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Collecting Rocks, Cultivating Students

Monday, August 14, 2017

This summer I realized that one of my favorite hobbies has quite a bit in common with my vocation as an educator.

When I go to the beach in the summer, I love collecting rocks.

I find most of rocks on the beaches in Rhode Island that I have visited since I was a child. Misquamicut, Weekapaug, and Quonochontaug are a few of my favorite beaches. Their names were given by the early Native American tribes who settled the Rhode Island coast line.

In the mid-1970’s, my parents rented a blue and white striped house on Misquamicut beach for a week each summer. The extended family loved their time at the striped cottage so much that my parents and grandparents decided to buy a small gray cottage with pink shutters on Atlantic Ave. in 1978.

As a child, I returned many of the rocks that I found to the ocean as I worked to perfect my skimming technique on the waves.  Rhode Island’s beaches have both large rocks and granular sand. The rocky and sandy shoreline is the result of the last glacial period when continental glaciers pushed across New England and deposited large rocks and sand into landforms called moraines.  When the glaciers receded about 12,000 years ago, the ocean currents and the weathering process formed sandy beaches on rocky outcrops.

Granite, which makes up a great deal of the surface rocks in New England, is composed of three minerals: quartz (white, gray, clear), feldspar (pink and orange), and mica (black). In addition to granite, there are many other minerals in the rocks.  Needless to say, there are an amazing variety of rocks on the shore.  

When we visit Rhode Island in the summer, we always come home with a huge bucket of rocks. This summer, we filled a 5 gallon bucket to use in our garden in Shandon. Our three boys have joined in the search for interesting rocks, but they leave it to me to lug the heavy sand pail down the beach.  

 My favorite rocks are small (1-3 inches) and smooth.  These rocks are white, gray, pink, black, orangey/rust, and sometimes greenish.  I find beauty in the variety, and it reminds me of my job as a parent and educator. Each student is unique, and at Heathwood, we embrace that variety.

The size of the mineral grains in the rock also tells a story.  Larger crystals indicate that the rock, as it cooled from magma (melted rock) into rock, cooled more slowly (likely deeper in the earth), and rocks with small crystals cooled more quickly and likely closer to the surface.  Likewise, our students come to us with a rich history and reservoir of life experience.  This undoubtedly impacts their starting point and their finish line, but it is also the essence of their uniqueness. 

I also appreciate the smoothness of the rocks and know that it took thousands of years for those sharp angular rocks to smooth out under the influence of water and sand into beach stones. 

Like the rocks, our students are a work in progress.  They will all be smoother stones at some point as their experiences, whether successes or failures, help to smooth out some of those bumps.

The six beach stones I brought back this summer sit in my office to remind me – and my colleagues – that we must always open our eyes to the diversity of student learners, appreciate the unique beauty of each individual, and display patience during the slow and steady work of education and life.  There are not always quick and tangible results, but the relationships and trust we build during the journey is what helps to shape and mold our students.