Yes, Virginia, There’s a Standard for That!

15 12 2011

My school’s Outdoor Classroom Committee decided to try something new this year. To get our students outside (our motto is “No child left inside”) and also encourage the use of our Outdoor Classroom, we decided that we would hold a Wildlife Tree Decorating Contest. We would have six designated bushes in the Outdoor Classroom, one for each grade level, and the week before school let out for the holidays, classes would decorate each bush with edible ornaments, you know, like peanut butter pinecones and popcorn chains. Our special area teachers would serve as judges and pick which grade level had the best-decorated tree. Students would do a creative holiday activity, the birds and other critters would enjoy a special treat, and our students and teachers would get outside to enjoy the Outdoor Classroom. A win-win situation. A no-brainer, you would think.

Then two weeks before the contest, a teacher posed the question: “Is there a standard for that?” Good question.

Our careers as teachers seemingly revolve around The Standards. We teach The Standards. We display The Standards. We speak The Standards. We test The Standards. It’s not an exaggeration to say that our curriculum is driven by The Standards. So I understood where the teacher was coming from with her question.

I went home that evening baffled, flummoxed, and bamboozled. (That’s ELA Standard 5-3 :The student will use word analysis and vocabulary strategies to read fluently.) I pored over the Science Standards. Was it Science Standard Indicator 5-2.4: Identify the roles of organisms as they interact and depend on one another through food chains and food webs in an ecosystem, considering producers and consumers (herbivores, carnivores, and omnivores), decomposers (microorganisms, termites, worms, and fungi), predators and prey, and parasites and hosts? Or was Science Standard Indicator 5-2.5: Explain how limiting factors (including food, water, space, and shelter) affect populations in ecosystems a better fit?

The more I pondered, the more I wondered if I were looking in the wrong place. The main objective of this activity was not to be found in the state standards, the national standards, or even (gasp) the Core Curriculum. No, the main objective of decorating these Wildlife Trees was pure and simple: JOY. Kids creatively engaged in making something, not for themselves, but for other creatures. And having fun while doing it (perish the thought).

I think too often as a teacher I get so focused on The Standards that I fail to remember that Joy and Fun are important too. That giving of oneself taps into that sweet side of our human spirit. That thinking of others can take us farther than mastering Math Standard Indicator 5-3.4: Identify applications of commutative, associative, and distributive properties with whole numbers. Really.

So, yes, Virginia, there is a standard for that. You’re not going to find it in any textbook. You won’t find it on the State Department web site. It not even at the Department of Education in Washington, D.C. It’s on a much higher level than that. It’s a Standard for Living: to find joy and pleasure in doing for others. This holiday season (dare I say, Christmas?), I’ll leave you with the words of Three Dog Night,

“Joy to the world

All the boys and girls

Joy to the fishes in the deep blue sea

Joy to you and me.”