What If?

What If?

“Make it wise to be foolish, and every fool will generate wisdom”

Imagination has always intrigued and confused many persons in this world. We applaud, affirm and smile when children employ the ability to see, play and interact with an experience, person or thought not physically seen; but we raise our eyebrows, and question the adult that feels to live inside a bubble of imaginative fluff. We silently judge the far reaching ideas, and the seemingly playful dispositions which sorely lack the stoic scientific and intellectual materialism that ostensibly gets things accomplished in this western world. Author Atasha Fyfe states,   “We’ve all heard that ‘the answer lies within’ – but in practice we are taught to distrust ourselves, and listen instead to outside authorities.” In John Dewey’s words, “Imagination is to look at things as if they could be otherwise.”

How do the social and emotional lives of our children and adolescents fit into the matrix of kindling an active imagination? Can imagination be taught? An emphatic “yes.” I believe that educators and students can together activate the imagination that brings life to a dry meaningless curriculum that feels tremendously irrelevant and stale as we adversely try to raise test scores for the purpose of creating a world economy that thrives with shared social emotional and cognitive well-being. Imagination is our greatest domestic renewable resource and everyone has one, but somewhere and somehow “fear” of playing with the unknown and unseen while observing the disapproval of others as we grow into our young adult years stifles the greatest human learning contrivance we possess.

Today’s culture of constant testing was born from good intentions, but over time, we have left out the right hemisphere’s emotional engagement capacity  and a passionate commitment to living within  another one of our biological senses- the intuitive heart. We can place the imaginative ingredient directly into our academic content with the tangible use of perspective, commissioning questions and creating measurable intentions. Accountability and imagination do not have to ever be at war, for only our recycled thoughts and fear of promulgating the unknown need to be assuaged.   The irony is that the more we encourage model and teach the imaginative skills we possess, the more competitive, career ready and “self-empowered ” our students will feel and be.

In six to seven weeks, as an educator,  it will be my new responsibility and privilege give myself and students permission to explore and discover, while welcoming mistakes- tapping into our social and emotional strengths and challenges. I can provide the wings for my students to soar, but the flight of creative imaginative thought will be their own. According to authors Eric Lui and Scott Noppe –Brandon, “We become masters at failing by practice. It is releasing the ego’s hold on the situation long enough to let our mistakes guide us.”  The only way mistakes will be perceived as learning tools occurs when we create a safe environment in our schools and classrooms. We create these environments by sharing the responsibilities of teaching, disciplining, and mentoring as we build “trust.”  Building trust is the tribal glue and process that builds upon our emotional capacities that engage and drive each of us to feel capable, as we eagerly anticipate an experience of inner curiosity and excitement.   The process generates the power of the imagination because when we imagine, we risk our traditional thought processes, our identities, and what is not yet seen.

We are conditioned to constantly see one solution, relationship or experience as the right and perfect response to our dilemmas and heartbreaks. When these newly tried out ideas and experiences disappoint us, or seemingly fail, we shut down and close off; continually spinning in the “suffering of what is.” Our sense of failure overrides that at one time, burgeoning sense of imaginative play that led us through our childhood days.   It is very difficult for us to generate another broadened perspective or facet of our pulsating ideas when negative emotions are blocking our creative juices and thoughts processes. This is how we are biologically wired. In stressful states, the higher thought processes that clear the pathways for creative and imaginative thought are blocked and we become reactors to an experience that will continually recycle inside our minds, and therefore our lives if we do not make an effort to change the thought and emotional scenery.   When we experience a perceived stress, such as a failing grade, conflict with friends, a troubling relationship, or a conflicted classroom moment; our ability to shift perspectives or to analyze the specific parts of the challenging problem into bite –sized manageable steps slips away. We become focused on our inability to attain that singular one sighted massive dream, relationship or goal reigning in the perilous distance.

  1. I will sit beside my students this year and help them to perceive a different narrative of their young life. From the time we begin to socially and emotionally interact with our worlds, we create ongoing stories of how we relate to the “perceived” world and who we are. These self-created perceived stories become our identity. This personal narrative begins subconsciously in our earliest years. We write these stories based on the observations of those around us even before we can talk, dialogue and make meaning of those factious stories. It is imperative that we constantly reframe and reappraise the stories we tell ourselves, because we are organic ever changing individuals who have the neurobiological wiring to adapt to the thoughts, feelings and experiences we create and shape in every moment.


