Is It Time To Change The Social Construct Of “School?”

Earlier this week, I saw a tweet from Matthew Oldridge, which inspired a response of my own. This tweet and my reply has been on my mind ever since.

On Friday, we decided to change our dramatic play/block space into a school. Students created a school in here earlier in the year, and looking at the different ways that they’ve been teaching each other lately, this seemed like a logical extension. Kids got involved in moving the furniture, packing away some blocks, and brainstorming ideas for the school. Yesterday they began to play.

My teaching partner, Paula, and I were really interested in seeing how they used this new space and what they did, so we spent a lot of time watching the play in this area. Here’s what we noticed.

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Brody, Cohen, and Milla decided to play school this morning. Milla took on the role of @paulacrockett and led the VIP with Brody. She included lots of components that @paulacrockett includes, such as asking how he is, getting him to tell about what he brought in, encouraging three questions, and having a “round of applause.” She then started reading the class a story. Cohen took on the role of principal. What does a principal do all day? He thought there was a lot of sitting. Brody thought he took phone calls. Cohen started to write down a message from Cohen’s mom. Curious to see how this space evolves throughout the day. ❤️ SWIPE ⬅️ FOR MORE. #iteachk #teachersofinstagram #ctinquiry

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Our dramatic play school opened today, and I spent a lot of time observing and listening to what happened in this space. It was interesting to watch how the kids started with lining up the chairs to watch the teacher. Then when there was too much waiting time for them, it was difficult, so Trinity became the teacher and gave everyone a book. “I think we need some reading time to be calm,” she said. It was interesting to just watch kids sitting in rows reading. I wonder if this is calming for everyone. They read a variety of books though. Madeline also worked on her “VIP presentation.” This gave us an opportunity to read and write together. ❤️ SWIPE ⬅️ FOR MORE. #iteachk #teachersofinstagram #ctinquiry

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Then Tomek did some writing in the school (he was proud of writing a sentence in his book, which he read to me), and Addison thought we needed a SMART Board. “The whiteboard can be one,” she said. Edward thought that we needed a schedule, so she wrote one on here. She sounded out “gym” (we still need to work on the phys-ed word), play, and library. Carly wanted to write a schedule too, and copied hers. Then Trinity came along and read what she wrote. Addison and Carys started to add rules to the board, and Trinity added an alphabet. Tomek and Carly also worked on one. Carys thought about counting the paintings, and then worked on printing numerals as she added the numbers to the back. This is when Tommy and Carly sat down to look at a book together. They told the story based on the picture cues. On Monday, @paulacrockett or I want to get into this space to see how we can extend the play. Maybe the little play spaces around the school microcosm can grow or change. 🙂 SWIPE ⬅️ FOR MORE. #iteachk #teachersofinstagram #ctinquiry

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We both found it so interesting that the traditional view of school is so strong, that even though our classroom doesn’t run in this way, their creative one did.

1. All kids were doing the same thing at the same time. (It took some questions from us to have this slowly change.)
2. A lot of time was spent in rows watching and listening to the teacher instruct at the front of the classroom.
3. Even when children eventually started to play, they made each other a lot of worksheets to trace letters and print numbers.

Paula and I spent a long time discussing these observations. At the end of the day, we even spoke together with the kids on the flow of our day, and what they do throughout the day at school. We wonder if this might change what their school looks like on Monday.

In the meantime, watching this dramatic play evolve has me thinking about what we’re communicating to kids about “school.”

  • How is school portrayed in our classrooms?
  • How is it portrayed at home?
  • How is it portrayed in books, movies, and television shows?
  • Are there messages that need to change, and how might we change them?

I keep thinking about a wonderful Ministry Document, How Does Learning Happen? Our Kindergarten Program Document supports the thinking in here. Yet, even considering all that we know about how children learn best, our youngest learners are still creating “schools” and “classrooms” that support the practices our Document discourages.

I know that there are many schools and classrooms out there that support a learning model that is …

  • student-based.
  • play-based.
  • inquiry-based.
  • parent supported and solidify strong home/school bonds.
  • rich in experiences and allow for diversity so that all children can succeed.

But does this view of school only exist within the walls of these classrooms, and is a contrary view so strong, that even the children in these environments view school more traditionally? If our kids continue to see “school” in a more stereotypical view of full class instruction only, rich in worksheets, with the teacher being the holder of all knowledge, I wonder what it will take for our changes to really make an impact. Changes in our individual classrooms are important, but is it time that we now look at how to change a system and a social construct? These are much harder changes to make!


2 thoughts on “Is It Time To Change The Social Construct Of “School?”

  1. Aviva, you are one of the teachers who inspire me daily! Your photos from your classroom show so much happiness and learning, and I learn so much from you all the time!
    You are spot on here! How we perceive learning within a school… and more importantly, how KIDS perceive learning within a school is important for how we continue to improve education. If we continue to think of desks, rows, and teacher-centric models as what school really is, then classrooms like yours and the ones in our school will always be viewed as outliers, rather than what we should be moving toward. I want to do a better job of changing what people’s image of school is. Thanks for the challenge!

    • Thanks for your comment, Michelle, and for your incredibly kind words. I loved the passionate post that you wrote this morning in follow-up to our Twitter schooling discussion today. It’s these kinds of conversations that we have to have if we want to see change continue to happen. The school experience that you describe continues to inspire me, and shows me that kids can (and should) always be at the forefront of teaching and learning. Thank you!


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