”We have to make safe places for students to take creative risks, and trust students in those places.”
I remember taking a risk in 6th grade art, though at the time, I didn’t know I was. Using British English to title my drawing “Colour Tower” made perfect sense to me. I was reading the Chronicles of Narnia at the time, and thought it was cool how the words were spelled differently than I was used to. The word “colour” felt exotic to me – like much more vibrant colors emerged when you spelled it that way.
As soon as my “Colour Tower” was hanging in the hallway at school, the disgusted-sounding taunts began. “Doesn’t Katie know how to spell? That’s stupid.”
I never had a chance to explain myself, and I didn’t want to. I felt embarrassed and ashamed. I stopped spelling the word color with the letter U, and my world became a little less bright. For girls, creative risk-taking in middle school can be wildly terrifying. But, some girls don’t just stop using the letter U to spell new words in middle school – worse things happen. They can stop leaning into their academic talents and using the power of their minds coupled with the power of their hearts. Their true passions can become secretive and hidden. They sometimes stay locked for years, or never get unlocked at all. That’s painful.
I think I was one of these middle school girls, too. How was I ever going to lean into my own talents, when I was obsessed with matching what I saw everyone else doing? It was easier to conform than to try something new and risk feeling embarrassed. ((Having said that, I did want to be a spy in 7th grade. For a while I carried around a bag with a 110 film camera, mirrors for looking around corners, and a notebook. Mostly I did this with my best friend in her forest, but once I brought the bag to school. Although no one knew I was a spy. Because, well, that was the point.))
How can we help more middle school girls feel confident to take creative risks?
We have to make it less unusual for a middle school girl to do something different from her peers, and that starts with us doing something different for our students. We have to make safe places for students to take creative risks, and trust students in those places.
While I don’t believe tools themselves solve the problems we are talking about, trusting students to take creative risks with tools they may never before have used can have a profound impact on their life.
You don’t always need tools to help inspire confidence, but there are some good ones that can help. They are beginner-friendly and cost as little as $15 per kit, but the possibilities are endless. They rely on students’ minds and hearts to bring them to life.
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