May 18
An Invitation to Re-Imagine - the Beginner's Mindset

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few."

     - Shunryu Suzuki  (Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind)


"The pandemic has turned us all into beginners as the usual ways of doing things were no longer an option. Virtually every business and organization had to design new ways of operating to accommodate social distancing and keep everyone safe. 
This meant that as individuals we had to reimagine habits like going to restaurants, movies, and working out. We had to have difficult conversations about bias and equity that challenged our actions, interactions, and systems. Traditions like birthday parties, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and graduations were reinvented. " 
- Dr. Katie L. Martin

When the whole experience of living through a pandemic finally fades to rearview mirror status, and we are reflecting on the experiences that carried us through with some semblance of success and resilience, it is my most sincere hope that we spend a bit of time recognizing the opportunities we have had with which to successfully re-imagine many aspects of our lives and living experiences.

Re-imagining our daily living habits is not - as Dr. Katie Martin points out in the top quote to start this entry - something any of us do as a general rule. We tend to do what we have always done, with occasional adjustments to acknowledge growth of a child, or a variation in our interests, or perhaps a change in job, home or location. Essentially, we follow similar routines of work, school, extracurricular activities through all the days of our lives and fit special occasions around these routines. Such are the foundations of our lives and our dependable routines are truly the keys to living successfully as humans.

As Fanny Fern, 19th century novelist and children's writer observed, "There are no little things. "Little things', so called, are the hinges of the universe." 

We become adept at managing many things in life because our routines fit comfortably with our views of the world and serve us well with meeting our basic physiological needs such as food, water and shelter as well as many of security and relationship needs as well. Most often, it is the routines and structures we build into our lives that offer us psychological support as well and help us to live up to our full potential in this world. Although we may tweak something here and there on our schedules from time to time, we tend to minimize the big interruptions - such as moving or changing jobs - because they require extended time and attention that must be reclaimed from other areas of daily living. 

In other words: routines matter. 

The pandemic has not only interrupted our daily routines, it has interrupted every routine - how we live, shop, eat, celebrate, relax, entertain, be entertained, exercise, engage in hobbies, sports, music, meet other people, greet other people, communicate, travel, save and/or spend our money, understand our political systems, vote, read, write, manage our health and wellness - both physical and mental, worship, study, gather together, relate to each other, vacation, raise our children. There is no area of modern living that the pandemic has not invaded and caused us to change every habit we have ever practiced or imagined ourselves practicing. 

Routines matter - except when they can no longer be practiced. Then they are missed. We yearn to 'get back to normal'. Return to what we had. Recollect and re-knit the fabric of our lives as we remember how things used to be.  We have adjusted and we have accommodated and we have removed, ignored, tolerated and played the waiting game. Now we just want to return to normal.

What if we re-imagine, with a beginner's mindset, what 'returning to normal' might mean?  There are millions of possibilities to be explored if we take this pause, this forced time to reflect and re-imagine, that might impact every aspect of living and possibly enhance or improve our future living experiences.  After all, we have the time to reconsider...

Early in the pandemic, families mentioned they appreciated the family time they had gained together once the multitude of after school and evening activities began to subside, generating conversations about reducing the number of demands on family time 'when this was over'. Other conversations about the importance of walking through one's community, using the public library - and missing the public library, finding ways for families to spend time together playing games, watching movies, hiking, inventing activities and special events across the community (like the beautiful window art so many homes displayed in the spring of 2020). Innovation and creativity and re-imagining with a beginner's mindset. 

"When something is new, there is no expectation to know anything about it. This allows you to approach the situation with a different mindset than one of an expert who has a preconceived notion of what should happen, and can put you on autopilot rather than thinking about new and different opportunities. 

A beginner is: 

  • Open to how things works and new possibilities
  • Free of expectations about what will happen
  • Curious and wants understand things more deeply" (Dr. Katie L. Martin)
The pandemic is no longer new and we are wearying of all the demands it has made on us to do everything quite differently than we did before - to think about how we do everything in a way we never gave much thought to before the pandemic invaded our doorsteps around the world.  One thing it does continue to offer us - hopefully as it truly begins to wane - is the opportunity to continue to reflect, reconsider and re-imagine how, why, when, where, what we might do differently as we begin to reconvene in less restrictive ways - both in our lives and in our schools.

Bringing the children back to school without restrictions and with opportunities to engage in best possible teaching and learning practices is what educators are most excitedly anticipating, even as we continue to adjust and accommodate teaching to reflect the hybrid experiences of both in-person and online instruction. As we look forward to a return to 'more normal' circumstances, we have the opportunity - actually the gift of opportunity - to re-consider teaching and learning with a beginner's mindset that is focused on how we best meet learner's needs and what those learner needs might be, based on the best research and information possible. 

A return to normal does not necessarily mean a return to every practice and routine that existed before. 

"...developmental scientists and educators have long known that academic outcomes in the later elementary-school years are built on a foundation of authentic, conversational language and on the nurturing of meaningful relationships in early childhood. Early learning is fundamentally a social process, during which the architecture of the developing brain is constructed from emotional connections with trusted caregivers and friends...children experience greater academic and social gains in classrooms where teachers are emotionally attuned to them—bending down to chat spontaneously and meaningfully, and following curricula that encourage physical, collaborative, open-ended play." - Erika Christakis 

Sometimes it takes a pandemic for the world to acknowledge what we already know, and then seek to re-magine new possibilities with a fresh mindset.  

Research has been abundant for the past 25 years (or more) in helping us understand how children learn best. We are often tempted to choose to acknowledge and support the research that fits with what has already been established because that will not require us to change what we are used to thinking and doing, or recognize that perhaps our historical practices have come up short for supporting many children in their development as successful, joyful, innovative learners of the world.

Perhaps a beginner's mindset is a lofty goal; perhaps it is not. One thing I know for sure is if we do not take the time to reflect, re-imagine and look forward with intentionality and investment into the best educational research possible and allow that to inform our practices in education, we will definitely have squandered this world-wide opportunity to try and improve our investment in children. 

"Nothing is more expensive than a missed opportunity." - H. Jackson Brown 

"Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful. " - Margaret Wheatley

Through to the end of the school year, I hope to engage in some re-imagining of school on these pages, to reflect and explore with a beginner's mindset as much as possible, what could be possible for learners returning full-time to school from a widespread patchwork of learning experiences, and how hopeful, research-based, innovative thinking might afford greater access to best teaching and learning for all children. They have survived the pandemic with us and they deserve no less.

Lorraine Kinsman


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