What Is Our “Why?”

When we returned to school in September 2021, I would have given anything — anything — to be able to set-up a kindergarten classroom environment that was similar to set-ups of years past. My teaching partner, Paula, and I really had to challenge our thinking to create a forward-facing, desk-heavy classroom that still prioritized relationships, play-based learning, and social connections. This wasn’t easy, and it continues to be a work in progress … even a year-in-a-half later. But neither were all of these changes bad ones, and I think that we both came to appreciate what is possible when challenged to re-think our “normal.”

I share this now because we’ve recently found out that COVID protocols in schools are changing, and we could start to move back to the creation of a pre-COVID classroom … or something that largely resembles one. Now what? Back in September, I think that we would have jumped on this offer, but now we’re a little more hesitant. Stuart Shanker and Susan Hopkins from The MEHRIT Centre have taught us both the importance of the why, and while we’re asking ourselves why we might be reluctant to change, we’re also asking ourselves, why make these changes and why make them now? Every decision that we make in the classroom is based on kids. Unlike with other grades, our students have never had a “normal school year.” The only kindergarten experience they know involves desks, individual spaces, masks, and restrictions around some shared materials. These restrictions often make adults feel sad about the move away from “normal,” but they also bring many of our students much comfort. Our kids love their spaces. They like having ownership over an area and a place that belongs to them. They still play together with others, but with the knowledge that they can also move away and play alone. The balance of both reduces stress for so many of our kids.

January to March is a magical time in kindergarten. The routines that have been established since September are so well-known to our children now. They’ve all grown so much socially and academically. In many ways, the classroom runs itself — still with our involvement of course — but in a way that varies from how it ran back in the first part of the school year. Completely overhauling the classroom design, especially at a quick pace, could not only dysregulate both kids and adults, but could bring us back to September in March. Is this what we’re looking for right now?

There are also various degrees of comfort when it comes to COVID restrictions and the easing of these restrictions. Some kids and adults can’t wait to connect more with others, and some are more reluctant to do so. With an uncertainty about masking requirements in the coming months, we could be looking at addressing another stressor fairly soon. All of this is weighing on Paula and I as we think about what to do and when to do it.

With all of this in mind, we’ve decided to take things slow. At first, we might just be supporting a few social connections with some different groups of kids. Any changes to classroom design will be made with the students and based on observations and conversations with kids, families, and among ourselves. We want to know that all children and adults feel safe, supported, and challenged in the learning environment, and that the changes are happening for a reason and not just because they can. How are you approaching these changing protocols? What is your why? We would love to hear your thinking as we grapple with our own.


2 thoughts on “What Is Our “Why?”

  1. Thank you Aviva for considering this very important topic, and focusing on the “why”. Your recognition of the value of personal space, which would have been minimal in the classroom of 2019, is one I hope you are able to retain. So stepping back, and identifying the biggest loss you experienced when shifting to stationary, spaced desks, would be my first step. I’m guessing it might have something to relate to collaboration. Am I right? And so I’d only make the changes necessary to meet that need, and keep the rest the same until your next major transition, likely in September.

    • Thanks Terry for sharing your thoughts here! It’s interesting, as I think that our concern was that the spaced desks would impact on the ability for students to collaborate and play together. Their use of floor spaces though, and recently, their use of moving chairs to share a single desk space (when not eating), has allowed for this same collaboration.

      Maybe we don’t need to make many — if any — changes for the type of environment that we were hoping to have in kindergarten. Creative problem solving by kids has allowed much of this to happen already. Thank you for making me think more about this.


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