I've been taught to spend the first day of school passing out books and explaining rules and routines. It's what I did growing up. It's something they tell you in college. It's what I've done the past three years. But this year, I threw that all out the window.
I don't want my students to associate my classroom with a strict teacher who cares deeply about rules and routines. I want them to believe my classroom houses their family and provides them with a space to discover, learn, and create with a teacher who deeply cares about them as people. If I can create this family-centered learning environment (and explain my expectations a little further down the line), I know that those behavioral expectations will be met.
So on our first day this year, instead of rules, we painted. And it was messy and disorganized and beautiful. Each student chose a color that represented how he/she felt in that moment and then threw the paint on the canvas in a way that expressed that feeling. Students laughed. Students shared about their lives. Students bonded with each other. Now these paintings hang on our wall as a reminder of the things they represent. There are many things students can learn from these paintings:
- Life/creativity/learning/community is messy, but it's beautiful. Even though we're all going every which way, as our own color, we can work together to create something beautiful. Group work is often difficult, but as more heads work together, more problems can be solved. Further, sometimes learning to work together is more important than the work itself.
- Each person is unique. Each person chose a unique color and put the paint on the canvas in a unique way. No one could replicate another's work, no matter how they tried. We should be proud of our unique nature.
- This community is unique. Each of the three paintings is distinct, just like the community itself. No matter how hard we tried, we could never throw the paint on the canvas in the same way. In the same way, no matter how hard we tried, we could never duplicate this community of learners.
- Who we surround ourselves with matters. When we're next to some colors, our color shines brighter. However, we're also really ugly next to some colors. Sometimes it's important to know when to remove ourselves from situations that bring out ugly parts of us. However, sometimes we also need to work with people that we don't enjoy working with for the sake of the community. Even though they might not make us shine bright, the painting/community would not be the same if we we're working next to each other.
- Things don't always go as planned. Some students were frustrated that the paint didn't go on the canvas in the exact way they had planned. This is life. Things don't go as planned, but that doesn't mean they can't be good or that we can't learn something from them. We will praise effort more than results, because really, failure is also part of the learning process.
This year we're going to have a vision statement in my classroom: fully know(n) and fully love(d). It is my prayer that my classroom is a place where students can fully know and fully love others and be fully known and fully loved by others. I believe these things will be driven by our love for God and result in a desire to learn and a commitment to serve. All year long I plan to come back to this vision statement to drive creativity and courage. These paintings hang above this vision statement in my classroom to remind us that despite our differences and the messes of learning, we can have a strong community where we (are) fully know(n) and fully love(d).
I'll never spend the first day of school going over my syllabus again. I'll continue to find ways to build a community of learners right away. I can't wait to see what we learn together this year!