A friend and colleague of mine recently took up a personal blogging challenge to stretch his creativity and ability as a classroom teacher/administrator and I very much enjoyed reading along on his journey. (You can read it here too if you are curious!) I have found that one of the greatest parts of thinking out loud (online!) is the chance to connect with other people in all sorts of fields who are also looking to learn and grow in their own lives, work and personal.
As I read along the learning journey of Mr. S, I was inspired by several posts that identified what I have found to be a common/constant teaching challenge – finding balance. Teaching (actually life) is a constant challenge for most of us. Being human has built in tensions that lend themselves to pendulum swings as we learn and grow. (We are selfish and generous, we are brave and terrified, we are curious and repetitive – sometimes all in the same sentence.) In this case the challenge for the classroom is finding the balance between structure and creativity, and similarly the balance between discipline and motivation.
To quote my friend (quoting one of his former students): “two things” about this are interesting to me. Number one is the space in between: that ideal moment on the teeter totter when no one us up and no one is down – perfectly suspended in an instant. That space – that moment – is for epiphanies! That is where the connections are made! That is where the synapses fire, the light bulbs come on, the fireworks exist…a-ha, eureka, wow!
Number Two, though, is where we spend most of our time as teachers, as students, and as human beings. Going up, coming down, swinging back and forth – those scrambling searching hours spent striving for the perfect balanced understanding make up the most of what we do. If I am being really honest… those unbalanced, long winded, hard struggling times are really my favourite.
When teaching and learning and life get messy, amazing things happen. When we take risks and make mistakes, when we work together, when we push each other, when we explore and experiment and investigate, we create the opportunities to see things differently and to actually achieve new understandings that would not (could not) be possible if we lived all the time in the safe, balanced moments.
The balance between structure and creativity, and similarly the balance between discipline and motivation, is inexact because it is constantly shifting. (We’re up! We’re down! We’re sideways!) In teaching and learning (and life!) as the landscape of skills, goals, and achievement changes we are called on to be flexible. In order to live and learn in the moments as they happen we must be able to think and to improvise and to innovate. And that is messy.
As I considered the tensions inherent in our search for balance in life, I thought of these beautiful paintings made in an elementary school art class. For me they are perfect examples of imperfection.
Colourful, uneven, and “unfinished” they explore and expand into spaces and shapes that are unique and unpredictable. There is structure, there is creativity, there is beauty, there is life, and if you look very carefully…
…there are tiny little moments of perfect balance.
Good teachers, good students and good human beings know this secret to balance in the end: the process of seeking it may be wild and uneven, but it is the process that makes up life, and we are here to do just that – live it!