Saturday, June 5, 2010

Breathing In and Breathing Out

The past week has been a wonderful blur of sleeping late, piddling in the yard, and fictional books that have nothing to do with teaching. It was the first full week off for summer vacation, and I reveled in it, to the point that when asked by a friend to discuss an educational topic towards the end of the week, I found that I didn’t have the “education-ese” ready at the tip of my tongue. My brain had taken a much-needed rest and had promptly forgotten so much of what I’d worked on for the past 200 days.

Sylvia Ashton-Warner, in her book “Teacher”, talks about arranging her day with the Maori children of New Zealand as an alternation between “breathing in” and “breathing out”. She felt that kids need to balance taking in new information with their creative impulses to produce something, and so she layered her day with, for instance, whole-group big book reading followed by independent writing time, then singing songs and reciting rhymes as a whole group followed by small group projects. This approach gives kids a chance to process and apply all the new information they hear during the day. It’s why a pure lecture method doesn’t work, even for adults.

As a teacher and coach, I find that I need to balance my “breathing in” with my “breathing out” as well. There are only so many professional books I can read, or even so many pages of one professional book I can take in, before I must take a break and put it to use. It’s also why I am a fairly slow reader when it comes to reading professionally – I spend a great deal of time staring off into space processing what I’ve read. The time spent staring is directly proportional to the unfamiliarity or originality of the material I read. But by balancing that breathing in and out as I read, I’ve been able to process the material by applying it virtually to situations in my classroom.

There’s a rhythm to a productive life, a groove that, once we fit into it, feels just right. And sometimes what feels just right is to piddle in the yard and take a complete break from breathing at all.

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