This is a powerful talk. It turns many of the dominant educational practices and beliefs upside-down. It also is a bit of a slap in the face for some of the current practices in many schools. I will pick one to pull apart – mixing classes up every year.
I work in the international school context. Our students are perpetually making friendships and then losing friends when people leave to go to another country. They are perpetually saying good-bye to their relatives, whom they see only during some holidays. They are isolated from their own cultures and often possess few or no relationships with local people other than those who are subservient to them.
These children crave the stability of solid friendships and relationships. That stability comes from their classmates and the bonds that evolve from spending each day together. Then… here comes the weird bit… we mix them all up again the following year. They have to start all over again, from scratch, from zero…for some reason we seem to think that pulling the rug out from beneath their feet is the right thing to do. Young children’s strongest friendships are nearly always with kids in the same class. Invariably, the friendships weaken or all apart completely when they are put in separate classes.
Some kids can handle this. But, should they have to?
Some kids can’t handle it. And, no, its not going to toughen them up and make them more resilient. It’s g0ing to make them lonely.
This is pretty demoralizing for teachers too. We spend a whole year developing a class as a community of learners. We nurture relationships and cultures. And then we pull it all apart. And the process of pulling them apart and putting new classes together is not an easy one – it is time-consuming, emotionally exhausting and fraught with complexity on many levels.
I propose that we limit this practice and seek out opportunities to provide stability for our students. We keep classes relatively unchanged if it feels like the right thing to do. If there is something wrong with the dynamics of a class, we take steps to remedy it. If not, we leave them alone, let them have their friendships. They need them.
A couple of years ago, I made a posting and video about the power of setting up classrooms to suit the nature of the learning going on at the time. The context, at that time, was visual art and each student was involved in their own visual art project. They were artists. Turning the classrooms into art studios was a natural step towards making them really feel like artists.
You can do this for any context.
In this clip, the Grade 5 classrooms at my school are becoming art studios and the students are creating their own workspaces and innovation boards. One student said “its organized… but its organized in our own way”.