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Dr. Grauer's Column - Forever Young

Forever Young

Yesterday I saw a senior at the end of the academic day, and she had a lovely expression on her face. I had seen her in classes and she looked pretty engaged. I asked her, “How was your day?”  

She replied, “Really good.”

I thought, “Whew!,” because I know this month and next month can be stressful and impacted for our seniors as they pursue their 81 (or whatever!) college applications each. (I never thought I would find myself advising students to just stick to 12 or so applications—I think I did four.)

So, I thought, “Whew,” but I said, “How do you know you are really good?”

“I laughed a lot,” she said, with a pure grin.

Grauer Seniors Kevin M. '21 and Erik H. '21 having fun playing ping-pong during a break - October 7, 2020

She could have said she got into college or she aced a hard math test, but those were not the things that made her feel the way she felt. The reason for the good day is as old as humankind: laughter. As Dr. Stuart Brown of Stanford, expert in the “science of play” notes, play has an essential role in fueling our happiness and intelligence throughout our lives. And laughter stabilizes the flow of stress hormones like cortisol and epinephrine, so we can be creative.

Some of the greatest improvements we’ve made to the school in recent times have everything to do with social and emotional development. What high school has a swing set!  And how proud we all were with the addition of a tree house classroom—a place of pure youth and pure joy. And a fast-growing Torrey pine tree is beautifully shading our tree stump circle classroom back in our wildlife preserve—what a place to be! It’s like…childhood!  And our weekly Core Values Portfolios groups enable teachers and students to drop the curriculum for an hour a week and just talk about How We Are Doing! How are we feeling? What values are we living out? I reviewed a really excellent new textbook proposal this week, and integrated some test results into our teaching program and, sure, I felt great about doing all that. But something tells me I added the most value to my students’ week while I was chasing them around with my giant squirt gun on that sunny day and some of them were screaming for pure joy.

Dr. Stuart Grauer blasting water at students at The Grauer School ASB Water Balloon Bonanza event - October 9, 2020

Sure, we’ve added some fantastic new curriculum in pretty much all academic areas this year, and it was a lot of work, and will impact our students probably for life. But it is also an expectation everyone has for us. When we go “above and beyond,” it more often than not has to do not with the way our students think, but with the way they feel. When we get this just right, guess what? The thinking takes care of itself—and so does the motivation.

The Buddhists have a concept called “beginner's mind.” They have long understood that the free, peaceful, innocent, unhurried, unstressed mind is the one with the greatest access to wisdom and clarity. Why must educators throw out all we know about best practice education just because kids enter high school? 

Grauer 7th Graders playing a fun game of "Red Light, Green Light" during a break in Tori Faxon's Global Insights class - October 7, 2020

We are in a time of incredible polarization where even neighbors can hardly talk to each other, it’s plain true. We are amidst a pandemic that is altering our lives forever. These threaten our sense of humanity if we let them. Don’t let them! In my lifetime, I’ve never seen a better time to reclaim our sense of play. In most cases I know, if you can’t play, you can’t do your best work. Have some pure smiles, every day—that’s non-negotiable!


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Grauer Seniors Kevin M. '21 and Erik H. '21 having fun playing ping-pong during a break - October 7, 2020

Dr. Stuart Grauer blasting water at students at The Grauer School ASB Water Balloon Bonanza event - October 9, 2020

Grauer 7th Graders playing a fun game of "Red Light, Green Light" during a break in Tori Faxon's Global Insights class - October 7, 2020

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