Through the Eyes of an Educator: Messy is normal

by Stacey Ebert /
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Oct 03, 2022 / 0 comments

Growing up, I wanted to have that perfect penmanship. Taking notes in high school found me pressing hard enough with my pen to ensure I could feel the ink on the back of the paper, have evenly spaced letters and words, and quite literally rip out a page if I had to scribble out a letter. Needless to say, I had no idea then how much pressure and anxiety I caused myself in the process of seeking that perfect penmanship. 

Perhaps we all put unreasonable expectations on ourselves at times, hold ourselves to standards that, while attainable, require our most targeted focus—or even at times are quite literally nuts! The one who suffers most? Well, it’s us. 

Today, I work to know better every day, to remember that as we are, we are enough, and each of our unique and often messy hearts are vital, valid, and valuable. 

Through the Eyes of an Educator: Messy is normal

I recently had a conversation with a friend about sunflowers. She reminded me of their heliotropic nature (leaning in the direction of sunlight), that they bloom when they are ready and no sooner, that some petals fall while others remain, that never are they symmetrical—in fact, they’re altogether messy...and that is quite literally part of what makes them beautiful. It was eye-opening. 

Of course, many of us have taken sunflowers to mean growth, abundance, grace, strength, and of course the flower of Ukraine. However, I don’t think I ever coupled the idea of that messy nature with their wonder; now, I truly believe it’s part of what makes them magical. 

Through the Eyes of an Educator: Messy is normal

Life is far closer to the messy beauty of a sunflower than it is to the perfectly pressed penmanship on paper. Life has ebbs and flows, stressful moments and healing calm, reactions, responses, pauses, excitement, joy, anxiety, hope, and a million other messy moments in between. 

Whether you’re used to the chaos or the calm, what’s significant is knowing how to cope amidst the fluctuating flow. 

From early childhood, we teach our students reading, writing, and arithmetic. As they progress, we weave in science and social studies, languages other than their first, music, tech, physical education, and culinary arts. Recently, more and more spaces of education are beginning to instill social emotional learning, with kindness, compassion, and empathy at the forefront. 

Often those other important life things and well-being aspects are left to after school activities, guidance counselors, social workers, youth groups, sports, summer camps, volunteer activities, informal educators, and, of course, family members. 

What if we infused that other life stuff all along?

What if we worked on those moments of perfectionism, anxiety, and overwhelm along with pausing, finding our own feet, and allowing those thoughts to flow freely without stopping us cold in our tracks? What if instead of hours of textbook work and rigorous test anxiety, we threaded in focusing on growth, that failure is a gift, and that learning to breathe through life’s moments is an ageless life skill? 

While neither meditation, yoga, nor forest bathing is yet part of every school curriculum, the countless tools for coping, pausing, and working on those anxiety spikes that too often flip our worlds on their collective heads help to build young humans who become emotionally healthy adults. 

Whether we call them tools for a toolbox, tricks of the trade, coping mechanisms, or straight up life skills, we need them. 

We are made for far more than survival. 

In order to reach those heights of flourishing and thriving, that well-being component is critical. Sure, the books, podcasts, retreats, yoga classes, therapies, healing circles, and like-minded humans are vital to continued personal development, but knowing how to access those things is half the battle. 

Why wait until adulthood when responsibility takes center stage to first start learning these skills? Can you imagine how much more centered we might feel if we learned at an early age how to manage those frustrations, know that the ebbs will eventually come along with the flows, and channel our calm amidst the chaos? 

Through the Eyes of an Educator: Messy is normal

Amidst learning to cook, add, and treat people with kindness, let’s include coping mechanisms and wellness tools to the broad spectrum of education. Let’s help build a population of people who realize that messy is normal, beauty is far more than skin deep, and that, like the sunflower,growing at your own speed amidst the messy creates a life of strength to navigate the waves and winds, and one that leans toward sunlight.

5 ways to infuse wellbeing & growth methods to everyday learning

Through the Eyes of an Educator: Messy is normal

Say yes more

Toddlers put their fingers on and in everything. They take chances, have no fear, and after falling down a million times—continue to get back up a million and one. There is no failure in the world of a toddler! Yet, as we grow, those fears show up, we shy away from things/activities that might hold our interest for fear of failure, or even lean into that dreaded imposter syndrome. 

