Don’t Miss An Opportunity To Be Educationally Awed

By Mike Pinto, IPLI Mentor, James Cole Elementary

In the book Golden: The Power of Quiet In A World of Noise by Justin Zorn and Leigh Marz, Awe is investigated as a method of reflection and a means to embrace awareness of moments in time. 

UC Berkeley psychologist Dacher Keltner defines Awe as:

1. Perceived vastness – when you are around vast things or transcend your frame of reference – dazzling lightning storm or gazing at the outward ruggedness of the Grand Canyon. 

2. The Need for Accommodation – when an experience or realization ‘transcends your knowledge structures.’ You can’t make sense of it. You are left speechless and wordless. 

We all have experienced the Awe of perceived vastness in our lives. Seeing large mountains or deep canyons, entering spaces that hold spiritual significance or highlight the creative wonders of art, standing beside a sequoia, the vast clear blue of an ocean, or even looking up into the stars are all examples many of us can relate to in our lives. But what about The Need For Accommodation? Experiences that leave you speechless.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Awe and have tried to pause when I’m in the moment to enjoy that space and honestly appreciate what has unfolded in front of me. Most recently, I have experienced Awe in the following ways:

  1. Seeing a professional baseball player deliver a 101 mph fastball.
  2. Standing beside a person over a shared smartphone holding a conversation in English and Spanish using Google Translate. 
  3. Watching an IKEA mattress we were giving away fit inside a giant plastic baggie and shrink to a 1/4 its size so it could be rolled and carried away. 

No words at the time when I thought about it. Awe.

What about school? Are we ever Educationally Awed? And if we are, do we ever take the time to acknowledge it?

The Awe category of Perceived vastness is a hard hill for me to climb regarding educational Awe. I have toured grand structures with gigantic entryways and enormous stadiums. I have stood on the hardwood of some of the largest basketball arenas in the world. I have seen amazing architecture and massive gatherings for events but awed? No. Impressed? Jealous? Grateful? Yes. But awed from perceived vastness? No. 

But apply the “Need For Accommodation” standard to Educational Awe, and bells go off for me.  I have been awed watching a teacher take a dysregulated child from a state of chaos to one of calm. I have been awed watching a transition from one subject to the next go seamlessly and quickly.  I have sat beside a young reader and a caring adult and have witnessed the smile as words become read for the first time. I have seen individuals with no formal training connect with a student with a disability in a way no other could. I have seen staff members rally when a crisis arises to problem solve a terrible situation into something which resembles normal. I have been awed by the affection given to children who lack that at home or whose circumstance thirsts for a safe space. I have paused in Awe, watching individuals collaborate to create an amazing opportunity by feeding off each other’s ideas and letting their egos and pride not get in the way. 

My goals this upcoming school year include a daily pause for gratitude to someone who has helped me in some form or fashion. It also includes intentionally inventorying Awe by being aware of and honoring it when it appears in my life. It’s there in my day to day, but it’s also there at school. So join me, will you? Don’t miss an opportunity to be educationally awed.