There have been many editorials over the past year or so with strong feelings that creativity and engagement have been taken from students and teachers in the classroom setting. I had the good fortune this week to have two very excited and proud first grade students come to see me, making me realize that student engagement and creativity are alive and well within the classrooms of my school and within the curriculum based on Common Core State Standards .
I was just preparing to start one of my monthly literacy department meetings, when my administrative assistant came to get me in my office. Normally, I hold those meetings in our literacy center, however, on this day, I was holding the meeting in my office due to some testing that was being done in our regular meeting space. I left my office and went out to the main office area, only to find two first grade boys standing there waiting for me, both looking serious with papers in their hands.
Both boys shared that they had done some writing and they were there to share with me. Knowing that students often times enjoy sharing their work, I invited them to my office where the literacy staff were waiting for me and I asked the students if they would share with me and the other adults I was meeting with. I was pleasantly surprised when the two boys let me know that they wanted to share some persuasive writing with me!
The first student began to read his piece, which in fact, was about me. He shared in his piece of writing that he thought I was a good principal and that I helped students. I wasn’t sure who his intended audience was, but I gave a small chuckle and appreciated the fact that he was trying to persuade someone to think I was a good principal. It was very flattering.
The second student then read his piece, which was writing that was intended to persuade me to buy some soccer balls so that they would have them to play with on the playground. The student had tried to use a basketball and that didn’t work too well for soccer, thus, his persuasive letter. After reading his letter, the other student turned to him and told him that he had a soccer ball at home and that he didn’t use it, so he would gladly bring it to school for them to use.
My reading specialists, the K-5 ELA department head and I all shared with the two boys how impressed we were with their persuasive writing. The two boys beamed as they held their papers in my office and were excited that they not only got the chance to “persuade me”, but that adults were pleased with their writing. Their teacher later shared with me how thrilled they were to come to the office with their writing and she also was very happy with how much her children were writing in the classroom.
Providing students opportunities in the classroom to prepare them for college readiness does not equate to learning that is not engaging and it certainly does not equate to teachers not using their skills to provide students with creative ways to learn. The “art and science” of teaching refers to teachers employing their “art”, which is the creative way they deliver content and instruction to students. The “science” is the following of aligned curriculum, which over time, helps create well prepared students to leave our schools and go forward into the world.
As a school leader, it is important to foster a culture where teachers feel that they can use creativity in the classroom no matter what standards are being taught and no matter what curriculum is being delivered in a district. Teachers must have latitude to use a level of professional judgement around what will stimulate learning and engagement for students.
It is also important, that while promoting creativity, that principals have open and transparent dialogue with teachers about what needs to be taught. Delivering instruction that will support students after they leave our schools is imperative and should be a non negotiable. In the end, it really is about the art and science of teaching, it is about balance, and it is about using good judgement to provide students engaging instruction within a structured curriculum where teachers are able to use the gifts that we hired them for in the first place!