The last weeks of August are a special time for teachers. Hopefully, during the summer break, we have spent some time relaxing and reflecting. Now, just as we begin to need to turn on lights before dinner is over in the Pacific Northwest we get excited to begin another school year. What a privilege it is to spend nine months in a school and classroom community with children who are open to new ideas and eager to share their understanding with others. Each year it is a joy to welcome new children and families to the school. What will we learn together? What questions will surprise us? How will we grow and change this year and over the next six or seven years?
On June 12, 2019 The Lake and Park School celebrated the class of 2019. Morgan Padgett joined the school as a Beginning Room teacher the same year as many of these students. It was an honor to hear Morgan share her thoughts about their learning and education at the graduation ceremony in June. Her speech follows:
Graduation Speech, 2019
Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” Albert Einstein
When I was in elementary school, there wasn’t much time for open-ended exploration of my imagination. And so, I most looked forward to the time spent between school and home: The walks to and from the bus stop passed through a forested alley, where we could pretend to be explorers, or tigers or fairies - and climb into the trees, constructing shelters from their limbs. These memories from my childhood were full of wonder, play and unpredictability. They were important because they offered an opportunity to explore my own boundaries and develop a deeper understanding of myself.
I began teaching at Lake and Park School the year most of our graduates began kindergarten. I recall my first days here; it was a time of transition for me. I was coming from several years of teaching in schools that prioritized academic success in core subjects above all else. The expectations placed on students to achieve and the pressure put on teachers to meet those expectations was exhausting and stifling, offering little room for exploration, questioning and creativity.
As I began the school year here six years ago, I planned to spend my time hanging alphabets, and sorting leveled reading books as I always had. Instead, I was tasked with setting up the block room and filling the sensory table with sand. What is the block room? I wondered. As I sat in what is now Sofia’s classroom, organizing wooden shapes onto shelves, cutting fresh flowers for tables and hanging prints of fine art from walls, I began memorizing the names of the students I’d meet in the coming days: Jordi, Rose, Ardin, Gus, Harper, Max, Lilia and Finn. Who were these children? What would they think of me? What would I think of them?
As you may have guessed, I didn’t teach the alphabet that first year, or handwriting, spelling, addition or subtraction. Instead, I watched them paint at easels, build towers in the blocks, asking them again, and again, and again to tell me their stories and about their art. We read poems about cats by T.S. Elliot, reenacted stories from The Odyssey, turned jump ropes to the beat of Mother Goose Rhymes, built mandalas from fall leaves, danced to the music of the Nutcracker, hunted the beach for dinosaur bones and wondered about what makes places around the world sacred.
As I waited for the same children to arrive the following year, I found myself curious about what stories they’d bring to the classroom. Rather than hang behavior charts, assign workbooks and focus on the logistics of lesson-planning, I rolled spheres of clay, poured paint into glass jars, and asked you to “Create the most important part of your summer.” All the while wondering, What will emerge from these materials? And, What will these same children be curious about this year? What questions will we ask? Where will we go? How can I give them space for expression and play?
In the years that followed, we continued to move through the classrooms together and welcome new classmates like Lenin. I have countless memories of my time with you all, that have left a lasting imprint on my own understanding of what it means to teach and learn and explore. There are some memories that hold particular weight:
Constructing volcanoes and erupting them in unison in the meadow,
Launching handmade rockets into the sky,
Releasing salmon at Issaquah Creek,
Visiting the pike place market,
Reenacting the trade of goods along the Silk Road,
Building the Great Wall of China with the blocks.
These days were creative, imaginative and unpredictable. From an outsider’s perspective, sometimes it seems like all we do here is play. But sometimes, it’s precisely play that gets us where we need to be; that helps us make sense of the world beyond the written and spoken realms.
By the time I’d spent several years with these children, I was learning about things I’d never considered before; the Iditarod, ice-core samples, how water came to earth. I looked forward to learning alongside them each morning and realized we were both searching for knowledge and greater understanding of the world.
I began to view them more as collaborators in a grand process of understanding. And as I did so, I found myself more frequently engaged in authentic conversations. I was curious about their thoughts, questions and stories. One day, Finn wondered, “Why does the moon exist?” To which the circle replied, “What would happen if the moon didn’t exist?”, “Would there be tides?”, “What if there were no oceans?”, “Why are there even oceans?”
And so the conversation continued.
The next year, sitting in a circle, we wondered, “What would be the best way to study cetaceans?” Jordi suggested, “We should go see the whales.” He was right, of course. As we stood on the bow of a boat in the Salish Sea, we watched what felt like hundreds of orcas surface and make eye-contact beside us. This experience forever changed our understanding of and love for these creatures.
And when we studied ice, we visited a scientist in the ice core sample lab at the University of Washington. We looked at the layers of ice and listened to the scientist explain their age. Then we compared that to the age of seven. And when we multiplied seven times seven, times seven, times seven and began to understand the expanse of time and fragility of earth's climate.
And when we studied mountains, you all were certain the best way to do so was to be in the mountains. And so we sat on the edge of a mountainside in silence and began to understand their glory.
Through these experiences, You gained ownership of your own learning and the freedom to follow your questions. You developed your own voices, spoke up for your beliefs and gained a deeper understanding of yourself.
You have all learned how to read, write your thoughts clearly, count, add, subtract, multiply, divide, read graphs, spell and these are important skills. But you’ve learned so much more.
You’ve learned to observe the world and record your observations authentically
To take a lump of moist clay and create a bowl to be used your whole life.
How to argue your perspective and let go when you’ve changed your mind.
You’ve learned to see and express the essence of an animal through dance.
To sit in silence and listen to the river
How to plant peas
You’ve learned about the importance of voting, recycling, and marching for peace.
about protecting the earth and how to write poetry
You’ve learned to soothe yourself in times of frustration and to hang upside down from the monkey bars
You’ve experienced the exhilaration of a snow day and the disappointment of your block structure being knocked down.
You’ve learned what it feels like when a painting is complete
And through these experiences you have come to be the person you are today.
The knowledge you’ve gained at Lake and Park has weight because it reflects the curiosity for the world you’ve built within a safe community, where everyone struggles and resists, fails and retreats, but ultimately rejoins the struggle. Together we’ve carefully explored the boundaries of ourselves, recognizing that each of us is a link that is inextricably tied to the next.
You will be remembered for particular things. As the boy dressed as a T-Rex, the girl who spoke to the animals, the young mind challenging an adult’s politics, your throw in dodge ball, your drawings of monsters or ability to dance like a zebra. But you are not just one kind of person; you are many-faceted: Imaginative, curious, loyal, caring, insightful about people, creative and wonderful story-tellers. It is sometimes tempting to think of ourselves in categories: math student, soccer player, teacher, artist, musician, writer, dancer, politician. But allow yourself to be all these things. Sing and play guitar and cook and garden and recite a Shakespeare poem and discuss the impact on society of computers, political policies, climate change and music.
Remain open to all the opportunities that lie ahead: this summer and next year and beyond. There is always something new to learn, always a new adventure around the corner. Fearlessness means taking the first step even if you don’t know where it will take you. And this is what you have done each day at Lake and Park. All that you have experienced here, you will use for years to come. Your time here is your foundation and what lies ahead of you is another day of walking into the classroom uncertain of what will await you, but being brave enough to begin.
The nature of imagination is that it never perceives the world in the same way twice, yet in the process of re-imagining the world, that world is forever altered. I am honored to have walked beside you as your imagination for the world grew. I hope it continues to grow infinitely.
Congratulations and goodbye for now.