Yesterday we had Student Led Conferences (where students bring in their parents to show them their work and their progress). I wondered how parents were going to react to the new look of our classroom. After all, no desks, some weird looking benches to sit on, and eclectic decorations that fell out of some yoga hut could raise some eyebrows. I thought that because it was so different from what they were used to, the parents might reject it outright.
When our first wave of parents came in, you could tell that they were really focussed on their child's work and weren't really paying attention to the decor (which, as an educator, you really want). And then, little by little, parents would walk in and say things to their child like, "Oh, so this is what you were talking about." From that I could tell that students had indeed talked it up a bit at home.
On the agenda of things to show their parents, I had students take their parents around the classroom, and also outside to the bulletin board. Out there, I had a big banner that said "The Big Idea Is: Take Your Learning Wherever You Go," and then an explanation of the reasoning behind the risers and the new look. (Actually, the text was an edited version of this blog). I also had reactions from each of the students (including, "Awesome!", "I love the risers." and "I like it, but sometimes I think it is a bit much"). My parents seemed to get the reasoning and told me so. In my guest book, the comments were all really positive about the conferences and the decor.
The really interesting reactions were from students and their parents who were not part of my classroom. There was curiosity, astonishment, confusion ("Where are your desks?") and wonder. A couple of students who used to attend my school (but not my class) who now attend middle school did not like the no desk approach. "I like having my own place to put my stuff," one boy said. I replied, "That's interesting. Especially as you move classrooms throughout the day way more than my students do." We had a good conversation and neither one of us managed to totally convince the other. I also had parents from the other classes drop by to have a look, parents who I've never talked to before. Their interest was, well, interesting. I don't know if I got across the idea that I was trying to "de-industrialize" education, but I got a lot of reaction, mostly positive.
My conclusion is, based on all of these reactions, people who know me, get me, so any weird thing I do is just part and parcel of my experimental, off-beat approach to teaching. Look at my students' initial reaction: quiet, curiosity, but no wild reaction. The parents mirrored this reaction especially once they understood the reasoning. I am hoping that all of this stems from the relationships I have built with my students and their parents. They know I will try just about anything to help learning. Some things work, and some things do not, but because some of the successful attempts are really successful or because my heart is in the right place, people are willing to give me the benefit of the doubt. It just reminds me that relationships and trust are so important. I am also trying to model some positive risk-taking. If it's not going to hurt anything, and it might effect a positive change, why not try it?
Though this last bit sounds kind of high and mighty, I have to remind myself that a lot of this whole idea is just based on plain fun. I had fun coming up with the idea. I had fun designing the risers and the look of the classroom. I had fun watching everyone's reactions. I had fun with the students who helped me with assembly and sanding.I had fun problem solving and bashing ideas about with my teaching partner. And I am having a lot of fun documenting the whole journey here on this blog.
The process has been incredibly fun (not to mention a bit time-consuming), but it gives me another reason to look forward to my time in my classroom.