This is an essay about – - – nothing. That’s not precisely true, but it’s about the moment after something ends and before the next begins, and what fills that moment of transition.
I was talking with a new colleague about the end of the year here at Landmark’s Elementary/Middle School (EMS), and how powerful he found the end-of-year assembly where teachers speak briefly about each transitioning student. We also have an end-of-year faculty wrap-up session, and we had the added treat this year of having three 8th grade students speak powerfully and poignantly to faculty about their experiences. Both events, it could be argued, occur after the expressed business of the teaching year is over.
Transitional moments are rich opportunities and while they occur frequently, I wonder if we need to be reminded of their potential. In a teaching context at Landmark EMS, we might fill a period with a well-designed lesson plan right up to the moment class ends. We have all had students who are engaged until the bell rings and then bolt for the door. We also know teachers who impart information or conduct activities until the bell rings, and then have to scramble to impose some closure on the lesson. Wouldn’t dedicating a couple of minutes to intentional transition enrich the academic hour and solidify the lesson’s goal?
It can be unsettling to move too abruptly from one activity to another. Think of a performance that has just ended. Do you prefer a moment of transition to let the experience settle into your consciousness or are you one who strives to be the first to break the silent aftermath with applause? What about the moment you close the last page of a book? Do you spring into your next activity or take a moment to think about the literary journey you have just completed?
Some events come with built-in transitional periods. Yoga classes have savasana, a time to attempt total relaxation while your body integrates the preceding session. For years, we have ended the final day at EMS with a debriefing meeting, a structured time to say farewells and reflect a bit on the experience just concluding.
Some students instinctively yearn for a transitional moment at the end of tutorial. I know one boy who is only in fourth grade, but he senses when there is only a minute or two left and expresses to his tutor that they should stop, because he doesn’t like to be in the middle of working when the bell rings. Other students make a point of saying goodbye or thanking their tutors as they leave. Certain teachers observe a ritual of transition as well, routinely preparing for the end of class. Some even have students fill out an exit ticket, mandating a bit of self-evaluation in various areas of performance, or verbalizing what the takeaway is from that particular class.
In this age of multitasking, and in our haste to move to the next item on our agenda, perhaps we need to dedicate more time to conscious reflection and summary, to grafting more transitional moments purposefully onto each event.
Submitted by Robert Kahn, Head of the Landmark Elementary/Middle School