Elegance in the Classroom & Beyond

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It’s that time of year when I dearly miss the excitement of going back to school. I loved school so much that I became a teacher myself. For nearly thirty years, I taught literature, language arts, and social studies to middle school students. I went into teaching understanding the power of knowledge, but it was in my classroom I discovered the power of elegance.

Over the years, I learned how simple elegant touches, such as a vase of fresh flowers, well-organized spaces, and a warm smile, could dramatically improve the academic performance, behavior, and well-being of everyone who entered my classroom.

My simple theory is this – if attention to elegance can so positively affect a middle school classroom, it can have a similar impact on our personal lives, our communities, and our world.

There were four words that helped me create an elegant classroom – simple, wise, attractive, and nice. These words just happen to form an acronym for the word swan. Let’s look at these words and consider how they can be applied to any community, not just a classroom.

SimpleChaos can reign in a classroom, but there are ways to bring more calm and serenity. In the same way, simplicity can be achieved in any home, small business, or large corporation. Organization and tranquility can lead to better outcomes. Bruce Lee said, “Simplicity is the key to brilliance.”

Wise – No matter our age, every day is a chance to learn something new. We can gain wisdom by reading quality literature, attending lectures, seeking out the arts, trying new things, and listening to others. The more we are individually informed and empowered to make wise decisions, the more elegant our communities will become. Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “The real safeguard of democracy is education.”

Attractive – Attention to beauty is not frivolous or unimportant. Beauty can be inspiring, and an effort to make things more attractive for others can make people feel valued, respected, and motivated. Thomas Jefferson said, “Communities should be planned with an eye to effect on the human spirit of being continually surrounded by a maximum of beauty.”

Nice – Being nice might seem incredibly simple, but it is also incredibly powerful. Just imagine how our communities could benefit from more respectful, tolerant, and polite behavior. Coretta Scott King said, “The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.”

If an ordinary middle school classroom, filled with raging pubescent hormones and a diverse population, can benefit from attention to elegance, I believe it can help create more harmony and success in our personal lives and in all of the communities in which we live and work.

My heart is with the teachers as they head back to school this year. The work they do all day, every day is nothing short of miraculous. Classrooms are microcosms of the world at large, and the ability to create a culture of excellence and elegance within those walls can be an inspiration for us all. §

“I realized if you can change a classroom, you can change a community, and if you change enough communities you can change the world.”
Erin Gruwell, teacher who inspired the 2007 movie
Freedom Writers

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