After what I felt was an invigorating conversation with Barbara Bray on her podcast, Rethinking Learning, my mother-in-law gave me feedback that really got me thinking. She had some positive reflections about my enthusiasm and some clear next steps including slowing down because I get excited. The most glaring issue, however, was my statement about being messy. When I told Barbara that some teachers like to have all their ducks in a row and don’t do messy, she heard me say that I was advocating for disorganization. That requires some further explanation.
I believe in structure in education. I believe that classrooms require order and should be designed in a way that meets the needs of learners and invites students to enjoy to spending time in their learning space. I always put an agenda on the board and prepare for student learning experiences in a systematic and thoughtful manner. I also create projects that have a structure.
All of my Building Outside the Blocks projects have a methodical outline. While there are procedural steps, a rubric or checklist, and a graphic organizer to every assignment, there is also a lot of room built in for student voice and choice. After I review an outline with students and complete any explicit instruction required to set students up for success, students sign up to present their work on the date of their choice, within the teacher-provided options and in view of the predetermined timeline. I don’t always know how my students will choose to present their work, and I am often pleasantly surprised by the creativity and commitment that goes into their projects and products. Giving students opportunities to build agency isn’t systematized, which can be a deterrent to some educators who may want to adopt these projects and approach. There are unknowns and unforeseeable aspects that can scare educators who require control over the process and results of learning.
Every child learns content and skills in their own way because all learning is personal. As a result, learning isn’t always apparent and it sometimes doesn’t happen when you think it does. I have been slowly digesting each chapter of Intentional Interruption by Steven Katz and Lisa Ain Dack because it is so well written, thoughtfully unfolded, and really provocative. They refer to the psychological definition of learning as a permanent change in thinking or behaviour (pg. 6). This is so interesting to me and something that is taking me time to process and deeply consider, as it has sweeping ramifications. That also makes learning messy because there is neither a clear point from A to B, nor is there always transparency about when and how the learning actually happens in each individual.
For the teacher learner, change can be challenging. The authors go further to explain that, “Learning that changes what people think and how they behave require conceptual change. Conceptual change happens when people make their current beliefs explicit, subject them to scrutiny from themselves and others, consider how new information either fits or challenges their existing beliefs, and then make permanent changes to what they know and do,” (pg 7). For many educators, that can also feel messy. As someone who supports teacher learning and change, knowing that some people have an aversion to that kind of “messy” helps to be proactive in promoting change.
I have often dreamed of being Ms. Frizzle. Besides the incredible experiential learning journeys that she leads, I love her famous saying, “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy.” For those who embrace this character’s motto, the reality that learning requires comfort with clutter does not deter. For those learners who don’t do messy, change is even more challenging. For those who find new learning uncomfortable and avoid it as a result, let’s work through it together. I have lived in messy and always come out the better for it. I mean that symbolically, mom, so don’t go telling people how my room looked when I was growing up!
Being a life long learner means being open to change and responsive to learning opportunities. Learning is synonymous with growth and change, and it’s a modern necessity. Teachers are not the only people who must commit to that. Today, it is a requirement for every career path. I actually Googled learning is messy to find a final quote, and there was a I came upon an article in Edutopia written by Joshua Block that I want to reference. He wrote:
The abolitionist Frederick Douglass provides us with a poignant historic reminder that, "If there is no struggle, there is no progress." Struggle is necessary for growth, but facing discomfort is not easy for people of any age. In classrooms where students engage with authentic, rigorous work, strategic support and modelling enable learners to progress past discomfort. As teachers, we must be willing to accept messy days and remind ourselves that struggle and frustration are inherent parts of the process of creation.
In the same search, I also came across a recent blog post from Carol Varsalona, a member of my PLN. In the end, for those educators who hear the word messy and want to retract, take a breath, take one small step at a time, and see that it will all be alright. Learning is messy, but messy doesn’t have to be bad. As Carol wrote, "Within the struggle, growth emerges."
Source: Noa Daniel