Saying yes, taking a chance, believing in the possibilities, and giving yourself the opportunity to try is success. Join the club, try the sport, enter the contest, write the book, learn to code, take the class! Each time you try, you open your mind to the new, elevate your hope muscles, and entertain the potential possibility to soar. If it’s not right, if it’s not for you, or even if there’s a rejection or a loss, entering, showing up, and taking the shot can lead you on endless adventures of growth.

Through the Eyes of an Educator: Messy is normal

Rest often

Heaps of education and parenting blogs discuss the overscheduling of today’s kids. School curricula pack schedules, after school hours are chock full of things, and often we find our work/life balance out of whack from the get go. 

Some cultures, like the Finnish educational system, choose a different route. Play remains as a core element of schooling for far longer, learning is facilitated in lieu of rote memorization, and often students can choose to explore avenues of their own interest. 

We learn that being busy is a good thing and often have to unlearn it later on. Take time to’s a good thing! Perhaps that is reading a book, going for a walk, enjoying an enriching cultural experience, taking a nap, or quite literally choosing rest over activity. 

The art of learning to step away from the fray is crucial to flourishing and thriving. We can’t fill others’ cups from an empty one ourselves. Learning to rest will be a lifelong skill that we can utilize whenever the world feels like it’s a little too much.

Through the Eyes of an Educator: Messy is normal

Take a pause

When life feels overwhelming, our reactions immediate, and our anxiety high, a pause, a breath, a moment is a game changer. Today, kids grow up in a 24/7 media world where everyone is always reachable, constant contact is a thing, and we’re taught to always be accessible. It’s rare to find tweenagers without phones, and there are few places where kids ride their bikes or walk to a friend’s house without the ability to connect to the outside world. 

We’re conditioned to answer the phone when it rings, immediately respond to the email, and be available at the world’s beck and call. We are not automated technology, we are not data points on a spreadsheet. 

Learn to step away for a moment, take a breath or five before responding, turn off the computer at day’s end, and give yourself permission to breathe. 

Knowing that those breaths are always there to guide you is a priceless tool accessible to all of us any time we wish.

Through the Eyes of an Educator: Messy is normal

Practice kindness

Whether you follow a particular life philosophy, worldly religion, or have a mantra to be a good human, kindness is key to it all. The Golden Rule teaches to treat others as you’d like to be treated, and whether we’re learning to share our toys in preschool, join a lone student at lunch, treat a stranger to a warm meal, or offer a hand to a friend, it all matters. 

Each avenue of kindness expands our hearts a bit, spreads compassion, channels empathy, and opens our minds to a world bigger than our own. 

Choosing to be a part of a wider community than that which circulates in our own minds is a tool that allows us to see the world beyond ourselves. Kindness softens the heart, expands our capacity to care, and makes us better people. Cultivating kindness from a young age builds better humans who do good in their corner of the globe. With each act, we grow.

Through the Eyes of an Educator: Messy is normal

Follow your heart

What interests us at five might be different at fifteen, forty, or eighty. At a young age, we might feel constrained about what courses to take in school, our direction after that ends, or our ability or inability to change our minds or shift course. Whether it’s something that fuels a passion, stokes an interest, or can actually pay the bills, it’s all an option. You can dream it, find a community to share that dream, focus your energy, and give your heart access to that dream. 

When I forget that, I remember people who I know who have done just that, and if I don’t know them directly, often those in the public eye can fit the bill. Renowned writers received heaps of rejection before making it big, people who were told they’d never walk again today run marathons, musicians groomed from a young age shift directions to open restaurants, those on a traditional path cut the cord and travel the world, and doctors shift to become astronauts. 

It’s all possible—and trying those new things, channeling hope, knowing that you matter, and that you can do both hard things and those you adore—these are the hallmarks of a well-balanced wellbeing.

Through the Eyes of an Educator: Messy is normal


Please click the photo below for a collection of my Through the Eyes of an Educator columns:

Through the Eyes of an Educator: A Compendium


Stacey Ebert, our Educational Travels Editor, is a traveler at heart who met her Australian-born husband while on a trip in New Zealand. Stacey was an extracurricular advisor and taught history in a Long Island public high school for over fifteen years, enjoying both the formal and informal educational practices. After a one year 'round the world honeymoon, travel and its many gifts changed her perspective. She has since left the educational world to focus on writing and travel. She is energetic and enthusiastic about long term travel, finding what makes you happy and making the leap. In her spare time she is an event planner, yogi, dark chocolate lover, and spends as much time as possible with her toes in the sand.

Check out her website at for more of her travel musings.