This morning, I had the opportunity to visit Greystone Centennial Middle School and watch a few classes in action, while also meeting with Principal Carolyn Cameron. It was a great opportunity to see some of the amazing things that are happening in the school, while also reflecting on some of my own learning. Last night I read a wonderful article entitled, “Is Your School A Comfortable Place to Learn“, and with that post in my mind, I looked with a critical eye at the environment that students were in. When I have looked at many classroom or school environments, I am not sure if I would be an effective learner in that space, and this was reiterated in the article:
Essentially, Nair says that if adults demand comfort, why shouldn’t we demand the same for our students? Why subject them to dull schools with hard chairs, bad air, anonymous loud spaces, and enormous meeting rooms? Why not make the schools cheery, clean, quiet (environmentally speaking, not library quiet) with comfortable places to meet on the outside as well?
When looking outside of the classrooms, you see these large common areas, that have an array of seating, for students who prefer different places to learn. It is nice, clean, bright and provides an environment where students could be comfortable in different settings. I think every week when I am at Starbucks that I always prefer sitting at a high table, with a stool, which also gives me the opportunity to stand and read if I need to be. I was always fidgety in class, which did not mean I wasn’t learning, it was more likely that I was uncomfortable. Having a “one size” fits all environment simply does not work. When I was in the classroom, I thought about comfort in a different way. Watching students have hats on, food at their tables, holding mobile devices, the classroom looked a lot different from what I have been accustomed to seeing. I asked one of the teachers about the “hats” which has always been a favourite item on staff meeting agendas, and he shared his own insecurities as a student about his hair in the classroom. I thought a lot about that and how that would negatively affect any students learning. I also thought about how nice it was students were able to eat when they were hungry and not at designated times. From personal experience, if I am sitting in a room with you, and I am hungry, I am not listening to a word you are saying. My mind is in my stomach.
Then I started to look at the mobile devices in the classroom (by the way, all of my notes for this post were written on my iPhone using Evernote). I asked students how many had either an iPhone, iPod, Blackberry, or some type of mobile device and it was basically a 100% within the room. When I asked what the “rules” were for the devices, both teachers in the room basically said that common sense ruled the land. As I am not a big fan of creating policies for everything that could happen in a day at a school, I was so relieved to hear that students were treated on an individual basis. When we create all of these rules, when enforcing them, we become more like police handing out tickets as opposed to teachers working with individual kids. I was quite impressed with how these teachers handled this situation and the kids were so respectful. Treat me with respect, and you are likely to get it back. Seems to be a pretty easy idea.
Now with the mobile devices, I could not honestly say that they were being implemented into the practice of learning as of yet. Many educators have this idea that it is an “all or nothing” idea with these devices, where I really believe that there is a middle step that we have to become comfortable with. Students have to be comfortable having them in their hand before they are going to leverage them for learning. I sat down with one student and asked her if she ever used her iPhone for learning in the classroom and she had said no. I asked her about even the thought of Googling something the teacher was discussing and the idea was not there yet. This actually wasn’t that surprising as, let’s face it, many people do not see an iPod touch for much more than communicating and playing Angry Birds or Zombie games. There has to be a transition. It was nice though that as I was still in the school, Jesse McLean (one of the teachers in the room) sent out a tweet with a visual of a student using his iPhone for learning. There is no way it is going to be used for learning, if it is not even in the classroom in the first place. As I toured a few other classes, I was lucky enough to see a teacher teaching a middle years class (presumably grade 6) the ideas shared in the book Mindset, regarding fixed and growth mindsets. I thought this was absolutely amazing, as there is no way this located anywhere in the Alberta Curriculum, but would definitely be beneficial to all learners. Here is a short summary from a Wikipedia article on the growth mindset:
- those with the growth mindset found success in doing their best, in learning and improving,
- those with the growth mindset found setbacks motivating because they’re informative and are a wake-up call, and
- people with the growth mindset in sports took charge of the processes that bring success and maintain it.
No matter the prescribed curriculum, are these not lessons that are valuable to students not only for their future, but their today?
I really enjoyed my visit at Greystone and seeing some amazing things that are being implemented in the school. That being said, what I appreciate the most about the school, is that for all of their success, they still know that there is much room to improve and grow. Is it not easier for our students to embody the growth mindset when the staff and organization embrace that same belief?
Thanks for a great morning!