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A Dip in the Ocean

There’s always a lot of talk about student engagement and how it is affected by teachers, communities, culture, homelife, one’s sense of self, other students, bias, expectations, and the built environment. It seems to always come back to one main concept though: trust.

Interaction with the ocean is a metaphor for trusting what appears to be a highly dangerous and powerfully chaotic situation, charged by forces of such great magnitude that our physical selves can’t control. Yet at the same time an ocean can appear tranquil and serene, welcoming, and fascinatingly optimistic as it touches foreign shores and warrants exploration.

The metaphor is about the willingness to carefully and cautiously enter new territory both cognitively and emotionally in terms of engagement with others that leads us to guide our own journeys and expeditions in a life of learning and sharing.

Here we go . . .

  1. Standing on the Beach 0% – Disengaged with engaging in this metaphor; assume this is a blank slate to start. This is the student who is only present ‘physically’ and disengaged otherwise.
  2. Getting your Toes Wet 5% – Student, “Ok, maybe I’ll try this, I am little bit curious.”
  3. Up to your Ankles 10% – Student, “I’m listening; I’m feeling safer and more secure here.”
  4. Knee Deep 20% – Student, “I’m watching; I’m trusting the situation and dropping my guard, a little bit. Tell me more.”
  5. Waist High 30% – Student, “I’m learning. I’m aware of myself and how this experience is affecting me; I like this.”
  6. Up to your Neck 40% – Student, “I’m feeling. I’m aware of others and how we’re affecting one another; I’m valued.”
  7. Swimming & Moving 80% – Student, “I’m fully engaged and not looking back at any impediments.”
    • Unlimited Directionality
      • Pluralism
      • Invention
      • Discovery
    • Near and Far Coastlines.
      • Wonder
      • Journey
      • Exploration
      • Knowledge & Experience
      • Discovery
    • Swimming with Others
      • Social
      • Exploration
      • Discovery
      • Teamwork
      • Empathy
  8. Awareness, Subconscious, etc. 100%
    • 20% reserved for…
      • Fight or flight, are there sharks around?
      • Keep some ‘backup’ space free in case it’s needed;
      • Private self, subconscious, instinct, unknown;
      • Buffer, safety, unforeseen circumstances
  9. Back on Land Refreshed – Refill the Tank/ Recharge the Battery/Expand Capacity
    • Memory of Experience
    • Knowledge Gained
    • Boundaries Reduced/ Eroded
    • Awareness of Contribution & Growth
  10. Restart the next engagement process…then keep repeating.

Create the new 100%.

Built Environment Response:

Practical: Provide the basics for safety, protection, and sustenance as required.

Extraordinary: Allow for pluralistic engagement and discovery by providing flexible and adaptable learning environments with respect to both time (scheduling) and space (zones, adjacencies, interdisciplinary access, visual connection, spatial expansion/contraction, furnishings, engineering systems and technology).

Abstract: Mimic the ocean in terms of adaption and flow to differing currents, weather conditions, depths, etc. as a simple expression made up of intricate components that make up a dynamically balanced system.

This article appeared in the September 2022 Fall Leadership Summit issue of The Councilgram newsletter published by the New York State Council of School Superintendents (NYSCOSS).

Kevin Walsh, AIA, ALEP, LEED AP
Partner | Education Planning Architect
(631) 294-0703

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