Tuesday, April 16, 2019

On Work In Progress

"There is no end to education.  It is not that you read a book, pass an examination, and finish with education.  The whole of life, from the moment you are born until the moment you die, is a process of learning."  Jiddu Krishnamurti

A couple of weeks ago I was driving home from open house at one of our RVSD schools and I began wondering how many of these events I've attended over the years?  I remember going to open houses as a kid, where I'd proudly show my parents my completed work and anxiously await my teachers' response to the inevitable parent question, "How is Rick doing?"  I remember open house as a parent, where I'd have a chance to see our daughters' finished work, time to visit with fellow parents and of course, the opportunity to ask our kids' teachers the same question my parents asked mine so many years before.  I also remember open houses as a teacher, where I'd work for hours to make sure my students' completed work was well displayed and my classroom was as perfect as I could make it.  As an administrator, open houses are a great opportunity to see and experience a school in its full context and to chat with many parents, students, teachers and staff.  In every role I've always loved open house and now, as Superintendent, these evenings have become my favorites of the entire year.  I feel like I get to be a student, parent, teacher and school leader, all at the same time.

This year open house has been extra special, mainly because I've noticed a small (but incredibly powerful) shift in the way many of our teachers are presenting it.  Instead of a showcase for all our students' completed work, this year many of our classrooms also featured examples of what we refer to as "works in progress."  These are the rough drafts, sometimes very rough, of whatever our students are working on. They are sometimes messy and smudged, with words here and there spelled phonetically, math problems partially solved and projects half-built.  They are not yet the polished and perfect products they will one day become ... they are physical representation of process thinking, exploring, trial and error.

And in their imperfection, I think they are all beautiful.

As parents and educators we all want to see and be proud of our kids' finished work, but we also want to know how they got there.  When we see and admire a work in progress, we see beyond the object and into its creator.  We get to see how our kids think, reason, adapt and persist.  We get to see and be proud of who our kids are becoming, by celebrating the journey with them.

I must also mention that it takes more than a bit of courage and self-confidence on the part of teachers and students, to display and share unfinished work.  After all, the open house "tradition" has always been to put out whatever grade-appropriate version of "perfection" our students can produce.  Showing imperfection goes against the grain, yet I proudly applaud our RVSD teachers and students for doing so.  Don't get me wrong, I love seeing our students' finished work. But there's something truly special about watching a student explain to her or his parents, the process s/he is working through and how s/he is overcoming the challenges encountered along the way.   

The whole of life is indeed a process of learning and I so appreciate the many ways in which our professional teaching staff and our students, make the learning process accessible and visible to us all.