Ok, I admit it! I struggle with perfectionism. It’s a sickness! To me the 80-20 Rule is akin to the Persian Flaw, a long-ago idea that only God (or Allah) was perfect therefore the artists of the time introduced imperfections so as to not offend the Divine Sensibility.
My Own Persian Flaw
I remember when I was in college and had my critiques for my art classes. Frankly, there were times I just didn’t want to hear it. “Fix this” … “Does this really work?” … “Good effort, but…” I know I needed the feedback, but sometimes there were projects that I really could care less about. So, I introduced intrinsic and obvious mistakes into my work to see if I could make the critique process go faster. Often times, it worked. My professor would go towards the mistake(s) like they were a zit on a prom queen’s forehead. It was a beautiful thing, or so I thought.
Kids and Perfectionism
Teaching K-3 students has shown me how my perfectionism can hurt my students. (Actually, being a parent did this first, but that’s another story!) As I transitioned from middle and high school to the youngest of the elementary ages, it has opened my eyes and, truth be told, challenged me in ways that teaching older students did not:
- There is (a lot) less class time with the kids
- Growth is slower (sometimes painfully slow)
- Outcomes are less polished
- Parents expect their kid to always get an ‘A’ (“Well, they tried isn’t that good enough?”)
- Administrators often expect you to churn out artwork
At the end of the day, I need to remember it’s not about me, the parents, or my administration. It’s about the kids who I am blessed with serving. I’m ashamed at times that I forget that message. My students need my encouragement. Some are easily motivated. Others easily disengaged. Regardless, they all need to feel successful in my class.
But does that mean I need to or should let them off the hook when it comes to quality work? Do I want my students to pull the same trick on their art teachers when they are in middle school or high school that I did in college because they do not want to handle meaningful criticism? Because that’s what driving kids to perfectionism does: it strips them of a life of learning where criticism is not meaningful, but a reminder that what they’ve done isn’t good enough.
Quality at the Elementary Age
While I believe art is like every other subject and needs to be taught with rigor, I am becoming more aware of the delicate balance between challenging my students and pushing them to perfection. Each student must come to a place of their own leveling so they can see where they have come from and the possibilities of what they can attain. If you have battled perfectionism in your own life, you know its roots runs deep because the seed is planted early and, often times, unknowingly nurtured over the years in both the home and school.
But does quality mean perfect? Of course not. Sadly, though, students can perceive it that way (especially when they are deeply invested in the outcome). Over the last month or so, I have taken steps to be more thoughtful when conferencing with my students:
- Being mindful of the language I use
- Monitoring my body language
- Neutralizing my tone of voice
- Finding something successful that they are doing (either in their work or attitude)
When ‘Good Enough’ is not Good Enough
Do I tell my students when I believe something is not working in their art? Yes, I do. Let’s face it, sometimes the work students do is not up to par. It is shoddy and needs critique. Sometimes it even demands to be started over. The goal for me at that moment, though, is that they see their work as one step of a journey. I try to give them a language for seeing change as a good thing; something that feeds their brain and nurtures their soul. I think it is a message we all need to hear so we come to understand how and when to apply that 80-20 Rule.
Do your students struggle with perfectionism? If so, how do you help them?