Beginning with Beginner's Mind

Today is a special day for us: the last day of preparation before we open our doors, after three years of research, design, and planning. We're reflecting on what it means to be in beginner's mind, that special state of rapid learning, when you are open to taking everything as a useful lesson...

Beginner's Mind

We forget our easy successes. Sometimes we don't even notice them as they're happening. You survived your commute another day! You read that newspaper article and completely, effortlessly understood what was being said. You defused a conflict with a friend, acting on instinct without hesitation, before it could turn into resentment. Our lives are surprisingly full of easy successes.  

For all of us as parents, it's easy to fall into the trap of wishing that our child has nothing but easy successes in life, gliding along without tripping once. Yet what a pity that would be! It would mean almost certainly that the child had not reached their potential, had not pushed the envelope to discover who they could be, had missed the challenging but exceptionally helpful experience of failing and picking oneself up again, with new reflections on what is worth doing. 

The trick, of course, is to find a motivating blend of easy, difficult, and totally unsuccessful successes. As we begin our journey with Millennium, we have this firmly in mind: to create a series of experiences that both comfort our students, in the sense of experiencing social safety and being seen, and profoundly challenge them, drawing out more of their inherent potential across cognitive, emotional, creative, and other dimensions of intelligence.

Some anxiety is natural in this process. Many students have never camped before, and off we go into the woods next week. Many students have never done a Socratic seminar before, and soon they'll find themselves in groups of 8-12 engaged in intensive discussions. We will all be breaking new ground here. Our team, while bringing decades of experience with middle school children and innovative learning approaches, is launching a brand-new school; we have never run Millennium School before. We are truly a laboratory, a place where many thoughtful experiments will be tried. We will have easy successes, we will have difficult successes that only work on the fifteenth try, and we will have some outright failures, leaving us with perhaps the most useful and memorable lessons.

So, as we embark on this journey together, we invite you to share this spirit of beginner's mind, that of expecting and relishing the lessons that come along the way. The journey will be better if we release the need to be perfect parents, perfect educators, or have perfect children. Instead, we are in the laboratory together. This does not mean trying anything or taking any risk; we'll each choose reasonable challenges, try new approaches in measured form, and most importantly, continually observe and communicate what we find. I'm willing to bet that once the specific details have been forgotten, our students will remember the process - reflecting, sensing what is right for them, taking a courageous step forward, and taking whatever happens next as exactly the lesson they needed.  

Christopher BalmeComment