Someone from the district came by to have a look at my odd-looking classroom. She liked it and understood the intention and the spirit of it. She was taking a few pictures, and she turned to me and asked, “Are parents lining up to have their kids in your class?” I was a little surprised as I never thought of my project as a “magnet” program. Also, the question never occurred to me because the answer is, “No.”
On reflection, there are good reasons why this is so.
The first reason is: There are a whole bunch of really incredibly talented teachers in my school. We have a huge shared set of beliefs, but we have individual talents and idiosyncrasies that make us stronger as individuals and as a team. My design project is just another one of those idiosyncrasies. Other teachers on staff are far ahead me in terms of things like the ethic of care, social responsibility, play and project based learning, technology, and just awesome teaching. You could walk into any classroom in my school and see something great going on. It’s a pretty exciting and fulfilling place to be. So my adventure in design just happens to be another education-forward concept being played out in my school.
The second reason is: Parents and kids don’t really get it. Well, not the parents and kids outside of my classroom. The kids I teach really get it. Our classroom is a calm and cool place to be. The space is flexible in that we can turn it into any kind of space we need it to be. There are zones within the classroom that accommodate different kinds of learning and different kinds of learners. Our room works for us, we don’t have to work in spite of the room. The parents of my students are just happy that their children like coming to school.
Now about the kids who I don’t teach, a lot of them do not understand what we are trying to achieve in my room. Their needs might be different, but also their idea of school may not have changed because they haven’t experienced anything outside of the traditional model. And when students are given choice, it is interesting to see what they want. One of my friends let her students pick how they were going to organize the room. This is what they came up with:
This teacher almost cried. She has been working all year to change the atmosphere of her class. First she had tables. Then she set up interesting zones for learning with couches, carpeted areas, a combination of desks and tables, etc. And then she opened up the discussion with her grade 1s and 2s. She documented the discussion (and her resistance to the idea on this letter posted in her classroom):
Though this may seem it goes against what we are trying to achieve with classroom design, it really doesn’t. What this teacher and I are trying to do is make the space the best possible environment for learning for our students in our context. The challenge comes when that vision differs among the teacher, students, and the parents.