Each year on the Friday before school starts, all of the students come to a meet the teacher event that we call Muffin Morning. Anyone who has ever been a classroom teacher knows this is an electric occurrence that includes equal amounts of excitement and anxiousness for teacher, student, and parent alike.
Four years ago when I first became a classroom teacher, I was introduced to a tradition that my fourth grade team has. On Muffin Morning as the children explore their new classroom, reconnect with friends they haven't seen since the end of May, and put away their new supplies, I am busy applying bold colors of tempera paint to each student's hand, which they then apply to the large closet doors at the front of the room.
These hand prints remain all year, and the kids often place their hands over their original print each time we line up reminding them of one small way they have grown that year. This also acts as my first opportunity to connect with them one on one.
This year one my boys walked up. We exchanged pleasantries, shook hands, began talking about his summer and approached the paint. I asked him which color he wanted. He examined his choices and looked up and posed a question that has already changed the entire way I want to approach this year. He asked, "Mr. Lofgren, can I have both colors?"
My very first reaction was no. I had a clear vision in my mind of how I wanted this very focal point of my classroom to look. No one has ever painted their hand in multiple colors. If I allow this child to paint his hand in multiple colors every kid who comes after him will want some variation of this radical-ness applied to their print.
I literally had to stop myself from saying no. It might have been the best decision I will make all year. I said sure you can, and we painted half of his hand in candy apple green and the other half with a rich teal blue. As he pressed his hand to the cabinet I told his parents that the art teacher had already told me about how their son takes many creative risks in his work, and that no one in any class as long as I have been there has ever even asked to have multiple colors. As he removed his hand to reveal his product the entire group that was gathered around waited to see the result.
It was brilliant, and exactly as I had predicted, nearly every child who came after him wanted a variation of the two color layout. Two girls painted their hand using an opposing color pattern and placed them right next each other, creating a larger pattern.
Reflecting on this, it seems to me to be an obvious request. It is actually amazing to me that no one has ever asked me before to use more than color. Metaphorically though it is a clear depiction of innovation. A brave person, proposes a risky new idea, that works, and in turn it starts a movement in a new direction. There is one more step in that progression though. It was my contribution to the process. I represented the establishment in this scenerio that has lived inside a certain paradigm for x number of iterations who didn't say no. I could have so easily said, "No lets just stick to one color, it will probably be a big mess anyway."
I really like and had decided to adopt @mattbgomez's one classroom rule. Be brave. If you are going to have only one rule you better be ready to follow it yourself. I am going to be brave this year and try to have a "yes" year.