On Wednesday morning, I had a crystalline moment of clairvoyance. I was the Oracle, and my classroom, the Matrix.
Seven sixth graders and I crowded at a round table to start our day with shared reading. I noticed the student to my left had a plastic cup of milky purplish punch dotted with stray blueberries. The thought suddenly occurred to me: "That cup is getting knocked over before we leave the table." Sure enough, the student who owned the beverage reached to draw the name of the next reader from a cup of labeled Popsicle sticks and, in the process, sideswiped the drink, spilling the juice and scattering the blueberries. Panic ensued -- nothing that couldn't be assuaged by a quickly procured roll of paper towels plus a carton of wet wipes.
Though I had no doubt that messy circumstance would come to pass, I did nothing to stop it. I didn't tell the student to park the cup elsewhere until later; I didn't demand the student finish breakfast before joining our reading circle; I didn't outright forbid the consumption of punch in class.
In hindsight, I wondered the kind of question that, to quote the Oracle herself, will surely "bake your noodle": Would any of those interventions have taught the student a better lesson than making a mess and cleaning it up? I remain hopeful that time will tell. Meanwhile, I recently finished reading Jessica Lahey's The Gift of Failure, and (another Oracular pronouncement!) I think I know what she'd say.