Thursday, September 22, 2022

The Theme of Our Work

I studied math and computer science in college, not literature or writing. I have always loved  reading books of all types, though, and I have more recently tried my hand at writing fiction. 

One concept I hadn't considered much until I began writing is theme. Once I came to understand it better, I realized it was a source of most of my fascination with great stories over the years. It was a subtle, unstated message buried in every scene. It hinted at purpose beyond just the events I was reading or (in the case of my favorite movies) watching.

Here's a definition of theme from For our purposes, especially notice the sentences in bold.

"As a literary device, theme refers to the central, deeper meaning of a written work. Writers typically will convey the theme of their work, and allow the reader to perceive and interpret it, rather than overtly or directly state the theme. As readers infer, reflect, and analyze a literary theme, they develop a greater understanding of the work itself and can apply this understanding beyond the literary work as a means of grasping a better sense of the world. Theme is often what creates a memorable and significant experience of a literary work for the reader."

So I think of theme as a message the author is saying without saying it. It's the "why" woven through everything. I particularly like the idea from this definition that it can make a story memorable and give us a better sense of the world.

So when it comes to teaching like an artist, let's think about the theme of our work as educators. If you're a teacher, what is the overall theme of your classroom? If you asked your students that question, would they have the same answer as you do?

If you're a principal, what's the theme of your building? What overall message comes through the day to day routines and activities that take place through every classroom? What would your teachers and students say the theme is?

I would hope the theme of my work is that every learner (including those of us paid to be at the school) should find their passion and purpose, then do their best work from the energy they provide.

Some other questions to consider as we reflect on this:

  • Should we state our theme explicitly? Or should we do our best work and let those who benefit from it find the theme with their hearts? 
  • How can we know the theme we hope to convey is coming through? What indicators will we see and hear?
  • Is the message of my theme for every learner I encounter in my work? Is anyone being left out?
  • If the learners I work with are getting a different message from my work, how can I address that?