Whether you call it the 'third teacher' or simply your 'classroom'... the space where learning happens is an essential part of all teaching practice. It is often underestimated in it's use and can be one place that we allow to be hijacked by one or many factors. In this post I wanted to highlight just a few challenges, and then, hopefully offer one practice that might help to overcome all of these.
Inflexibility (Faith in your first idea)
As a teacher it is great to be passionate. Every first year teacher I meet is always overflowing with this passion. Enthusiastically staying in their classroom as late as they are allowed, printing signs, creating resources, making their walls look beautiful and moving furniture. They are deeply convicted by what they are creating and will often defend their ideas, late nights and spent salary to the death. This is a wonderful zeal... and it always impresses me when I mean a more experienced teacher with the same level of conviction. The danger of this is when these teachers, directors or studio owners fail to reflect on the room design, and don't change or redirect their ideas in response to their students or new challenges. It is often said that every bad and rigid idea once began as innovation. It is our responsibility to recognise when we need to change and adapt... this isn't a sign of our ideas failing, it's a sign of growth.
"oh!... These kids don't"...
When I began as an art teacher, I meticulously set my room up (the above image). It was beautiful and creative and exactly what I had pictured, and the kids loved it! EXCEPT.... they kept fighting. Every lesson, when I sent them off to create, there would be fights by the sinks, arguing, pushing, silliness! there have been times when I would say "These kids....." "That class....." "They don't listen..." "They are so..." And then I realised... I had 330 students, in groups of 22 at a time in class, and up to 75 in the room at lunch times..., and the amazing area I had set up to collect paint brushes and materials, and pack them away, had space for maybe 5 children at the most.
I often run leadership training for churches and Schools, and one of the traps people find themselves in is the "My Kids (people, team, customers, parents, congregation, school) don't...."
A big reframing of that statement is "I haven't led my Kids (people, team, customers, parents, congregation, school) to..."
When designing a space, we need to consider, has our design or layout set them up to succeed of fail?... In the case of my brush layout... I had failed to provide space, and so the 8-12 year old students, were forced in to a position where they had to wait, be patient and take turns... Lovely in an ideal world... but we don't live in an ideal world, and rather than expect children to be at their best all of the time, we can create environments that scaffold them into that space.
Every Season is different
I teach a wide variety of students and classes. Their race, ethnicity, behaviour, cultural norms, learning needs and social needs are all different. Some children are more sensitive to sound, others, sight, some thrive in loud social environments, some thrive in quiet isolated environments. We need to be aware of this difference and be willing to change and adapt our ideologies to serve them. In the end... we have to serve our learners... they aren't here to serve us. In saying that, I am still a believer that teachers should express their strengths and passions in their environments.
All of the photos in this post come from my room designs, and they all represent me... they also represent my response to different seasons and students.
Just too busy
It's easy to get too bogged down in your to-do-list. Meaning to change something or fix the chipped paint, or repaint the wall, or move the furniture, but the days and weeks slip by... A job that would have taken 20 minutes in January, is still buried under the urgent in July. Adjusting your room, and your layout does not take too long if its a regular practice... It is essential, but, it often gets put in the 'tomorrow' or 'too hard pile' and as a result... the behaviour or class culture continues to be affected by an environmental issue rather than a 'kids centric' problem.
If the me of 10 years doesn't look at the me now, and give him advice, then I'm not growing...
So, after these thoughts and ramblings... here is my suggestion. Step back every 2 months. set yourself an afternoon, with a big sheet of paper, and sketch your layout. highlight the problem areas. list the areas where students get distracted, where the noise level becomes distracted, or where the behaviour just seems too hard to manage.
Ask yourself these questions....
- How could I move things?
- Do I have a good line of site?
- Are my expectations on student behaviour too high at the moment?
- If I made this area more accessible, closer to me... would this help them manage their behaviour?
- Is this space too distracting?
- Does this space represent my values?
- Does this inspire creativity?
- Does this layout encourage independence?
- Would this space make sense to a new learner?
- Could a new teacher find things easily?
- Does this make perfect sense to someone that is not me?
- If it isn't the student's fault... why is this behaviour happening?
- If it isn't the classes fault... why does this happen?
- What assumptions have I made... that aren't actually true?
- Is this safe?
- Students will run, wet the floor, slip, bump into each-other and so on... how have I reduced the risk of harm when this happens?
- Create your own questions too... and return back to this... make this as regular a practice as stocking up on coffee, and writing new units... It really does help, and it empowers you to be more reflective and aware of student needs, while embracing 'The Third Teacher'