I was one of three new kids in my bunk at camp in 1989. The rest of the girls who were in my bunk had been together for a few years and were known for getting perfect tens on daily bunk inspections. That summer, I was the kid who made my bunk get nines, rather than tens, because I wasn’t so good at at making hospital corners when I made my bed. Every day, my bunk mates would be disappointed when they didn’t receive a perfect ten. Quite frankly, I didn’t care… I thought a nine was good enough. After all, I made my bed and it looked neat. However, it was was never made perfectly enough for the person who was inspecting the bunks. Fortunately, the girls in my bunk and I became friends despite the fact I was caused them to get less than perfect scores on bunk inspection. I guess they realized perfection was overrated.
I hadn’t thought about the bunk thing for over 20 years until I heard Douglas Reeves, founder of The Leadership and Learning Center, deliver a keynote, “Doing the Right Things, Right Now,” at the TCRWP Writing Institute earlier this summer. One of the many insightful things he said was:
“Perfect classrooms mean no risk-taking is going on.”
Something about that triggered the memory of the almost-perfect scores I caused my bunkmates to receive. And then, right after that thought popped into my brain, I began to think about my classrooms. They were never as neat as other teachers’ classrooms. They were organized, but they never looked like they were ready for a visit from the Secretary of Education or the President of the United States.
After hearing Reeves say that “perfect classrooms mean no risk-taking is going on,” I realized the appearance of my classroom was more than okay because something of great importance was happening inside Room 310. (BTW: I’ve only taught in Room 310, both in New York and Rhode Island.)
My alma mater, The George Washington University, had a slogan they used in admissions materials. It was, “SOMETHING HAPPENS HERE.” I borrowed that slogan and used it as the motto for my classroom year after year. I believe this slogan connects with the idea that Reeves asserted, “perfect classrooms mean no risk-taking is going on.” When something big is happening in classrooms, students are encouraged to take risks. Risk-taking and true learning is never neat… it’s messy. And that’s okay.
I always tried to make my classroom perfect for the first day of school. Once the kids “moved in,” it was nearly impossible to keep it looking perfect since so much was happening in there. As you prepare your classroom for the beginning of the 2011-12 school year, remember, your classroom shouldn’t look flawless once the kids arrive. If kids are communicating with one another and are engaged in learning that fosters collaboration and stimulates critical thinking, it’s more than acceptable for your classroom to look less than perfect.
I am a literacy consultant who has spent over a decade working with teachers to improve the teaching of writing in their classrooms. While I work with teachers and students in grade K-6, I'm a former fourth and fifth-grade teacher so I have a passion for working with upper elementary students.
I'm the author of Craft Moves (Stenhouse Publishers, 2016) and the co-author of Jump Into Writing (Zaner-Bloser, 2021), Welcome to Writing Workshop (Stenhouse Publishers, 2019), and Day By Day (Stenhouse, 2010).