Education, learning

Make It Shine: A Reflection on the Opal School’s 2017 Summer Symposium


When my Rollinsford Grade School colleagues and I visited the Opal School in June for their annual Summer Symposium, we had barely had a chance to take a deep, cleansing breath before flying from New Hampshire to Portland, Oregon for three full days of professional learning. So much was nipping at our collective heels as we began to make our way across the country: several had not yet had a chance to pack up our rooms for the summer, and others were frantically texting with children and spouses about last-minute, end-of-the-school-year plans up until our plane began its taxi down the runway. In anticipation of a stressful, anxiety-ridden trip that threatened to overwhelm my mind, body, and soul (which, by the third week of June, was already at full capacity), I had hastily downed two glasses of champagne at one of Logan Airport’s restaurants and stuffed an embarrassing amount of Twizzlers into my carry-on.

I needn’t have worried. The moment we arrived at the World Forestry Center, where the Opal School is located and where they host their summer symposium each year, my colleagues and I immediately felt a calmness and a sense of peace that we had hoped, but hadn’t necessarily expected, to feel. The creases in our foreheads softened; our shoulders relaxed; our smiles widened.

THIS is why: not once during those three jam-packed days did we hear–or speak–the following words or phrases: Standards. Outcomes. Fidelity. Levels. Rigor. Accountable. Classroom management. Instead, we spoke–and listened to others speak–these beautiful words and phrases, over and over and over again: Democracy. Play. Possibility. Resistance. Citizenship. Dialogue. The arts. 

It’s not that we, or the teachers at the Opal School, don’t worry about high-quality pedagogy, or thoughtful assessment, or learning “outcomes;” of course we do. However, to us, and to our new friends in Portland, Oregon, these things are possible–and so much more likely to reveal themselves–through such important, engaging, Reggio-inspired practices as exploring natural materials, investigating real questions & problems, and collaborating & connecting on a personal, local, and global level.

If we truly believe, as Maxine Green writes in “Teaching As Possibility: A Light in Dark Times” (one of the pieces that we were encouraged to read in preparation for the summer symposium) that while the light we seek in this world “may be uncertain and flickering…teachers in their lives and works have the remarkable capacity to make it shine in all sorts of corners,” then we must begin to devote ourselves–and the educational system as a whole–much less to fidelityaccountability, and management and much, much more to resistancecitizenship, and the arts. It is our job, then, to seek out those educators (like those at the Opal School) and lift one another up in this endeavor, so that we may spread that light into the darkest corners of our educational system.

How do you plan to do this? Here are some photos from our trip to inspire you…and please feel free to share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below.







My RGS colleagues & I on our last day in Portland–refreshed, renewed, & full of light.

2 thoughts on “Make It Shine: A Reflection on the Opal School’s 2017 Summer Symposium”

  1. Hi, Shawna!
    It was great hosting your team at Opal School and it’s wonderful to read these reflections and see your photos. I’m eager to hear more about how this experience influences practices at Rollinsford over the coming years.
    If any of your readers would like to follow you to Opal School, our upcoming workshops are posted at
    We have an online Story Workshop course coming up that will be of interest to your readers who teach primary grades:
    I look forward to reconnecting with you, the rest of the Rollinsford team, and your readers!


  2. I love this! I was just discussing my choice to leave teaching with a union leader today and one of the issues (beyond ridiculous bureaucracy) was the lack of flexibility. This sort of school and the thinking processes they shared with you all is truly wonderful as it fosters the kind of human and humane interactions we’d like to see among adults worldwide.


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