I’ve written about our gnome home and fairy tree before.
And yesterday, I sent off the first of what I am certain will be many submissions to publishing houses that are accepting unsolicited manuscripts. Some of you told me I should write a picture book about the events that transpired around here last spring and summer, and so I did that.
I have no idea how to do that well, but I did that.
I hope you’re doing new things badly right now, too.
Even survival floating forces us to take deep breaths of air once in a while, and I got to do that last week, as my friends Pam and Melanie and I planned a quick presentation for the Ontario Library Association’s Super Conference. Like many of you, this year has found me moving in and out of different triage rooms. I’m helping instructors on my campus shift from remote to hybrid to hyflex and back again, as needed. I’m designing my own remote courses–including a sociolinguistics course for a population of college students who have very limited formal and no public education experiences. I’m making space for K-12 teachers to connect all we’ve learned about making and writing and making writing to the experiences their students are living right now, too. I’m pretty privileged to be still be working more than full time, but none of this work is a rich or rewarding as it would be if I were in everyone’s physical company.
As I alluded to up there, it’s felt like survival, most days.
But then, I got to do a bit of planning with Pam and Mel, and I got to remember the very best parts of this unbelievable year, and I found myself wading through a ton of accidental documentation. Reflection is always revealing.
If you didn’t click on that first link up there, then it will help you to know that last spring, as schools and businesses stopped inviting visitors on site and our village shifted into pandemic pause, John and I noticed–almost immediately–how quiet it became around here. We live in a porch community, and at any time of the day, there are usually people about. I can look out my front window to see neighbors gathered and chatting, kids playing street hockey, and people pulling their cars to the curb, rolling down their windows, and shouting hello to friends who might be outside.
Last spring, our neighborhood fell silent as groups stopped gathering and people tucked themselves into their homes until we could learn more about this virus and how to live with it.
People were walking more though–especially families with young children. Each lunch and after dinner hour brought far more foot and bicycle traffic past our house, and it didn’t surprise us to see so many kids lingering by the old maple tree near the sidewalk in our front yard. He’s an old guy, and there’s a hole at his base that leave many wondering just how hollow his insides might be.
Most children are intrigued by the tree when they notice it, and as it turns out, slow living makes more time for noticing.
So, my husband John had this great idea one night: He snuck out to the tree when no one was watching, and he tucked a tiny garden gnome into that wide crevice. Then, he scurried back inside, and we spent way too much time waiting for someone to notice.
The next day, we woke to shrieks and giggles. Peeking out the window, we noticed the first of many, many visitors to the tree.
The kids were intrigued, and their grown-ups also seemed rather delighted.
So, we added another gnome and a tiny table and pair of chairs the next day.
The kids started playing with them.
Each day from early spring throughout the entire summer, we added just ONE new thing to the tree. We were rather methodical.
And the kids started leaving notes and letters for the fairies and the gnomes. They started adding their own gifts to the tree as well: Someone gave the gnomes a fishing pond, a teeter-totter, and a grand tire swing. They left them many painted rocks and lucky pennies. They left them feathers and buttons and handmade, teeny-tiny signs.
Without much invitation at all, they soon started leaving their stories there. Stories about the tree and the characters they found around it.
And we were intrigued.
The children who visited the tree often left little thank you notes for the magic we tried to make there, but if I’m being honest, then I have to say: It was just as much–if not more–fun for me. John would say the same.
I was reminded of this last week, when a small group of wonderful teacher friends asked me to share where my learning has taken me this year. They’ve read my books and worked with me a bit previously, and they knew–because they know me–that I learn much about teaching writing well by trying hard to decenter myself in every space I exist in and simply–documenting and then analyzing what I see and hear. I code that data, invite diverse perspective-taking around what it all might mean, and share my discoveries with other educators. I encourage all of the teachers that I serve to do the same.
It’s an intriguing way to stay hungry as a learner. It’s an intriguing way to facilitate professional learning, too.
And this year has been like no other.
So, what did I share with these friends when they asked me where my learning has taken me this year?
I shared the most important thing I’ve realized: That intrigue is everything right now.
What we once thought we knew about engaging learners has been tossed onto the dumpster fire that has been the last year. We haven’t spoken much about intrigue around here, though.
Do you know who often does? Reggio inspired educators. But I digress.
Here’s the thing: As I began combing through all of the photos and social shares I posted on Facebook and elsewhere last summer (with the intention to make my friends and family smile), I realized that this effort was a bit of accidental documentation work. And when I began reading through the responses that friends posted and how the tree and the children’s relationship with it evolved over time, I realized that this was learning. This was writing.
And this could be far less accidental.
I wonder how we might intrigue our students right now? You may not be into gnomes or fairies, and they may not enjoy them, either. I didn’t think that I was until my husband planted one inside the tree in our front yard and the children in our neighborhood responded the way they did. I’m totally all about gnomes and fairies now.
The vehicle doesn’t matter, though. There are many ways to invite learners to drive.
Intrigue them. Let them intrigue you.
That’s what I’m learning how to do better and better this year, and it’s serving me well, too. I’m craving play and the joy and laughter and whimsy that bubbles up inside of playful moments. I have less of this in my personal life, thanks to these times we’re living in. I need to cultivate it with intention, professionally. I need to offer a big, big thank you to the school administrators and teachers who have invited me into their classrooms to introduce students to the gnomes and their home this year, too. Thank you for inviting me to write beside your students and share my story-in-progress with them. I thought of all of you as I submitted that manuscript yesterday.
All of you deserve to teach and learn playfully every day, but especially during these days. So, this week’s newsletter is just for you.
I know this post was a long ramble, and I know that I’m supposed to keep it at 500 words and tiny blocked paragraphs and who knows what the keywords might have been inside this post (other than intrigue, I know–and imagine the company that might bring to this space!), .
I also know that some of you might be searching for the how-to. So I did I bit of that for you in this week’s newsletter, which I also wanted to send along to those who are regular subscribers. You can find it here, and I’d love to hear from you: How are you intriguing–and not merely engaging–learners right now? And how are you making your teaching more playful too?