The Artful Do-Over

By Diane M. Miller, Ph.D., TCTELA President

One of things I treasure most about teaching is the powerful do-over that we get each year (or even each semester).  We push our students to be lifelong learners, of course, but it is incumbent upon us to emulate that eternal sense of wonderment and discovery.  I always tell my students—pre-service teachers—that a reflective novice is a better teacher than a stagnant veteran.  Each year should be viewed as an opportunity to research the latest best practices, fine-tune your classroom environment, enrich the diversity of your classroom library, and more authentically support your students’ learning.  Experience is valuable only when the power of the do-over is embraced!

In The Numberlys, William Joyce and Christina Ellis (2014) graphically narrate the ultimate do-over in a picture book that would be a perfect read-aloud to kick off your year.  In the beginning, we encounter an orderly, numbers-only, gray world without “books or colors or jellybeans or pizza.”  Next, we are introduced to five friends who are “wondering if they could do something…MORE.”  Dissatisfied with the status quo, the friends embark upon a project to create something “DIFFERENT.” At first, their results are “awful,” but with hard work, they produce something “artful.”  When the friends share their newly created alphabet, they fill their gray world with multi-colored, lexical “amazements.”  At the end of their very industrious day, they are able to rest, proud of their “something new, something different, something more.”

Each new year of teaching provides teachers an opportunity to accomplish this type of transformative work.  What will you learn with your do-over this year?  While we may not create alphabetic metamorphoses, we do teach children to read, write, think, and contribute to their worlds in meaningful ways.  Here’s the thing:  we are doing that work, year after year, in shifting worlds.  That is where the do-over concept comes in.  Last year was not wrong, necessarily, but how will you push yourself to make this year the best it can be with an ever-changing set of variables?   

The upcoming year brings new boundaries to cross, new topics to explore, new distractions to mitigate, new learners to inspire. In her influential book The Right to Learn, Linda Darling-Hammond (1997) argues that diversity in our classrooms—in curriculum, texts, experiences, and people—empowers students’ thinking and participation in society.  She advocates a multicultural approach, noting that such work can “help students to develop an analytic frame for life in a democracy, seeing problems and ideas from many vantage points” (p. 126).  In the current atmosphere of inflammatory tweets, fake news, and shifting loyalties, our students must be equipped for “analytic” lifelong learning.  As I consider Darling-Hammond’s words, I can hear song lyrics: “What the world needs now…” (David & Bacharach, 1965).  

To make this year’s do-over more “artful” than “awful,” consider ways in which you will recognize and embrace the various lenses, diverse voices, and multiple pathways inherent in our Texas classrooms.  


 Darling-Hammond, L. (1997). The right to learn: A blueprint for creating schools that work. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

 Joyce, W., & Ellis, C. (2014). The numberlys. New York: Moonbot/Atheneum.

 David, H., & Bacharach, B. (1965). What the world needs now is love [Recorded by J. DeShannon]. On This is Jackie DeShannon [Album]. New York: Imperial Records.