Solving The Unsolvable Problem

In conjunction with my one word goal, I really have been trying to “hear” more. This includes hearing students, colleagues, and myself. In the past couple of weeks, part of this goal has included really looking closely at a problem of ours, listening to our kids, and trying to develop a solution. Overall, I think that the students have settled into the classroom routine, made gains, and are really starting to learn together. Then Day 1 happens. While we have very few transitions for the rest of the week, on Day 1’s, we have many more. Our prep schedule includes moving classrooms Period 2, and then transitioning to another room Period 5. With our Free Exploration times and Outdoor Learning time, it feels as though we are constantly moving … and I think that this is causing stress for both us and our students. Is everybody bothered by the additional transitions? No. Many students have become accustomed to them, and they just know that this is the one day where things will be a little bit different. But there are about six students that really struggle on this day. Transitions are hard for them, and additional transitions cause stress. It makes them feel dysregulated. And when children or adults feel this way, they start to act out. Maybe it’s in their words, maybe it’s in their actions, or maybe it’s in both. We can say that this is just one of life’s realities. We can expect children and adults to just “deal” with this. But maybe it’s not as easy as that … And the more I watched, the more I listened, and the more that I really heard what these students were saying, the more that I believed that something had to change.

Last Friday was a PA Day, so as my partner and I worked together in the classroom, we talked about this problem. First, we looked at the prep issue. Now it would seem as though nothing could change in this regard because the prep schedule was set, and it was, but then we wondered if the teacher delivering the prep might change locations. Instead of our students moving up the library, he could bring some books down to the classroom, and extend the learning that’s already happening there. Students could choose to gather around and listen to a story or look at some books with him. They wouldn’t have to tidy-up at 9:40, or leave their work when still immersed in it. We could eliminate one transition altogether. We spoke to the teacher, and while I think he worried if I would still get my prep (and I definitely do), he agreed to give this a try.

The second issue was our transition during Period 5. We head to the gym for an additional phys-ed class. Our students love phys-ed, but at this time of the day, many of them struggle in this loud, shared learning environment. We have come up with some different possible solutions:

  • To create more gross motor learning opportunities in the classroom during this time (and not go to the gym). Many of our students also love yoga, and we have individual mats to use, so students could do this in the classroom as well. They’ve also developed movement activities and obstacle courses that they do during the day, and we could look more at these options during this time.
  • To have a more gradual transition to the gym. The students that struggle with transitioning, could go a little earlier with one of us to help set-up. Then they could get accustomed to the environment before the other students join us.
  • To only take part of the class to the gym, and create some gross motor learning opportunities in the classroom for the other part of the class. We could let students choose the gym or the classroom, so that all of them could get that calm learning environment that they need. One of us could go with the gym group, and one of us could stay back with the classroom group. Our numbers are not too large, so this splitting option could work. 

For our first week attempting this, we decided to try the first option. It worked wonderfully! Students that needed and wanted to move, still did so, but we didn’t have to go to another area in the school. All day long, the room felt so calm.

I share this because when I first considered our Day 1 problem, I really thought that there was no solution: the kids were just going to have to adapt. The thing is, they weren’t adapting, and their actions were impacting on the learning environment of others and the feeling of “calm” for teachers and students. Looking back, I can’t help but think of this tweet that Raffi Cavoukian shared recently.

I think that I initially saw the students’ actions as “behaviour,” and so I responded accordingly. Now I’ve started to see things from their perspective, and realize how much they are struggling with the transitions. My response is different now as a result.

I’m so glad that my partner and I sat down to problem solve what seemed to be an unsolvable problem. Earlier this week, a teacher asked me if I wanted to make a change based on one — or even a handful — of students. After Friday, I can say with certainty that I do … and am so glad we did. When we change for “one” (or even “some”), all kids benefit. When these students felt calm, the environment changed, and the other students and adults felt calm as well. The learning wasn’t negatively impacted. The quality of the program wasn’t sacrificed. But now we have a real opportunity for student success.

Have you had a similar problem before? How did you respond? What impact did this have on the students? I hope that we can all share our problems and solutions. It’s great when we can learn together and solve more of those “unsolvable problems!”


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