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Leadership and Activism, Learning at its Best

Sunday afternoons, Slow Cooking and Modern Schooling

If you ever want to catch me at my most relaxed and “tuned in”, drop over on a Sunday afternoon. At about 1:30, you’ll find me in the kitchen, working at preparing an inviting, comfortable family dinner. If you catch me in the early stages of the process, the counters will be clean, the sink empty and the recipes that I’m using neatly arranged in front of me.

If you were to arrive at 3:00, a bottle of red wine will have already been uncorked, the required herbs and spices will have been arranged in separate dishes, and the main course will likely be in the oven, on a low, slow heat. Pull up a chair, grab a glass!

If all is going well, a visitor arriving at 4:00 will be greeted by some pre-dinner appetizers, a beverage. and the welcoming aroma of a lazy Sunday afternoon.

If you come between 4:30 and 5:00, you’ll be enlisted to help the kids set the table!

It’s all part of what has become somewhat of a weekend ritual around our house. While Saturday is usually spent running errands, working in the yard or playing outside with my two young boys, I’ve learned to reserve those few hours on Sunday to change gears, and move into a completely different space.

For me, it’s a way of “taking time”. There is a definite difference in the pace at which I prepare vegetables, read recipes, combine ingredients. This is not a Tuesday night one-hour-to-have-dinner-and-be-out-of-the-house-for-t-ball kind of experience. And although, physically, I may be alone in the kitchen for most of the afternoon, I’m joined in spirit by all those who have ever found inspiration, solace or joy in the process of cooking.

I’m thinking that writers, painters, musicians, sculptors—those who finds life and leisure in any sort of creative process—experience this same sense of being “in the zone”. It’s a mystical place where time and space are somehow transformed!

For me, these are moments where I’m not only intensely engaged in what I’m doing; they are also the moments when I’m learning the most. Having the time to try out different combinations of ingredients: a taste here, a sip there, a little more salt, a little less salt, a touch more oregano. I’m not only following someone else’s recipe; I’m building on what I have learned from week to week, watching carefully the reaction of my table guests, and taking time to immerse myself in the ideas of others who have much more experience.

Many of you will know that the word “school” has been handed down to us from the Greek “schola” which, in its original form, meant “leisure”. I think of that quite often, usually as I walk through the front doors of my own school.

Many words and phrases can be used to describe the modern school, but I’m quite certain that “leisure” would not appear on many top ten lists. In fact, I suspect that our sense of what the Greeks meant by leisure has been lost in time as well.

But I’m convinced that if we are going to transform our schools to be vibrant learning communities, we would do well to think about the frenetic pitch at which today’s schools operate. There really isn’t a great deal of opportunity in our schools these days to adopt any semblance of that slow, relaxed approach to learning.

An over-crowded curriculum is made even more contentious and unmanageable by a commitment to compartmentalization and divisioneven in the early years. A love affair with short-term output data diminishes the importance and value of a long term commitment to process.

There is a sense in which we have created schools that more closely resemble pressure cookers than crock pots and I believe that this has had a tremendous effect on both the process and the product of schooling.

But what would happen if we were to slow things down? What would happen if we adopted more of a weekend attitude towards school-based education? What would happen if we resisted rushing the learning process but, instead, nurtured a creative dynamic in our schools that allowed students and teachers to savour the world, appreciating what has been learned about it to this point, exploring it from different angles, and attempting to develop unique and creative responses to what they saw?

What would happen if we adopted a sense of creative leisure towards our living and learning? I think that’s the table to which I would like to be invited. Pull up a chair and let’s enjoy the meal!

About Stephen Hurley

After working for over 30 years in Ontario's public education system, I continue to work passionately throughout Canada, still very committed to the idea of effective, powerful learning experiences for all participants. A musician, technology-watcher, father, husband, I find life in the world of education, even when the conversations get a little contentious. If I were to be doing anything else right now, it would be hosting my own syndicated radio program on--you guessed it--education. I blog in a few spots. My personal blog can be found at I can also be found hanging around and, most recently, I can be found on twitter as @stephen_hurley


6 thoughts on “Sunday afternoons, Slow Cooking and Modern Schooling

  1. I like how you think and strangely have been thinking about getting into the cooking for pleasure and creativity. I also agree about our pressure cooker education system. Creativity and instilling excitement about the subject and thinking process would be heaven. Currently it is limiting, compartmentalizing…sort of a cookie cutter approach.

    Posted by bridgesburning | May 30, 2011, 11:27 pm
    • Cookie cutter! Another kitchen gadget we have in our drawer. Great for uniformity, but…

      Thanks for the reply. So, in your opinion, what’s holding us back from getting to “heaven”?

      Posted by Stephen Hurley | May 31, 2011, 5:17 am
  2. Add to the mix our systemic, stubborn resistance to acknowledging and valuing what puts different kids into flow – or keeps them from it – and our schools have a recipe for continued underperformance and constant crisis. Perhaps we have the cafeterias we deserve.

    I am envious of your Sunday afternoon rituals and comforts, Stephen!


    Posted by Chad Sansing | May 31, 2011, 8:14 am
    • Thanks Chad for your insightful extensions to the metaphor! If you’re ever in the Toronto area, be sure to put me on your agenda for a Sunday afternoon!


      Posted by Stephen Hurley | May 31, 2011, 8:44 am
  3. Stephen, I really love this post. I’ve been thinking about the metaphor of “hospitality”–welcoming the other with grace, love and creativity–as a metaphor for the ways schools ought to be. Thank you for the image of you cooking on Sunday afternoon, and the deliberate change of pace. A beautiful reminder and great modeling.

    My glass is right here.


    Posted by Kirsten Olson | May 31, 2011, 8:30 pm
    • HI Kirsten,
      Thanks for the comment. Interesting that you mention “hospitality”. When we were planning our wedding six years ago, Zoe and I decided that hospitality was going to be the theme of our wedding and our lives together. Our respective parents got together to have a large dining room table and chairs made for us, and the metaphor that ran through my wedding speech was “the table”. Your comment brought back many of those memories.

      I like the idea of using hospitality as an inspiration for schools. It feels good: inviting and grounded in a spirit of care. I would love to read more of your thinking around this. In a week where many of our teachers are in the midst of moving their students through provincial testing, it is, indeed, a refreshing notion!


      Posted by Stephen Hurley | June 1, 2011, 4:58 am

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