"The bird flew in the window" is the metaphor that former State Office of Education grant administrator Dr. Ken Lindsay uses to describe the way that an educator seizes on a chance happening to develop an enriching learning experience. His point is that the best educational plans of parents and teachers need to allow for the chance happening that can often enliven the lesson.
These serendipitous learning opportunities are explained by University of Utah Registrar Ray VanDongen, former Brigham Young University admissions director. VanDongen's first job in education was in the Salt Lake City School District, where he worked to improve the outlook of students and faculty: he replaced broken windows.According to VanDongen, the windows in the Whittier Elementary School offered a special challenge. They were high off the ground and each window was a matrix of 18 individual glass panes.
He supposed the panes were small so that an errant ball at recess wouldn't cause so much damage.
VanDongen would chip out the old glazing putty with a noisy electric tool, cut the class and seal the new pane with fresh putty. He also became a keen observer of what was going on in the classrooms he disrupted with his noisy work.
Some classes were hard to interrupt. "Now students, don't pay any attention to the man. You must get your assignment done before lunch. How do they expect us to teach with all these interruptions? Students! Keep your eyes on your paper." Fortunately these teachers are very few, and maybe there are some tasks that are too important to interrupt and perhaps there are too many interruptions.
Some classes were fun to interrupt for VanDongen. "Look, the man has come to fix our window. Maybe we can get him to explain how he does it. Let's not get too close as we gather around. How is he able to cut class with that little tool? Does anyone know what glass is made from? Can we feel the glazing putty? Why does the putty stay soft? Let's write him a note to thank him for fixing our window."
The notion that the unplanned learning opportunity can be as important as the planned experience may make valid the claim of Tennyson's Ulysses who says that "I am a part of all that I have met."
The first stanza of Walt Whitman's "There Was a Child Went Forth" proposes two psychological processes that are related to the concept that the child will also become part of all that she has met.
There was a child went forth every day,
And the first object he looked upon, that object he became,
And that object became part of him for the day or a certain part of the day,
Or for many years or stretching cycles of years.
The first psychological learning notion is the "identification" or "empathy" the child has for what she meets. The second notion is the "memory" of what was met. The idea of the poem for readers who wish to read the entire selection is that we first project ourselves onto what we meet and then with time the sensitive projections become a richer and more inclusive memory.
At a time when calendars and planners are carried by busy people, and these busy people find the planners to be more than just a status statement, maybe it is also time to remember that the journey can often be as important as arrival at the destination.
Maybe the path would be more pleasant if we stopped to smell the flowers. Maybe we could even point out the flowers to our children and invite them to sniff a bit. Maybe parents and teachers need to notice when the bird flies in the window or when the man comes to replace the broken glass.