Fresh pencils, crisp notebooks, brightly colored binders, and warm smiles grace the halls of our schools every August. During these months, I have noticed several social media posts that display the hard work that teachers do in preparing for the start of the academic year. Without a doubt, August is one of the busiest times of the year for teachers, which can include purchasing supplies, decorating their classrooms, and organizing spaces for learning. I remember those days as a K-12 classroom teacher, and I relive those moments when viewing the social media posts of my teacher friends and prior university students’ K-12 classrooms.
Although I have not viewed a significant amount of posts that display student work, I know that many of these classrooms will adhere to educational literature that defines good classroom environments as those that demonstrate attention to showcasing the work of their students. I used to be one of these teachers, until the day I recognized a student named Luke in my class. Luke was a student who struggled with fine motor abilities. His work neither modeled the example of the teacher, nor did it model the work of his best friend. At the age of 7, Luke’s work resembled that of a preschool student. Luke’s cognitive skills were at or above the average seven-year-old, but his fine motor skills were significantly below his peers. As a teacher, I praised his work and provided him with tools and accommodations that assisted his skill development. And yet, I still missed an important aspect of creating an optimal learning environment.
In my previous early childhood classroom, we had an assignment that asked students to create a portrait of their home (notice that I did not say “house” because the definition of a “home” is a different reality for all children). With this assignment, the children were asked to bring in a picture of their home to aid the drawing stage. Following the completion of the activity, all students had their work posted with cutely made labels that stated their name next to the drawing. Based on educational literature, one would assume that every child would beam with pride when s/he saw their drawing on the wall. Displaying student work was intended to bring connection to home and school, personal satisfaction, and shared ownership of the classroom environment.
As you might be guessing, Luke did not float in a sea of personal satisfaction from the site of his work being displayed for all to see. In fact, Luke was shamed, mocked, and made to feel like a failure by some of his classmates. After Luke informed me what was happening during private conversations with his friends, I quickly addressed and resolved the situation, yet, the story has remained in my mind for several years. It was just one of the many situations that made me question some of the “best practices” that educational literature suggests when creating a positive learning environment for our most vulnerable population of students.