Our Classrooms Don’t Have To Be Perfect To Be Wonderful

image from icanread

Smeared glitter paint greets me as  I step into Thea’s room and my heart drops a little.  As I cautiously make my way through her piles of things, I spot more evidence of an artistic explosion scattered throughout the room.  A drenched fluff ball there.  Some brushes here.  Finally, in the corner sits the artist herself; beaming as she turns to me and says, “Mama, isn’t it beautiful – it is for you!”  She hands me a large, dripping wet, glitterfied painting in pink and purple shades and I bite my tongue.

I want to tell her she should have asked permission to use those paints.  I want to tell her that she should not be painting on her bedroom floor.  I want to tell her that she should be wearing her smock and have her hair pulled back.  Instead I say, “Yes, I love it!”  And I mean it, and I smile, and I hang it on the fridge, proud of what she has made all by herself.  The mess we can deal with together.

I think of my classroom, of how I meticulously try to plan our days together.  How I try to plan for when the students will create something and how that will be created.  Although I give as much choice as I can, I still feel that there needs to be a plan in place.  And yet, often the true beauty of a classroom lies within those independent, creative moments.  When a child takes it upon themselves to create something beautiful.

We tend to overplan, oversee, and over-manage our students, afraid that if we don’t it will be a big mess.  And sure, when students create on their own, it is messy, the room shows evidence of it, and yet, the excitement and pride cannot be emulated by any other activity.  The way students show off what they came up with, what they pushed themselves to do cannot be replicated by a prescribed assignment.

So when I advocate student voice and student choice, I think back to Thea, who stands at the beginning of her school career.  I hope that her teachers will see the artist she is inside, the creator she carries within her, and will build a classroom where creating, making, and exploring takes center-stage rather than just listening, doing, and producing.  I hope Thea, some day, will turn to her teacher and beam with pride as she shows her work, just as my students do, when I step back and let them create.

My classroom on Innovation Day – our favorite day of the year

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