“It is the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.” —unknown (though often attributed to Charles Darwin)
We know that education is not a solo pursuit; our students do not learn in a vacuum. At MA, we often speak about the dynamic relationships between teachers and students. The flow of information and knowledge goes both ways, and some of our best teachers will say that they learn just as much from their students as their students learn from them. I felt the same way as an English teacher: though I have decades of experience in literary criticism and the analysis of texts, it was not uncommon to find a new way of thinking about something through the eyes of my students.
Perhaps even more importantly, our students learn from each other. Our curriculum is set up in a way to foster group work and projects. Collaboration, one of the most important 21st century skills, has always been highly valued at Marin Academy. We recognize that students must learn the fundamentals of reading, writing, and arithmetic (and many other subjects and skills), but they can’t get very far if they can’t work with others.
We see examples of collaboration everywhere. Two of our sophomores worked together to examine rotational velocity in dancers and presented their fascinating findings during Math Night. Our baseball team defended the diamond and coordinated to score runs. Our world language students practice speaking and listening to improve their conversational skills. Our conceptual physics students are working together to complete an energy audit of the campus and will recommend both behavioral and technological changes.
One of the most fruitful collaborations I’ve seen since I’ve been at MA was the performance of Sentient Being. This original dance/theater production, a musing on the five senses, was developed collaboratively by the MA advanced dance and theater students and their teachers. The text is based, in part, on verbatim transcripts of interviews conducted by the cast exploring the five senses.
The interview subjects included a food critic who lost her sense of taste, an Ikebana artist (Japanese flower arranging), a winemaker, a psychic, a man in his 70s who swims in the Bay, a 16-year-old ballerina, a blind woman, a sign language teacher, a visual artist, a film sound designer, a disabled dancer, an Oakland Zoo intern, a sanitation district worker, and a music teacher. In addition, it included texts by former English teachers Eugenie Chan and Sara Houghteling and alumnus Peter Sinn Nachtrieb ’92.
The production of Sentient Being was astounding. The sequencing, stagecraft, monologs, and character studies were wonderfully cohesive. The audience experienced how sensory existence shapes who we are, and we were richer because of this collaboration. The production would not have been possible without students and adults of various experience levels and interests leaving their egos at the door and creating together. In many ways, it was the epitome of what we strive for every day at MA.
As our regular classes come to a close this week and next, we will embark on our biggest collaborative projects of the year: our culminating experiences. Our freshmen will explore World War II and identity; our sophomores will conduct mock trials on major global issues including human rights and environmental justice; our juniors will run the fourth annual Conference on American Possibilities; and our seniors will participate in outings, Vision Quest, and community and environmental service. It is, without a doubt, the best time of year to showcase the collaborative spirit we value at MA.
I hope our parents will talk with their kids about what they have learned this year, and keep an ear out for stories of collaboration. We know from our alumni that their most significant memories are not usually related to facts and figures, but are instead related to their relationships with each other.