Last Saturday my wife and daughter left for Australia. They will be there for two weeks, during which time it will just be my eight-year-old son and I at home. I do not have to work for the next two weeks so I have the luxury of spending this sacred time with him.
He and I have been talking it up for quite some time now. We have planned events that we are both anxiously awaiting. We even gave this time together a name. Men’s Week. While it had a nice ring to it, it didn’t quite hit the mark. Then it hit me; since we had two weeks together, why not call it Men’s Fortnight. Oooh, my son loved that, mostly because it contained the word Fortnight, like the worldly popular game, and truth be told, I was proud of myself.
The first two days have been great. We have played baseball, 2-square, gone swimming, enjoyed late night bargain bowling, eaten pizza and watched movies and eaten popcorn in the bedroom. Don’t tell my wife.
Since I am not working, I have been able to sleep-in. It has been wonderful. And I know this will be two weeks that I will cherish always, as I am sure my wife and daughter will never forget their time together in Australia.
During Men’s Fortnight, I have more time than usual to simply sit and reflect. Something I need to make space for more often. As I lay on the couch yesterday, I realized as I began to do the math. My son and I have about 14-16 waking hours today each day. Actually, since it’s like a sleepover, we have been sleeping in the big bed. Most nights we both fall asleep with our devices in our hand. I know, I know, I am not going to win Father of the Year. But it’s fun and we are both happy.
Back to the 14-16 hours each day. Once again, I did some math and as I calculated I realized that my son and I only spend about half of that time together engaging in the same activity. Wow! What is happening with the other 7-8 hours?
Am I neglecting my son for those other hours? Is he running loose in the neighborhood wreaking havoc? Or is he watching the clock anxiously awaiting our next planned activity?
None of the above.
Most of the time that my son and I aren’t engaged in the same activity, we are involved in parallel play. My son and I are in the same room or at least in the same building, involved with our own activities. And we are content. Actually, we are more than content. We are happy.
Jon, please tell me you have a point coming here soon. This is a nice story, but what does this piece have to with education?
These last few days with my son have helped me realize that we mustn’t feel as if we have to fill each and every minute of our students’ days with planned and engaged activities.
Ok, before you think I have fallen off the deep end or that I am just experiencing summer break euphoria I want you to hear me out.
I am not implying that we give our students and teachers for that matter, hours each day to venture down a YouTube Rabbit Hole, post photos of what they had for lunch on Facebook or stream movies while waiting for the final bell to ring. Even though I know this happens more often than we’d care to admit, it shouldn’t.
No, I am suggesting that we give our students and teachers more space and time and freedom to breathe and reflect. Teachers don’t need to plan every minute of every student’s day. Spark their curiosity and see what they come up with. Some of it will be crap. So what? Our current practices are burning out our students and our teachers at a rate we’ve never seen before.
We must give students time to digest material and concepts absent our voice and directives. Nobody learns well with a shadow alongside them. At least most don’t. I am sure this will feel strange at first. We are so accustomed to regimenting our students’ days that it’s only natural that loosening the reins will cause a little apprehension. That’s okay. Just wait and see what happens. I’m betting it will result in happier and more productive students. Great ideas can not form where there is no space. They must have room to grow and sprout.
Today, more than ever before, teachers are under the watchful eye of Big Brother(I am an Assistant Principal, so that includes me). Yes, it is important that we are present and involved in what goes on in our classrooms. But, must we demand that every minute be accounted for? For some, yes. For most, no.
Teachers need to know that we have their back and that we support them as they work day and night to figure out how to bring about the best in their students. Do I really need to know what all my teachers are doing from 10:15-10:45? I don’t think so. Like students, constant shadows stunt growth and exploration.
Yes, it is important to measure progress and there are methods by which we can do that. I for one, would not want someone looking over my shoulder measuring and interpreting every single thing that I do every single day. I would accomplish very little and I would be on edge.
Men’s Fortnight is not over for another 12 days. The first two have been amazing. My son and I have played and read and slept and enjoyed each other’s company more than I can ever remember. We plan a few activities each day. And we go at them with great enthusiasm. The rest of the time we are together, just not engaged with each other. And yet, I find that time to be just as magical, if not more so, than when we are mutually engaged in the same activity. We know where the other is and we know that the other is happy.
And that is enough.
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