Embracing Imperfection in Our Classrooms

In this week’s module for my Educational Technology Leadership course, we are looking at resources, skills, and processes that might help us as we co-plan learning activities with our peers. Using the ISTE Standards for Coaches as a framework, for this module we are looking at these 2 standards:

ISTE-C Standard 1: Visionary Leadership

  1. Implement strategies for initiating and sustaining technology innovations and manage the change process in schools and classrooms

ISTE-C Standard 2: Teaching, Learning, and Assessment

  1. Coach teachers in and model incorporation of research-based best practices in instructional design when planning technology-enhanced learning experiences

 

For my work this week I want to look out how best to help teachers embrace “mess” in their classrooms. We want to encourage our students to take risks, try the hard stuff, and focus on growth, yet sometimes we don’t model that in our classrooms. I can’t speak for secondary teachers, but as a primary-grade elementary school teacher I know that there are a lot of teachers who want things to look “perfect”…myself included. And we feel pressure (either real or imagined) from families, peers, and ourselves to have our classrooms, bulletin boards, and newsletters looking “good”.  But it goes much further than this. We also want our learning activities to go according to plan and we don’t want things to get “messy”.

I found an article from the Chronicle of Higher Education titled “Pedagogy of Imperfection” by Maha Bali that really dove into this issue that I have been considering.  My favorite quote of the article is, “The problem with this is that we are often presented with polished projects and we start to associate imperfection with unpreparedness. (Bali, 2017)”  This is often how I feel when things don’t go “right” in my class. I fear I was unprepared, but often I don’t think that was the reason. While this article is short, nearly every sentence resonated with me and helped me to better understand how important it is for teachers to embrace and celebrate “imperfection” and the process rather than the product. Our students learn just as much from our behavior and responses to what is happening in the classroom than from our carefully constructed learning experiences. If we want our students to take risks, be ok with “imperfection”, and value the process of getting to the final product then we must model this in our teaching and behavior in the classroom.

In this article Bali talks about how perfection is a self-defined construct and that learning is an imperfect process (Bali, 2017).  Bali has listed 3 areas in which we, as educators, might start when it comes to embracing imperfection in our classrooms.

 

  1. Keep your pedagogy open.
  2. Take more risks.
  3. Encourage imperfection in student work (Bali, 2017).

 

I can relate to all three of these.  I’m a planner, so it makes me feel like I have things under control when my plan book (at least the basic structure of my lessons) is filled out weeks in advance and things are going according to schedule.  Doing this, however, can make me feel like I “messed up” if I need to adjust things or if I don’t end up doing thing according to plan. Being prepared and organized are key to being a successful teacher, but not to the point where you fear adjusting your plans and learning experiences when it feels like that it what is best for your students.  Taking risks is one of those things that is important to model for students. When we say one thing, “try new things, don’t be afraid to fail, take risks”, and then model that in our classrooms, it has a much greater impact on our students. They need to see how we react when the technology doesn’t work or the art lesson is a disaster. Because it’s not really about the failure, it’s about how we react to it and how/if we persevere afterwards. Encouraging imperfection in student work is a way we let students know that the process of learning is just as valuable (if not more) as the end result.  In my Kindergarten class, my students are just beginning to write. They know a few sight words and might be able to sound out a few short words. But they have so much they want to say in their writing. I encourage them to try those words that they probably can’t spell. If they want to write about the “gigantic cat”, I want them to try and spell “gigantic” rather than change their story to the “big cat” just because they know how to spell the word “big”.

We want our students to participate, share their thoughts and ideas exactly as they are, and try new things. We want to cultivate classrooms that encourage this and one of the first steps to doing this is to look at our teaching practice.  Are we modeling what we are encouraging our students to do?

“Seeing other people make mistakes, laugh it off, and keep going helps to open doors for others to join in the experimentation. If there is no expectation of perfection, this gives a sense of permission to participate (Bali, 2017).”

Resources:

Bali, M. (2017). Chronicle for Higher Education: Pedagogy of Imperfection. (Retrieved on 2018, November 12) from: https://www.chronicle.com/blogs/profhacker/pedagogy-of-imperfection/63435

ISTE.org. (2017) ISTE Standards for Coaches. (Retrieved on 2018, November 5) from: https://www.iste.org/standards/for-coaches

One thought on “Embracing Imperfection in Our Classrooms

  1. Hi Susan,

    I just love this topic. For a fellow planner and Type A teacher, this serves as a great reminder that there is value in things not going exactly as planned. It is up to us as teachers to model that change is okay and that can new circumstances or challenges can be embraced. It’s hard sometimes to have the confidence to say, “X lesson didn’t go as planned. Let’s scrap the classwork piece and discuss some of the questions you’ve come up with.” I’ve found that this feels embarrassing at first, but students really respond to and respect your honesty as a teacher. Like your post mentioned, they need a model for how to react when things don’t go as planned for whatever reason. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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