In A Case Of “Dressing The Part,” Is It Key To Know What Your “Part” Is?

Earlier this week, I read an interesting blog post by Doug Peterson on “dressing the part,” and even how clothing decisions in education might have changed due to COVID and new teaching locations and experiences. I tweeted Doug shortly after reading his post, and while I’ve sat on this post for a number of days now, today I decided to blog.

I’m not sure that this post is in direct reply to what he wrote, but it’s what he made me think about.

When I started teaching 20 years ago now, I often dressed far more formally than I currently do. I wore a skirt to school almost every day, and while I’ve never loved heels, I certainly wore more formal dress shoes with at least a bit of a wedge. Now I wear pants and flat shoes every day, and while my tops are professional enough, comfort always surpasses style. COVID hasn’t necessarily changed my work attire, but working with my teaching partner, Paula, has. It’s not because of what she’s chosen to wear or not wear, but it’s because she’s had me reflect on how our clothing choices might inadvertently communicate to kids our level of involvement in their play.

I keep thinking back to this photograph of Paula earlier in the school year when she was supporting a student with taping some work underneath the table.

One of many things that I love about Paula …

If she was in more formal attire, would she have been able to crawl under the table to lend a helping hand? Paula even thought about this the next day when she planned on wearing a skirt to school, but she didn’t, “as you never know when you might have to stop, drop, and tape.” Good point!

With pants, and comfortable ones at that, I wonder if we might be telling kids — without actually saying a word — that we’re willing to get down at their level with them. While I still often choose a low chair over the floor, sometimes it’s great to see the classroom world from a different perspective.

Since working with Paula, I’ve also thought more about the outdoor classroom. For many years before I met her, the outside was just a space for recess. Now it’s an important extension of our indoor classroom environment, and we plan for this space, as much as we plan for our time inside. This also means clothing plans. After a cold winter last year, I succumbed and bought my own snow pants this year. I love them! Just as we often share with parents that kids will be more engaged in the learning outside, if they’re warm and not stressed by the weather, I think that the same holds true for adults. Now even the damp days don’t bother me as much, which certainly makes for a more enjoyable outdoor experience.

Plus, without snow pants, could you sit on a tire or in the middle of a puddle to write or draw with kids? Definitely not as warmly!

I also think about the role that we play as “role models” for kids. While I understand that professional wear can be a part of this role model behaviour, from a kindergarten perspective, I also wonder if it’s about modelling the choice of clothes that can withstand dirt, various temperatures, and different work spaces.

For example, we’ve recently started to experiment with some tempera paint powder outside after a group of children used cut up chalk for outdoor colour mixing.

The tempera paint powder is washable, but it’s also dusty. So you do get dirty … educators included. But as a child shared yesterday when asked, “What do you think your mom will think about your coat?,” and he replied, “I think she’ll think about art,” it’s hard not to embrace at least a bit of the mess. #BestQuoteEver

We also have a child this year that was reluctant to wear snow pants. While we haven’t gotten a lot of snow yet, we have had colder temperatures, and we are outside for about 1 1/2-2 hours straight each day. Our kids wear snow pants well before the first snow fall! While we could have engaged in the struggle and insisted that he wear snow pants, the easiest sell for him was in seeing both of us in snow pants. Just like we need to wear them, so does he, and now he happily puts them on each day.

As for the different work spaces, Paula and I, along with our kids, play everywhere from outside to on floors to in tires to sitting at desks of various sizes. We use chalk, pastels, paint, markers, water, and sometimes mud, on a regular basis. For us, it’s about dressing to engage, not necessarily dressing to impress.

I will admit enjoying dressing up slightly more formally during conference experiences, where I knew that I wouldn’t be called on to crouch down, pump paint, or wash something dirty. But that said, I also enjoy my work wear conducive to messes, floor spaces, and outdoor temperatures. School is my happy place, and even with COVID restrictions, there’s a lot of joy in these four walls.

The Coronavirus didn’t change my dress, but learning how to really play with kids, did. What about you? What might your attire communicate to others, and what message are you hoping to share? Thanks Doug for helping me see how I dress the part that I want to have: immersed in the messy, wonderful play that can still be a part of our educational world, COVID or not.


4 thoughts on “In A Case Of “Dressing The Part,” Is It Key To Know What Your “Part” Is?

  1. I love this Aviva! I dress professionally every day – never sweat pants! But like you, I dress with my daily activities in mind. I buy dresses that are long enough that I can sit on the floor and get up comfortably. I wear pants most of the time. I never wear heels or other shoes that would stop me from participating in gym or DPA. I haven’t needed snow pants yet this year, but I think I will need them going forward. But I do always have gloves and a coat just in case.

    You pictures also reminded me to tell you about my use of the yoga mats! I have cut them in half, and we sit on them during guided reading groups. As soon as I sat on one I knew this was the solution we needed. They are thin, but warmer and softer than sitting on the floor, even for me. After a group I can spray them with disinfectant and then gather them up after they dry. The other day I had a student ask to use one so he could sit on the floor to work on his mat. That’s how I knew they were working like I wanted them too!

    • Thanks for sharing, Lisa! I will admit that I don’t wear sweatpants either, but my pants are all ones that can be easily washed and always comfortable. I’m almost always covered in paint. πŸ™‚

      Thanks for also sharing what you do with the yoga mats. I love how they drew some kids to the floor space. The interesting this is that we’ve gotten rid of almost all of our yoga mats. Many kids are so comfortable with using the floor space now, that the mats were just pushed aside (more of a tripping hazard) than actually used for sitting down. The kids would rather just sit and lie directly on the floor. We do have additional yoga mats though for those that still want one, and sometimes we even use big pieces of cardboard on the floor that can be used as a drawing/painting option, but also help delineate personal space if needed. Just like we had different options for kids pre-COVID, the same holds true now. I wonder if some of your kids will also start to do the same with the floor space (if they’re allowed to sit directly on it), now that they’re using the mats at times.


  2. You only just bought snowpants 🀣?!? That made me giggle a bit! I was part of Girl Guides for years, and while I love how everyone looks in uniform, I never could bring myself to spend $ on clothing that wasn’t practical.

    Modelling being warm and dry is just SO important. Modelling being able to move is equally important. Clothing is a huge contributor to nature deficit. While it seems like an odd blog post, thanks for bringing it up. It is a constant fight to get kids (and adults) to dress appropriately.

    Now if we could just convince clothing manufacturers to make snowpants that fit short stocky people….

    • Thanks for your comment, Eileen! I never thought about the connection between clothing and nature deficit, but it makes so much sense. As for snow pants for me, I thought, why do I want to spend the time getting them on and off? It’s not that cold? But it is, and I feel so much better wearing them now. I do agree with your manufacturer recommendation though. Mine are still a bit long at the bottom (being quite short), but I make them work.

      Your comment is making me think of something: during the time of COVID, as educators and students spend more time outside, are their clothing choices changing as a result? Will these changes continue post-COVID (and yes, I need to believe that there will be a post-COVID time)? Thanks for pushing my thinking more.


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