  1. For a bell ringer in the morning, once or twice a week we will explore the process of imaginative visualization. For example, I will hold up a sliced lemon and have the students take a long look. They will be asked to place an imaginary bite of the juicy pulp on their tongues as they are guided to taste, smell and imagine the juice flowing between their teeth, gums and down their throat. At that time, they will also experience the extra saliva that is accumulating inside their mouths as they visualize the perceived taste of the lemon.  Our brains do not discern what is real or imagined and when we use creative visualization to assist us in the design of our aspirations, goals and desires; the stronger and more practiced the visualization, the more hard wired these neural pathways of purported and conditioned thinking and belief systems become inside our brains. We each throughout our life experiences create a “habit mind” of how the world and our relationships inside our perceived world evolve and are determined and predicated. It takes a fresh perspective and renewed practice to create neural pathways in the brain that assist us in novel ways of approaching , visualizing and creating solutions to our personal challenges.  When we can begin to feel, smell and taste the tiniest of successful aspects of the goals we have created, they begin to sprout and unfold during the process.


  1. We will use the sentence starter, “what if” and “I am____”   as we look to our personal challenges, our perceived fears and the multiple outcomes generated when we open our minds to the hundreds of possibilities that we were unable to imagine on our own from a constricted state of “reacting.”  This is where classroom collaboration and a cohesive safe school culture play into the specific feedback and reflections we can give to one another as we design the course of our daily, weekly and long term desires. To be imaginative is to be empathic. When we can feel inside another’s perceived story, we are then able to objectively see how our own beliefs, thoughts and manufactured truths about ourselves are completely pliable and changeable based on our dogmas, experiences and stories we tell and retell and retell! Authors Eric Lui and Scott Noppe- Brandon explain that, “Narratives are the frames upon which we hang selected swaths of experience in order to construct a shelter of meaning because with “stories” we have a sense of place and without them, life feels chaotic.”


  1. At the beginning of each semester or possibly every few weeks, we will collectively agree to sign and date a classroom pact for every class challenge that arises, fashioning a written promise that states we will collectively brainstorm and inspire one another to try out a novel way of attempting to reach individual and group solutions or goals. These challenges might include, passing a test, a broken classroom rule, the loss of a friend or a troubling personal situation, or an intention that is desired by a classmate that is not being met with success.   We will look for the strengths displayed, and any and all positive behaviors, thoughts, feelings or actions noticed even though the end result was not what we had imagined. We will promise one another to reimagine the situation with new endings and possibilities placing ourselves into one another’s shoes. In our classrooms we will begin to make more connections, associations and analogies because when we emotionally connect, we are exercising the mind for imagining more.  I envision several pairs of actual shoes in our classroom as a tactile reminder of our imaginative empathetic curriculum along with shared baby or toddler photographs displayed on the walls so that we can remember how we all began, our commonalities, and how the innocence of our childhoods have possibly developed into times and places that we never imagined …but now we will imagine a different ending to a story begun…but with an array of possibilities just not yet seen…

Finally, we will immerse ourselves in the imagination of learning as we take the state or common core standards outside their familiar dry academic container. For example, in fifth grade one of the literacy standards is:  Explain the relationships or interactions between two or more individuals, events, ideas, or concepts in a historical, scientific, or technical text based.  We then step into the imaginative world of empathy! We begin to select and to imagine what commonalities and differences we share with this character or idea. We imagine the childhood of this character, his or her interests’ relationships, careers, temperament, or how this idea originated. How similar or unalike are they to me? … We begin to ask questions. What is the relationship between these individuals, ideas and experiences? Why does it matter that I learn this? How could I begin to use this information as it relates to my aspirations and goals? When we generate questions to deepen our understanding of all subject matter, the brain processes the questions long after they have been asked. Questions lead to multiple explanations and ideas that become possibilities based on our interests.

Take the end of this summer and the beginning of the school year to imagine two ways of teaching, learning or sitting in the “what could be.” How are you imagining your classroom right now? What are two intentions that have rested in the back of your mind that nudge their way to the forefront when you get quiet…take the time and listen!    What if?


“If you just learn a single trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view …until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” 

~ Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck)
“To Kill A Mockingbird




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