Finding the Joy in Progress

I’m not  a painter by trade, but I play one at home.  Each time we want to liven up one of the rooms in our little 1903 bungalow, the drop cloths fall and the dream begins.   Early last year, as spring had put winter to sleep, my new painting gig was the bedroom.  It had been 7 years coming, the dreadful rusty red colors on the walls  lingering around since we bought the house.  Wanting a new color scheme, we decided to freshen up the room with a coat of light grey complemented by one blue wall.  This was to be no easy paint job; the walls would need to be primed before the magical transformation could even begin.

As painting goes, and for that matter most things in life, when you stand too close to what you are doing and don’t step back to take a look at the big picture, you miss the many opportunities to feel joy in your progress.  Staring at the wall you are  painting for an hour does nothing for your painting esteem if you don’t step back to look at your masterpiece and see the color jumping off and taking shape.  “I can do this…won’t this be a nice change?” won’t cross your mind until you make it routine to marvel at the progress.

I was recently reminded of this as I was working with a teacher who was looking at her students’ reading data.  She was looking at the scores, and, feeling discouraged by the numbers, put her questions on the table.  “How am I going to adjust my teaching so that I can get my students to know more of their letters and sounds?  I can’t seem to get these 5 students to be able to rhyme. What if I do some more isolated work for these readers?”

Too often in our pursuit to grow readers, we stand too close to the wall.  We get intoxicated by the fumes and the joy is no where to be found.  When we look at the data, the numbers, does it give us the whole picture?  Are we focusing on the streaks we see when we scan the wall with a strobe light and forget to see the beauty in the progress of the goal when we step back?  What message do we unintentionally give our readers working so hard to create meaning?

As the teacher and I put away the strobe light, we saw the readers’ growth from a different perspective.  We couldn’t help but notice it wasn’t just the most recent piece of quantitative data we needed to look at.  We stood back and looked at the data with the whole picture in mind. We couldn’t help but find joy in the progress.  We were able to say:  “Look how much this reader has grown over time. I know this piece of data suggests that rhyming is difficult, but I know this isn’t true when we are reading together in class.  Maybe, just maybe, I don’t have to teach these parts in isolation–I can keep on teaching these foundational skills in context and the next time I reflect on the data, I’ll see even more growth over time.”

It takes time to paint a room.  It takes even more time to grow readers.  When we look at the whole picture, and help readers see the whole picture, joy and determination will flourish.

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