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  • Writer's pictureJason Blair

Entering the mental space before the physical space

This past week marked the beginning of our new school year – a time rife with emotions for students, teachers, and parents alike. The opening week sets the stage for the entire year and is filled with anticipation. As we embarked on this school year, I challenged myself to reflect more deeply on the essence of starting anew.

When we venture into uncharted territory for the first time, that initial experience often shapes the trajectory and tone of the entire journey. How does this apply to the world of education? Often, it translates to discussions about rules, expectations, and routines. But does this approach truly spark curiosity and wonder? Does it encourage taking initiative and embracing risks?

In my past years of teaching, I realized that the initial class usually involved laying out the ground rules, building a sense of community, and going over the upcoming year's protocols. While these aspects are crucial for fostering a conducive learning environment, they might miss the mark in terms of inspiring genuine enthusiasm, motivation, and joy.

If we commence from a standpoint of mere compliance and conformity, these attitudes can become the foundation upon which all learning is built. But what if there's a preliminary step? What if we could ignite a sense of awe right from the start? How could this pave the way for a more engaging and enriching learning experience?

Enter the "imagination tunnel." This school year, I set out with the goal of cultivating curiosity, wonder, imagination, and creativity in my students – and of course, infusing a sense of joy from day one. My focus was on adopting the right mindset from the outset. I strongly believe that if we can infuse moments of awe into our students' day, we can establish a joyful mindset that is deeply intertwined with the learning process.

Imagine taking a closer look at the often overlooked transitions in our school environment – moving from one class to another, entering a classroom, etc. What if these moments could be more than just transitions? What if they offered a chance to step into a different mental space prior to entering? Think about a group of teenagers walking into a biology or geometry class – could we reimagine this routine into something more engaging, less passive?

So, when my students entered my classroom last week, they were met with a message posted outside the door. It prompted them to engage in an imaginative task before even stepping inside. The message stressed the importance of approaching the classroom with a sense of wonder and imagination. Upon entering, they were invited to crawl through an "imagination tunnel," a metaphorical passage to immerse them in a mindful journey of imagination.

What resonates with me even a week later are the sounds of awe that escaped the students as they made their way through the tunnel. The sheer joy in their voices was contagious. I also noticed other students in different classes craning their necks to catch a glimpse of what was eliciting such a wondrous reaction from those emerging from the tunnel. As they completed this imaginative journey, they enter

ed the studio space – a place primed for creativity. I had set up various stations around the room to ignite their imagination and curiosity.

Before they delved into their creative projects, I reminded them of the two ways to approach building with Lego. One way is to follow a set of instructions and construct a predefined model. The other way is to embrace the creative process, taking a handful of Lego bricks and exploring the endless possibilities. On that day, I encouraged them to view the random objects in the studio as a collection of Lego waiting for their imaginative touch to bring them to life in new and exciting ways.

It's essential to clarify that this approach doesn't require a drastic transformation of the physical space. It's about simplicity – I hung a strand of red lights, borrowed a lamp from my daughter's room, and repurposed black

lights from a friend. As for materials, we used simple items like old sheets, cardboard boxes, markers, blocks, and various recycled objects. The setup was straightforward and cost-effective, but the impact was profound – laughter, smiles, and genuine joy filled the air.

All too often, whether in schools or workplaces, our emphasis remains fixed solely on the end products we seek to achieve, often overlooking the intricate and enlightening journey of the process itself. In a world that thirsts for inventive minds capable of reshaping paradigms, it's crucial to recognize that true creativity often blossoms when we step away from the immediate challenges at hand. Yet, the prevalent norm of hurrying students and employees from

one space to the next, with little room for reflection or connection-building, runs contrary to our aspirations of fostering the very breed of imaginative thinkers we urgently need.

Now, imagine a world where students and employees are provided ample opportunities to immerse themselves in the realm of "creative contemplation" before even

setting foot in the tangible realm of work. What if we opened up gateways for them to explore realms of imagination before plunging into the practical world of tasks and responsibilities?

In that pivotal initial class last week, we consciously chose a different path – a deliberate departure from the typical discussions of rules, expectations, and

the usual routines. Instead, we aimed to spark the flames of imagination and curiosity, setting a tone that promises an upcoming year brimming with excitement and intellectual enrichment.

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