Creating More Than We Consume

We want to create more than we consume. So we fill the centre of the home with things that reward skill and active engagement.  Andy Crouch

A few days ago, I was struck by the quote above while reading Andy Crouch’s book called, The Tech-Wise Family.  Creating more than I consume sounds simple but it’s difficult to put into practice.  As I watch my son practice the piano, I’m reminded of how much harder it is to make music than listening to it.  Creating music takes time, effort and skill, but it’s much more fulfilling than pushing a button to upload a song.  I also love to make pizza for my family but it takes work.  Shopping for fresh ingredients, making the dough in advance and preparing the toppings takes time, but the final product brings people together–and tastes delicious.

The reverse is true of the time I spend consuming information.  Scrolling through updates on my phone doesn’t require any skill (our three-year-old can do it) and it’s a relatively passive process that doesn’t engage my imagination.  It’s not that I always want an overly engaging activity that requires effort. Watching a movie at the end of the day can help me relax.  On the other hand, I think over-exposure to unengaged, uses of technology keep me from experiencing some of the best things in life.

In the second chapter of his book, Crouch makes a similar contrast.  He asks the reader to think about the things on the main floor of their house that promote active engagement.  He gives musical instruments, books, board games, and wall paintings, as examples of things that require kids to engage, develop skill and potentially take a risk.  He contrasts these things with other electronic devices in our homes that almost work by themselves.  He describes these items as, “…those toys that work on their own–that buzz and beep and light up without developing any skill.”  Crouch’s commitment to shaping his space with engaging things means these devices must be put in their proper place–on the outer margins of the space.

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Photo by Academy of Art Design

As a teacher, I couldn’t help reflecting on how the educational space I create in my classroom can either shape my students into passive consumers of content or engaged makers and creators.  I learned this the hard way in my first couple of years of teaching.  In my second year of teaching grade one, I decided to do a pilot project involving digital learning centres.  The plan was to attach two or three smart TVs to my classroom wall and create interactive centres using iPads that were wirelessly connected.  The idea seemed good in theory but when the TVs were actually installed, they overwhelmed the space.  When the parents in my class saw the barrage of screens hanging on the walls of my room, they were horrified.  Not completely understanding their response, I asked one parent why she was disturbed by them.  She said, “It just looks bad having so many TVs as the focal point of your room.”  Looking back on it, TVs completely dominated my classroom. It wasn’t like I could close the curtains on the TVs for story time. They were constantly inviting the kids to passive consumption of information.  Even though I didn’t intend on using these devices simply for entertainment, my classroom space was sending the wrong message.

On the other hand, last year, the computer lab at our school was converted into a Maker Space.  The rows of desktop computers were taken out and replaced with shelves full of tools, construction materials, robotics kits, breadboards, snap circuits and Keva blocks.  The space itself was inviting kids to create.  It was providing a learning environment that invited students to design or try to make something for the first time.  It invited students to activities that required skill and active engagement.

One engaging feature of my own classroom that rewards skill is a large shelf full of books beside the door.  The commercial fluorescent lights don’t invite reading but I was recently inspired by one of our grade six teachers who opted to use three or four lamps to light her room instead of the tube lights.  As a result, her room has an ambient Starbucky feel that makes you want to curl up with a coffee and a book.

Living in a culture so focused on consuming, it’s easy for me to forget how important it is to fill the spaces in my life with things that reward engagement, skill development and problem-solving.  As an educator who embraces an inquiry-driven approach to teaching, I’m endeavouring to shape the space of my classroom in ways that invite engagement creativity and imagination.

Reflection

  • Does your classroom space reward skill and active engagement?
  • Are there a few things you could add or subtract to make it more engaging for students?

I would love to hear any of your thoughts, reflections or feedback in the comments.

A Teacher’s Shield of Perfectionism

I’ve never really thought of myself as a perfectionist, probably because I thought of perfectionism as synonymous with obsessive-compulsive patterns of behaviour.  I’m not the person who readjusts the picture in the room every time I walk into until “it fits.” I’m not the person who rearranges the books on my bookshelf until it “feels right,” therefore, I’m not a perfectionist.   That is the way I thought about it until this summer when two discoveries came together in an interesting way that changed my mind.

