
One word for happiness? What could that one word be? We pondered this question in Opal 3, and we found that there were so many words we know for ensuring the happiness we may know as a class together:
fun – family – community – nice
talk - play – thankfulness
care – patience – respect
listen – friendship – generosity – love
"please" – "thanks"
I think we can all agree that each and every one of these words offer insights into the happiness we can make possible for ourselves and for each other in our class this year. For me this week, however, there is one more word that was mentioned that had particular meaning for me: flexibility. When this word was mentioned, I asked what was meant by flexibility, in case it was an unfamiliar word for anyone. E.R. said, "It's like, just, being willing."
Being willing. It is a hard thing to be willing to allow so much "new" into your life the way that the first week of school requires us all to do. When I reflect back on our first week together, I believe flexibility and "being willing" were at the heart of the happiness that was made possible. We began adjusting to a new classroom and a new schedule for our days together. We interacted with new teachers and new students. We began working with new tools we will be using this year, like our Writer's Notebooks. That's a lot of "being willing" and it was humbling to watch the children be willing to do so much for each other.
It reminded me of the importance of my own responsibility to be flexible, to be willing to adjust my own ideas, right alongside the students. Half of the planning I do for each day is devoted to reflecting on what happened the day before, what felt good about our time together and what of my own assumptions and expectations I need to examine and adjust.
I find it most remarkable, however, that the moments in which we find ourselves the least flexible can ultimately remind us of what is most important. By lunch on Friday, we had all begun to notice an increasingly unpleasant smell in the classroom. We learned that it was coming from the work being done upstairs in the Museum during its extended closure, and that it was not going to subside. Well, I thought, what a great opportunity to spend the afternoon outside! Little did I know, however, that spending the afternoon outside was precisely what we should have planned to do from the beginning. I believe the photos indicate that fairly well.
I was talking at our Family Picnic last night to a parent who talked about "living in August", that deceptive month, in which teachers can believe anything they want about what the school year will bring. When September comes, the children return, and we can't believe just anything. We have to believe them, and believe in them. We have to be willing, literally and figuratively, to let them into the classroom (and out of it, too!), and to allow them all the many words they bring to the happiness that is possible in our community.