Wednesday, November 16, 2011

This is My Room - How Controlling Ones Classroom Can Send the Wrong Message

I used to be the ruler of my universe; my classroom, the queen of the systems.  You need to sharpen your pencil?  There's a system for that.  You need to leave the classroom?  Here is the system for that.  How we walk down the hallway, how we get our jackets and backpacks.  How we act when others come into the classroom, how we borrow books from the library, how we borrow supplies.  Don't answer the phone, don't sit in my chair, don't eat your food now, don't, don't don't...Everything had a protocol, rules to be followed, always designated by me, and I was exhausted.  I was so busy keeping track of all my check out sheets and reminders that I forgot to just enjoy what I was doing with the students.  I was so wrapped up in managing my space that I lost focus on what was important and instead wasted time getting upset when my system wasn't followed.  It was time-consuming, overcomplicated, and downright ridiculous.

Yet I feared what I knew had to be the opposite of my contrived systems; chaos.  I feared what would happen if I just let a kid check out a book without having them sign it out and leave it in their desk at the end of the day.  I feared what would happen if I didn't know who had which manipulative, or how many pencils someone had borrowed from me.  Add that fear drove those systems forward until they got me so lost that I didn't know the teacher I was anymore.

So I stopped the endless control.  I "let" students borrow books from my library and take them home.  After all, the worst that could happen if a book was lost was that another child might read it.  I showed the students where I kept all of the supplies and let them grab what they wanted.  I had them unpack and come in from the hallway in the way that suited them best; some need one trip, some need more.  I stopped obsessing over our systems and gave the room to the students instead.

And the result?  Not chaos as I had feared, but ownership.  It turned out that these students knew exactly how to take care of our space and actually were a lot more invested when they felt it was theirs.  They no longer come into my room, but into our room.  They no longer ask permission to use a stapler or use some tape, they just do it.  They fight me over my chair, and take pencils when they need.  They now welcome others to our room, answer the phone with their name, and take over the space every day.  I don't manage them, but instead focus on our learning.   Giving back the classroom to my students righted a wrong I didn't know I had committed; I had taken their space from them.  I often remind myself that teaching is not about me but all about them, and now our room reflects that.  Does yours?




8 comments:

Joe Bower said...

It often takes years of experience before attaining this kind of wisdom.

Bob K said...

It's a scary thought to give up control and receive back control and learning. But giving up control is always scary, especially if one is a partial control freak like me. I commend you for easing back on the reins , so to speak. Since I am a PE teacher I have to think hard about how I might give up some control in the gym and still keep my students safe as we move around. It is very interesting, but it is going to require some thought as to how to pull it off. I will be interested as to how your 'new system' continues to work. Good luck!

Mountaintop Family Daycare said...

I totally agree! I have an in home daycare, and I was always thinking "this is MY home" and also had tons of "rules" as to how toys were to be played with. I would panic if someone misplaced a puzzle piece or didn't cap a marker. It was exhausting trying to keep up. Within the last 5 years, I've let go of the reins and given the daycare space to the kids. Sure they make a mess, and they mix up the materials, but they have taken great ownership of "their" things. They've learned that if they don't cap their markers, they won't have anything to draw with, and puzzles are disappointing when they get to the last piece and its nowhere to be found. And I'm learning that its not that big of a deal if something isn't in its right place every moment of the day. I know its in this house SOMEWHERE, and eventually.... I'll find it!

Wm Chamberlain said...

I was never any good at making students "follow the rules" anyway. Besides, I don't want to manage their behavior, I would much rather they discover what works or doesn't work for themselves.

Tom said...

I honestly try not to overthink it. All I ask is for manners.

photomatt7 said...

I have much to say on this topic but you'll only wind up saying I'm being too hard on myself. Can we schedule an intervisitation so I can see what goes on in your room, please?

DMac said...

I never really had routines and systems for much of anything because I didn't see the purpose, but I do feel students in my class, who rarely have adults in their lives who they can rely on or make them feel safe, crave that role from an adult, so I have needed to initiate some very basic things this year.

Anonymous said...

An inspirational post, I too share the room with my young students and it really is the best way!

 

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