Too often in my career, I have seen schools, districts, and provinces make huge changes without really knowing if they will be successful. When we make large changes, we take big risks as these changes require so much capital (funds, time, resources, etc) and if we do not achieve the intended outcomes, it is a big loss for all those involved. Learning Sprints allows us to bring in evidence-based practice for a short cycle to determine if it has a positive impact in our context. If it doesn’t work with our context, it is not a significant loss and we can pivot or reset to take a different path to support teacher growth and student learning. By making these small changes, over time, we begin to see big results… and a significant impact on school growth.
Considering the success of self-regulation as a focus, could we now try to maintain that self-reg culture while shifting the focus to growth in reading? He agreed that there had been an awesome success with self-reg and that we had a strong platform of literacy (especially reading) that we could build on. With Mark’s positive experience with reading instruction and self-regulation, along with his strong relationships with staff, he could help lead us to shift from a focus on self-reg to a focus on reading.
There is little to no clear research of the impact of classroom design on student achievement and with so many variables to consider, I don’t think there is a single optimal classroom design for all students and educators. Having said this, based on what I have read and the conversations I have had with people I work with and online, I think I will try to keep the following in mind when I work with teachers to redesign or reflect on classroom design:
- Be specific on the problem, purpose of the change, strategies to implement, and markers for success. Without doing this, how will we know our time, efforts, and money are making a difference?
- Keep some desks*. I am not saying you need to keep all of them but before making big changes, switch up a portion of the class and leave a good number of desks for those students who need their own personal space. *Note that this is more for grade 2/3 and above as many early primary classrooms have not used desks for years and lessons/instruction take place at the carpet.
- Use small tables. Large tables actually take away from flexible seating as they present only one or two options for students. With smaller tables, you can put them together or move them apart as needed. If you are buying tables, you can also get tables that can be raised or lowered based on the need to stand or sit.
- Offer comfortable areas. When starting small (in elementary/middle), for quiet reading, students may enjoy a bean bag chair or a bucket chair. Be clear with students the purpose of these areas so that when there is instruction or individual or small group work occurring, these are not used.
- Offer seating options (stools, standing desks). You need not change your whole classroom to offer some seating options for students who may benefit from self-reg tools. Start with a few stools and some standing desks (or small, tall tables) to and see if student learning and achievement benefits from this. If we have evidence of increased success for an individual with a certain tool from past years/teachers, please embrace this as to go back to a standard chair may make the learning more difficult for the student. We can build on evidence from past success/struggles.
- Fail small*. One of the most common mistakes I have made is making significant (large) changes and waiting too long to see if it is working. If you have a clear understanding of the purpose and the strategies, use the defined success markers to see if what you are doing is effective. After a short time (weeks or 2 months), check to see how the strategy is working. If it is working… keep going, if it is not, stop and pivot. I have tried and observed classroom design that actually hindered learning so it is important to know the impact of the strategy. *HT to Simon Breakspear for helping me with this.
I am retraining my brain to see the positives (which I used to be so good at). Looking for the positives does not mean we ignore the challenges… but embracing the good things in life sure give us more energy to deal with the ‘not-so-good’ things when they happen!
- Start every staff meeting with WWW (What Went Well) and encourage each other to share something we are thankful for and/or proud of.
- Share a weekly newsletter, “10 Good Things to Talk About“, that includes 10 (often more) positive things that I have observed or staff have shared that we want our community to know about.
- Write a note of gratitude to EVERY staff member that acknowledges something very personal that each person brings to your school.
- Create a gratitude wall for staff to acknowledge the positives they see around the school.
- Some staff have started their own gratitude journals/apps and even challenged their partners to do the same.
- Have every student in the school write one thing they love about their school on a heart and use these hearts will line our hallways.
- Write one thank you card/note or a gratitude email per week to a staff member/colleague.
- Make one positive phone call a day/week to a family at your school.
- Say thank you. Say it often and keep it authentic and personal.
- Buy a coffee a week for someone and share your appreciation.
I have written about improving staff morale in the past. Wejr’s list provides some new ideas to explore.
it is EASY to tweet a dichotomous statement in a succinct manner that gets people’s attention and gets 100s of retweets; but we often lose out on the grey and miss out on the opportunity to engage. If we do feel the need to make a polarizing statement, we need to be willing to engage when someone challenges us. Keep the social in social media; respond when we are respectfully challenged so the conversation can move deeper and move to the heart of the statement. We need to continually reflect, be willing to be challenged and open to others’ ideas and opinions.