My first teaching job was in a little school in Devonport on Auckland's North shore. It's a beautiful place with an eclectic community of artists, entrepreneurs, and professionals who want to be close to the beach and the city, whilst experiencing the country village feel. The parents and children were very diverse and this made it an amazing place to start my career. The school was an open-plan classroom concept with multiple teachers in one class. I started in a room with 6 and 7 year olds and I shared the 30 something students with an experienced teacher who was close to retirement. (My zealous and naive nature may have helped push her that way) . Her name was Myra, and she was extraordinary. I could not have had a better introduction to teaching. The class was set up with a number of workstations set up around the room. There was the card making area, the postoffice, the little book zone, the painting table, craft table and so on. In between lessons and in sit down mat time the students would have opportunities to choose how they presented their work. While one child would write their story as a big card, their friend would be publishing a book and their other friend would be making a puppet that represented a character. There were post-it notes and scrap pieces of paper to record notes and designs on and it all simply worked.
The students knew the instructions for each workstation and they knew how to make the most of the materials. Every couple of weeks a new station would be added, and everyone would learn how to use it. Students would discuss how they could use the materials and what they could learn or express by using them. And so it was, a classroom with vibrant learning, student ownership, fresh ideas, inquiry and excitement. Students were on task, motivated and enthusiastic. The room held a rich culture of discussion, sharing and reflection and the students were quick to learn new skills and adapt them into their own tool kit of expressions and activities.
I've always tried to keep to the spirit of what I learned in those first 16 weeks with Myra. I have found that the open, almost 'junkshop' feel of a room where students can choose and explore and experiment, brings with it a natural spirit of innovation, creativity and confidence. Even though the learning objective might have been to 'write a haiku' and present it in a way that represents the theme...
The fact that one student could simply write a page in their notebook, whilst the other was free to write it as a letter, or as an inscription on a gift box means that students were not only interacting with their learning in dynamic new ways... they were also interacting and learning from each other in new ways. It lifts the burden of teaching off the teacher and puts it squarely in the center of the classroom environment and culture where it belongs.
Have an amazing day