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Leah Thomas

I have always been an advocate for deadlines. I know many teacher and artist peers feel the same. Though we may resent them when we’re nearing the finish line, simply having that definite line to run toward helps us be productive as human beings. Would we get our grading done on time if we didn’t have report cards due? Would students finish their final drafts or backdrops without a presentation date?

Natural deadlines present themselves frequently during the course of the school year. It is very easy to latch onto a school cultural fair, an open house, a school break, or a final performance as a deadline for an arts integration project. Often when CoTA artists meet with teachers, we work within this framework because both parties are aware of how chaotic a semester can become without checkpoints.

But there is a negative cost to this mindset. Any teacher or artist can tell you that work, especially creative work, is never really finished. While it might be helpful to say, “We’ll have that canvas covered by May!”, we should all consider what’s lost when that thirst for finality comes into play. Certainly, when pressed with a deadline, students usually get the work done. But how is the work altered?

The constraints of deadlines, while necessary to a classroom environment, can have a detrimental impact on the creative process. How much exploration might a student have done with collage, granted more time? How much more revision might take place if we never told students their drafts were “final” ones?

I’m not suggesting we abandon deadlines. But we might consider shifting our expectations of what the word “deadline” means. As always, we should shift the focus in the modern classroom away from product and toward process. If students haven’t finished their sculptures in time for an open house, that need not be a negative. Work has value even before it is finished, and that should be celebrated.

Of course, this sort of thinking requires a daunting shift in mindset that is unlikely to happen on a large scale any time soon, and may not be something parents embrace, either. But the shift in your classroom doesn’t have to be an extreme one. Try billing an open house as a “behind-the-scenes” workshop, or a “WIP gallery” from time to time. Students will spend their lives being taught that things have endings; can’t we let them know, now and then, that even after the deadline passes, creativity can and should carry on?