In the children’s book Ish, by Peter H. Reynolds, Ramon loves to draw the world around him. But his drawings never quite look “right.” Out of frustration, he throws down his pencil and throws in the towel. “I’m done.” But his little sister, Marisol, helps him see his art and the world with new eyes. Perhaps his vase of flowers doesn’t look exactly like a vase of flowers. But she helps Ramon see that the drawing looks “vase-ish!” His ish way of thinking inspires ish art and ish writing. He isn’t sure if he is writing real poems, but he knows that they are “poem-ish.”
It is through trust that we can honor approximation in ourselves and in our students. It is through agency that we are empowered to question, grapple, interrogate and take risks. It is through identity reinvention that we are privileged to begin anew each day, each month and each year. Our professional spirit is awakened, our hearts and minds come alive and we nurture each other on our journey of becoming when we engage on this shared voyage of rediscovery.
When we encourage the teachers we work with to honor approximation, we create conditions of trust. They are more apt to try on new identities, welcome new potentials and reach for that point of tension where learning occurs and new ideas blend into practice. And of equal importance, they are more apt to empower their students to do the same! A recent curricular conversation among teachers addressed the need to avoid the term “accept” when considering the ever important journey of approximation. We prefer to “honor” approximation. Approximation is not a destination, but a place we must journey through in pursuit of higher ground.
Many years ago, when we were in our first year of Zaharis School, the level of discomfort among teachers was sky-high. They were frustrated, overwhelmed, and a few wanted to respond as Ramon did, by throwing in their metaphoric towels. Teaching through an inquiry-based approach and creating curriculum alongside children, we discovered, is way more challenging than following a scripted curriculum. I responded by asking our secretary to, without notice, speak into the silence and randomly select times when students were not in the building to read the following quote over the school intercom:
"Accept approximation in yourself as you accept it in your students. Good teaching takes time. We must be patient with ourselves as well as with our students as we make our way. We are all learners.” -Ralph Peterson and Maryann Eeds, Grand Conversations
Yes, good teaching takes time. Teachers and students need to honor approximation in their learning journey. And principals need to create conditions where trust abounds and agency is fostered.