Sunday, March 06, 2011

Reflections on Ethic of Care and the Space 2

The Presentation last week
In my last post, I submitted the notes from a presentation I did for a class on the Ethic of Care and the work of Nel Noddings.  When I was asked to speak to that class, I told the instructor I would be happy to give a talk, but that I just had two questions: "What is the Ethic of Care? and "Who is Nel Noddings?"  Interestingly, she still wanted me to speak.

So I gave this talk and there was another speaker, Joan, who actually was really familiar with Nel Noddings.  Joan had done this really fabulous project at her school that started with a simple conversation about bees and grew into a massive cross-curricular, K- to 12 project that has global implications.  My talk went okay too: I told them what I think and gave them a tour of my classroom.

The really interesting thing for me was how having to prepare a talk in front of an audience crystallized my thinking.  My thoughts are very at home rattling inside my head, but sometimes when you have to tell someone else, the thoughts must take a clear, understandable form.  I am pretty sure everyone understood my umbrella concept that learning and caring comes from 3 interactions:
  1. student with other students
  2. student with teacher
  3. student with the world or environment
The third one, the interaction between student and environment, was the relationship that I think I am starting to explore more fully.  I hadn't really thought of it before, but looking at some of my original blog posts, I see that it stems with my observation of how teachers' performance and mood are affected by environment. 

The Space
Even this year, in the fall, you could sense the tension in by building.  People felt overwhelmed.  For some, it was because they had to do something new (new grade, new position, implementing full day kindergarten).  For others it was something beyond our school (health issues, university courses, etc.).  And for a couple, it was the lack of a juicy project they could sink their teeth into. 

It might have been just coincidence, but we also did not have our Space to retreat to, (it had been taken by a new program in our school).  As a staff, we informally talked about the tension that was felt in our school.  We realized that a lot of the sources of it were beyond our control, but we also talked about what we could do about it.  The Space came up as a possible solution, so we went searching for a new usable space.  Luckily, we were able to find a small unused section of the ESL room and were given the green light to remake it.  The couch was brought in,  Lights were put up.  People brought lamps, vases, ornaments, and pictures from home.  With some strategic placement of the furnishing, we were able to put together another haven. 

We still use it at least once a week.  Again, it might just be coincidence, but I detect a great weight lifted off our teaching staff.  I, personally, have had some really enlightening conversations in the new space.  (Some even with other people).

Me?  A Designer?
When I spoke to that Ethic of Care class, I held it at my school so that people could see how I integrated my classroom environment into my philosophy.  It was really interesting when people walked into my classroom.  As usual, (though they may have talked to me about my design, or seen pictures, or read this blog), people don't really get it until they actually see my classroom.  The elementary teachers were really interested and had a whole bunch of questions about where I got things and how the risers worked. 

Perhaps the most interesting conversation I had was with L, a high school math teacher, who wanted to know how she might use some of the design ideas with her students in her portable.  I just kind of laughed; I don't really think of myself as a designer, just someone who likes to tinker with things that are within my own domain.  I guess when I talk to her, I'll just have to help her focus her own vision and what she wants from her own environment: it's not about the stuff, it's about the intent.

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