“Let It Go”: Our FROZEN Approach To Classroom (Re)Design

As regular readers of my professional blog know, my teaching partner, Paula, and I are always reflecting. While we like to celebrate successes and things that work well, we’re also cognizant of things that could be better and changes that might need to happen to make that possible. While I’d like to think that we’re not scared of change, we also try to avoid change for change sake. Often questions of, “why,” and “what will the impact be on kids?,” weigh heavily into our decisions. Just before March Break, COVID restrictions in our Board minimized, and this was later accompanied by a drop in the mask mandate. Our kindergarten class could “go back to normal,” or at least start to resemble classes of the past. While years ago, we would have jumped quickly to make these changes, there were many reasons that we chose not to this year. In this blog post, I mentioned that we would be responsive to kids, which again had us returning to, should we be reconsidering classroom design and routines? Then two things happened that have us thinking again.

In a recent blog post, I mentioned that I would be off for three days to get my wisdom teeth removed. I had a couple of different supply teachers over this time. One occasional teacher, responded to a message of mine with this most wonderful note.

While Paula and I see the classroom and student learning from our perspective, it’s a rarity to hear about how others perceive the environment. Even though we try to give a window into our room each day, it’s not the same as being there. Before school started yesterday morning, Paula and I returned to the words in this note. Being in the classroom, interacting with the kids, and hearing from both of us, gave this occasional teacher a unique insight into our program. She highlighted in her words so much of what we value: from independence to inquiry to the value of a partnership. This had us wondering, if we change the environment, will all students meet with as much success? Is there another way to support change?

Talking together also led to a decision that varies from our usual approach. Normally, when play begins, we encourage students to stay in their spaces and we’ll come to them to see what they’re doing and to provide feedback. Independent play gradually extends to cooperative play, but often with the kids around them — or at least within the zone of their space. Since distancing is no longer a requirement, we agreed to sit back and watch as students move around more freely.

  • Maybe they will go and see what others are doing and provide some feedback of their own.
  • Maybe this will lead to some different groupings and social experiences.

This required a little letting go, but it also allowed us to engage in deeper conversations with kids. We could observe even more than we usually do, as we were less focused on just getting to the next child and more focused on what was happening in the environment. We still supported independent play first, but the move to cooperative play was more natural and led by the child.

For months now, I’ve wanted to talk more with groups of students about some of their artwork, but this rarely seemed to happen. When it did, the conversation was often 1:1 with kids and usually felt rushed. By letting go, I finally had one of my desired artwork conversations yesterday. Even though you can’t see the gathering in the video, there were four or five students circling around me at the table — with the crayon box — talking about art. And after they chatted, they dispersed and went back to their own work — maybe/hopefully even further inspired by what we discussed.

I didn’t love how I began this conversation, but things get better around the 20 second mark. Now I wish I engaged even more in a discussion about other possible titles. Maybe “Bunny In A Jar” would have been even better. Something to think about for next week.

Looking back and thinking more about our documentation from yesterday, provided a good opportunity for Paula and I to reconsider a changing environment. Maybe by letting children take the lead, the classroom can change more temporarily and organically based on what students need at the time. We also have one possible addition for a couple of kids beginning on Monday. Will this lead to more additions? Maybe. But also maybe not. Possibly it took a few different discussions and perspectives for us to realize that big changes are not needed for everyone, and small changes can still be supported within our set-up if we observe more, let kids lead, and support or re-direct when necessary. Surprisingly and unexpectedly to me, COVID has made us better at observing, reflecting, and creative problem solving. What about you? Thanks to an occasional teacher who helped us view a problem differently. As we welcome a visiting student teacher and an Early Childhood Education placement student into our classroom next week, I wonder if their insights will give us even more to consider.


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