The first discovery was the realization that I didn’t know myself very well.  During the last few months, I’ve been reading Brad Lomenick’s book, H3 Leadership, where he underlines the importance of leaders knowing themselves.  Lomenick explains how knowing yourself helps you make important decisions, find areas you are passionate about and realize when you need support.  As I reflected on my own life, I realized that low levels of self-knowledge were holding me back from being an effective leader but I wasn’t sure why.  Was I not seeking feedback from those around me? Was I not taking enough time to reflect on my own passions, skill set, or areas of weakness? I wasn’t sure.

A few weeks later, I found myself listening to Brene Brown’s book, Daring Greatly.  In chapter four, she describes perfectionism as a shame-avoidance technique that blinds people to who they really are.  I instantly understood one of the primary reasons I didn’t know myself–I was attempting to escape feelings of shame through perfectionism.  

What is perfectionism?

According to Brene Brown, perfectionism is a negative mindset that keeps us from knowing who we really are.  In her book, she describes it as “a defensive move” focused on hustling for the approval of others.

Roman Shield

Perfectionism is a defensive move.  It’s the belief that if we do things perfectly and look perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment and shame. Perfectionism is a twenty-ton shield that we lug around, thinking it will protect us, when in fact it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from being seen.

How does it affect learning?

When I embrace perfectionism as a teacher it means that I take fewer risks in my learning.  I don’t create as much as I should because I’m too worried that my work won’t measure up to my colleagues or students in some way.  Sometimes it means, I don’t try new strategies or lesson ideas in my classroom because I don’t want the students to see one of my lessons flop.  Ironically, this would be the best way to model a growth mindset to them.  At other times, it means that I don’t ask other teachers for help because I want to be perceived as being omnicompetent. Putting up a perfectionist front, may also mean that I over-schedule myself and have no margin for relationships with others because I don’t want to disappoint people by saying no.   It could also mean that I want to appear to be an ultra multi-tasker that does hundreds of tasks per day “naturally” without much effort–while I’m really burning out.

What cures perfectionism?

Though I don’t expect any quick fixes to my own perfectionist tendencies, Brown does suggest a few helpful guidelines her book to counter the self-destructive and addictive nature of perfectionism.

  • Create. The creative process requires some level of vulnerability.  It requires that we open up the “cracks” in our armour and be who we really are.  Those cracks are the things that others can identify with and respond to.
  • Own your story.  Brown says that we really only have two choices when it comes to own story.  We can either own our stories (even the messy ones) or we stand outside them.  Standing outside them causes us to deny our vulnerabilities and imperfections and orphan the parts of us that don’t fit in with who /what we think we’re supposed to be.  It also causes us to hustle for other people’s approval of our worthiness.
  • Embrace our common humanity.  Recognizing that feelings of personal inadequacy, suffering, and failure are part of our shared common experiences helps us normalize these parts of our lives and embrace them.
  • Bust perfectionist myths.  Believing myths like, “The perfect life is really possible” and responding to failure with “It would have been perfect if I would have applied more time and energy” only makes perfectionism worse. Brown reminds us that perfection is more about perception than internal motivation, and perceptions cannot be controlled–no matter how much time, effort and money we apply.

A final cure to perfectionism connects to the theme of worthiness in Brown’s book.  She says that wholehearted people, that have the courage to be vulnerable are characterized by a deep sense of worthiness.

Gospel Worthiness

As a Christian, I think that the gospel has the power to help me own my story and give me the sense of worthiness that she describes.  The story of the gospel, written in the Bible, is that God has provided a covering for shame through the perfect life of Jesus.  In Revelations 3:16, the “white garments” that cover the shame of the perfectionists Jesus is speaking to, is “bought” from Jesus. The white garments Jesus refers to is a symbol of his perfect life that is imputed to believers through faith.  These garments are not earned by our perfect moral life.  They are morally perfect but they are supplied as a gift by an outside party.  However, those white clothes do give me the confidence of forgiveness and worthiness before God–even in the mist of failure and embarrassment.     

Questions for Reflection

Is perfectionism preventing you from knowing yourself?

Is perfectionism locking you in a fixed mindset that prevents your growth as an educator?

I would love to know if you can identify with my experience or see this at work in your own practice.  Please leave me a comment below.