RE-INTRODUCING PLAY

During the summer, I came to my office one random day and received a call from the Data Manager at our District Office.  She informed me that the State Education Department (SED) informed the District that North High School was identified as an LAP school.  Educational jargon has been deleted, revised, and added over the past few years as federal policy transitioned from No Child Left Behind (NCLB) to Race to the Top (RTTT).   I was a little confused at first, admittedly not knowing the specifics of how a school is deemed to have a Local Assistance Plan.  It was explained to me that one of our sub-groups did not meet AYP.  This acronym stands for Annual Yearly Progress, which is a numerical target that is pre-determined by the State.  Looking deeper into the data, I found out that the SED had counted three students who were not in attendance at North at the time of the administration of the English and Algebra Regents.  Since these students were not here, our school received zeros; thus, we did not meet AYP.  I was allowed one day to prepare an appeal to the state.  Thankfully, the appeal was successful, and North High School is in “good academic standing.”

This incident reminded me that education has lost sight of its original mission, which is to educate students appropriately so that they could learn.  Learning is not a stagnant process, but rather a dynamic, ongoing, and ever-lasting enterprise.  A test does not and should not signal the end of learning.  There is no beginning and end to education. Instead, it is a continuous journey of discovery and reflection that at times involves making mistakes to derive correct responses.

Albert Einstein said, “Play is the greatest research.”  Play is a primary ingredient in school.  Reflecting upon our students’ experience in school since the day they entered kindergarten, I realize that these students have been the most over-tested students that have walked through the hallways of a school.  Thanks to No Child Left Behind (2001) and Race to the Top (2009), these students have been tested in every single grade since 3rd grade.  State assessments in grades 3 through 11 are considered a “normal” part of a student’s educational experience in the 21st century.  Being older and, perhaps, a little wiser, I know that education was not like this.  State assessments were not administered at every grade level.  Instead, there were state assessments in Grade 4, Grade 8, and high school.  My generation did not feel the pressure of tests every year.  Instead, we had the opportunity to have fun and enjoy learning in schools.  Learning was not tied to an examination.  Experimentation and play were important.  Despite what people think, as principal I cannot control the volume of testing and the policy associated with mandated exams; instead, I can set the tone and tell students and staff my expectation of the entire staff and of the student body for the year.

This year, I told students and staff that we must have more fun and enjoy our teaching and learning experience.  In other words, play should be integrated in how we learn and how teachers teach.  David St. Germain said, “Play is one of the most misunderstood concepts anywhere…We do know a few things: We seem to have played a lot in elementary school, some in middle school, a little in high school and very little when we get into life.”  Play is important in education, and as a school, we must encourage you to be enthusiastic about your learning so that you can feel comfortable in trying something new and giving your best attempt.

Students and staff were introduced to the “Fish philosophy” based on Pike’s Place Fish Market in Seattle, Washington.  Imagine working at a fish market 14 hours per day.  Working in a fish market can be smelly, sweaty at times, laborious, and monotonous.  This could be hard and boring work, but the video shows how these workers play, have fun, and enjoy their work.  The video can be seen below.  You might say, “It’s just a fish market.”  The fish is not important.  The atmosphere being created is what is most important.

I asked students and staff to consider their time in school.  Although it may seem forever, the high school experience passes by quickly.  I encouraged students to enjoy their learning. Simultaneously, I asked faculty to integrate activities that involve functional play so that students are interested and positively engaged in learning.  Time in high school is short.  The testing culture is, at times, overbearing and monotonous.  We can change that by, at least, enjoying our educational experience in schools both as students and teachers.