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The Student or the Lesson Plan?

forest of reading1

Our resource centre is in full Forest of Reading mode, with everyone super excited to read the new books.  One of the nominees for Blue Spruce this year is Oddrey by Dave Whamond (@DaveWhamond).  It’s a story about a young girl who’s a little ‘odd’, but very creative and surprisingly positive despite the fact that she does not really fit in at school.   I instantly fell in love with this character and was reminded of some of the “Oddreys” I had the pleasure of teaching over the years.

However, the reason for this post is not Oddrey, but her teacher.  This is the second picture book I’ve read in the past couple of months (first one being Al Yankovic’s My New Teacher and Me!, another great read) where the teacher is portrayed as unsupportive and discouraging of the child’s creative ways.  This made me reflect on the teaching profession, past and present.  At first I thought that these authors may be writing from experiences they had at school when they were students.  Surely, the teaching profession has moved above trying to get kids to conform at all costs.  We have long since realized the value of play based and experiential learning.  We know that drawing on our students’ strengths is the key to their success.  We encourage creativity and divergent thinking.  We do, right?

Allowing students to express who they are and build on their interests in class often leads us off our path and requires us to give up some control.  Are we always comfortable doing that or do we make up excuses so we don’t have to?  We’ve all been there; curriculum needs to be covered, units need to be finished, progress needs to be evaluated and reported.  It’s not that we don’t want to encourage creativity in our students, it’s the conflicting demands of our job.

So what do we do?  Do we make the curriculum and the tests our priority, nurturing student creativity only when we have the time to do so? Or do we make students the priority, encouraging their curiosity and creativity while allowing the curriculum to take second place?  What struck a chord with me in reading both Oddrey and My New Teacher and Me! is how detrimental the former is to the students that we serve, to the teaching profession, and society in general.  I used to think that the most important role of a teacher is to instill the love of learning in his or her students.  I now realize that children do not need us to learn how to love learning; being naturally curious, they love it already.  Our role as teachers is to feed that love through our encouragement, our support, and our guidance.  To paraphrase Sir Ken Robinson (How Schools Kill Creativity), our role is not to kill it with content they are not ready to learn and practices that promote conformity instead of exploration.  In her book Wonder, R.J. Palacio wrote: “When given the choice between being right, or being kind, choose kind.”  Similarly, I would propose that as teachers, when faced with the choice between adhering to our lesson plan, or nurturing the creativity of the students we teach, we should choose students.

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