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Teaching from a Place of Rest

What is teaching from a place of rest?

This idea is based on the word scholé, a Greek word meaning “leisure, free time, rest”. Our word “school” is derived from this word. So, teaching from scholé is teaching from a state of leisure or rest. But, since when is teaching and learning considered a leisure activity? In ancient times, those who were not working or engaged in the toil of life were said to be at leisure. It was during this free time that learning could then take place. Here was when they would pursue their questions, follow their imagination and seek the truth.

A common misconception about teaching from a state of rest is based on the idea that students are free to learn as they wish. But the emphasis shouldn’t be on teaching less or doing less, but rather creating an environment where less is more; it means to teach well and learn well, with both teachers and students making meaningful use of time. To create this environment, teachers should be fully prepared to teach, recognize the needs of each student and build flexibility into the curriculum and lessons. Preparedness gives the teacher a sense of structure, having their needs understood gives safety to the students and flexibility gives both the room for movement within the structure, as needed. This creates an atmosphere of rest.

Another misconception is the idea that this “state of rest” only occurs when both students and teachers are quietly engaged in a perfectly peaceful scenario of learning. While this can be part of “rest”, it doesn’t mean that scholé isn’t occurring without it. Scholé is about the state of mind that both the teacher and the student have while learning. This can take place in both a quiet, contemplative session of reading by one student or in an active and engaging discussion among several students.

Teaching from a place of fear -marked by a sense of urgency to meet societal standards- is the opposite of teaching from rest. Anxiety and distraction, in both teachers and students, will not contribute towards a state of rest. This thoughtful and attentive state of mind cannot be if stress and frustration takes hold. To align with scholé, you must align with what is true; you must consider ideas, follow your imagination, wonder and seek beauty.

Is your teaching environment reflective of a place of rest?

• Am I prepared for all that I need to teach today?

• Do I have time set aside or can I be flexible with unexpected detours and delays?

• Am I diligent about keeping the larger picture in mind? For example, does it really matter if my student wants to write the narration from the perspective of Antony rather than from the perspective of Calpurnia?

• Can I accept that some days will be more productive than others, but yet know that I must start each day with the intent of being as productive as possible?

• Is the day balanced with regard to levels of intensity and concentration? For example, do I follow a period of focused work with a period of joyful and/or relaxing work?

• Have I noticed and have I attended to the student(s) who are either becoming frustrated or are losing their concentration?

• Am I giving each of my students enough practice, time and/or attention on a particular skill so that they may continue to improve or grow, but yet not confuse or overwhelm them?

• Can I play classical or other types of soothing and non-distracting types of music while we are working?

• Is the television off and am I keeping interruptions to a minimum?

• Do I have a basic structure for a schedule so that times slotted for learning stay available?

Is there any connection between scholé and Charlotte Mason?

She doesn’t use this specific word, but there are many aspects of Ms. Mason’s methods and principles which support the idea of teaching from a place of rest.

Mason advocated keeping lessons matched to a child’s attention span, timetables which allowed for students to keep time for leisure, masterly inactivity, mother culture, the science of relations, a wide curriculum and many other ideas and approaches which lend themselves towards the ideas behind scholé.

Articles from the Parents’ Review, a monthly magazine created for the PNEU, include perspectives that fit this idea as well. “On the Teaching of Poetry”, much of the main emphasis for this article focused on the importance of finding the beauty in poetry and on not over-analyzing it. Mary A. Woods reminds us of this by writing “Above all, beware of making his knowledge the measure of his progress.” This quote reminds us not to measure our success as a teacher and our student’s success as a learner merely by what kind and how much knowledge has been acquired. Our students are not more accomplished simply because they know more, particularly if their knowledge is superficial. Sometimes in our effort to check all learning objective boxes, we lead our students away from an opportunity to genuinely know something. Our student cannot see the forest for all the trees, so to speak.

Ms. Woods uses Milton’s poem “Lycidas” as an example of a poem not meant for young children. She writes that some teachers become so occupied with analyzing the poem that they forget to allow the student to really “hear” it. Because it is a complex poem, it is too difficult for younger students to fully grasp, thus requiring the teacher to “explain” too much of it. Ultimately, the poem should be saved for when a student is more mature. She writes “And meanwhile what he has been learning is not poetry at all, but mere subsidiary knowledge…” Here again, she is emphasizing all that is lost in the effort to “know”. She goes on to add “But such knowledge should be acquired, as far as possible, independently of the poem that demands it…” In other words, the skills needed to connect with the poem should be exercised on poems more appropriate for the level of the student. Once these skills are in place, the student can then begin to attempt complex poems such as “Lycidas”. She finishes with “The training necessary to understand ‘Lycidas’ must not be obtained at the expense of ‘Lycidas’.”

This approach is similar to having children write a paragraph on a topic of which they know little and who are also still learning to write the alphabet. We then scurry anxiously as teachers trying to teach them to know everything about the topic and teach them the structure of a paragraph all at once. This turns into an exercise of frustration and tension. Why would we put our children and ourselves through this? This is not teaching from a place of rest.

Ms. Woods helps us to see in what way we should teach poetry, but these ideas transfer to any subject. We are to teach so that our children love the poem as a poem and then work to understand it. Applying this same idea to a general principle, we should teach in a manner so that our students first love and connect to what they are learning and then work to understand it. Teaching in this order benefits the teacher in that the student’s attitude is in a better place for understanding because a relationship has already been established between the knowledge and the learner.

Later, she writes: “Here, too, “we murder to dissect.” We overlay them with comment and criticism and weary explanation, till the music and the passion die out of them, and nothing remains but barren prose-true, perhaps, for the intellect, but with no hold on the memory, no message to the heart.” When we over-analyze, we destroy the relationship. What remains is the fragmented bits of knowledge that we no longer even can see as the whole it once was and we’d just as soon put it out of our mind as quickly as possible. This too is not the overarching goal of scholé.

In the Parents’ Review article “Imagination as a Powerful Factor in a Well-Balanced Mind” by E. A. Parish, the author reminds us that children must have time and freedom for reflection, exploration and contemplation, all of which are needed for the imagination to take flight. This should take place with little to no over-involved supervision. Naturally, parents and teachers should oversee the basic parameters of when, where and in what way a child can explore, but the child should be left free to choose within those basic safety boundaries.

Parish writes:

For the right use of the programs {PNEU programs} two things are necessary—solitude and independence. Children must have these. Nursery children come off fairly well in these respects; they get time when they can wander and dream alone in the garden. But this happy state often ends where school-room life begins. Lessons, walk, and lessons again, always in company, and always something that must be done now.

She also writes: “There is always a glorious reason for everything we have to do, and to find it, we have only to look beyond, but the children must learn to look beyond for themselves, and not indolently to use our eyes. But let no one think that this means a flowery path of ease for the teacher. No child will get far who has for her companion a teacher to whom these things are a matter of indifference, whose own vision is limited” (Parish). We, the teachers, must share our desire to seek, know and find. Our own joy and love will capture our students’ attention and show them why learning matters. We model our love of learning and leave them to find their own way to it. This is teaching from a place of rest.

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