I remember having a conversation once with a fairly new teacher at a different school. She spoke about some creative things that she was doing in her classroom, and how all of her children seemed really engaged in the learning. She mentioned to me though, “If anyone walked by, I’m sure that they would wonder what was going on. The room was a mess. There were buckets of manipulatives all over the floor. There was a lot of noise as students worked through the math problems together. I kept my eye on the door, worried about what people would think.” That’s when I shared my story.
Our room is always a mess. I usually wear my glasses on the top of my head for most of the day, as the sight of a big mess stresses me out, but the blurry look makes me feel calmer. This made the teacher laugh, but it’s also true. There are a lot of things that I choose to do to feel better about the same experience that she described to me … as this is what we experience in our play-based Kindergarten classroom every single day.
- I get down low to the floor. Then I can still see and work with the children, but have less of a view of the big mess.
- I find some quiet areas in the classroom. With 32 Kindergarten students, we don’t have a lot of “quiet,” but there are spaces that have less noise. Right now, that space is at our writing/drawing area. If I’m feeling overwhelmed by the noise, I move myself over there. Just the quiet conversations and the ability to write and draw with some students, makes me feel better.
Even with a larger group of students, this space is so calm.
- I go to the sensory bin. Sensory play can be calming for adults as well as children. I love to get my hands in the shaving cream, play with the soapy sponges, and even create with the loose parts, as I explore the different textures and materials. I can actually feel myself calming down as I go to the space, and I love that as soon as an adult appears there, more children follow.
I loved playing here too!
- I connect with one or two students, or even a small group. If there’s a lot of action happening in the classroom, I try to narrow my focus. By talking or working with just a few students, I acclimate myself to the noisy environment and feel less overwhelmed by it.
- I start to tidy up. I don’t put everything away, but I slowly start filling some bins, and getting students to clean up the items that they are not using. This reduces the visual noise in the room and makes me feel better about the space. It also tends to lower the overall noise level, as students can also find messy spaces dysregulating.
But as I also shared with her, even with everything I do, I still worry.
- I worry about what others will think during walkthroughs.
- A Teacher’s Performance Appraisal still makes me want to throw up.
- I worry if others will see the value in messy learning.
These worries are not going to stop me from doing what I do, as I truly believe in the value of this type of learning environment for kids. My teaching partner and I see this value every single day. We know that we’re meeting expectations. We see children learning, and we hear them discussing their learning. We know that a mess can be tidied up, and that the conversations, while sometimes loud, are also purposeful. We also know that we’ve created quiet spaces for the students that need it, and we’ve been able to find these spaces when we also need them. But the worries are there, and when talking to this teacher, I started to wonder if we need to share them more. I thought about myself.
- I’ve taught for 15 years.
- I’ve taught all grade levels in some capacity from JK-Grade 6.
- I’ve presented to colleagues in our Board, online, and at conferences.
- I’ve won an award for teaching.
And no matter what, I will probably always worry, wonder, and question … but maybe there’s value in embracing all of these things. These are the things that help us improve.
- They cause us to reflect.
- They force us to dialogue more.
- They encourage us to change.
If we embrace the “worry,” celebrate these difficult experiences, and support each other in having more of them, will greater changes continue to happen? We encourage students to take risks and make mistakes. How do we do the same for adults? What might this mean for education? I would love to hear your thoughts.