Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Schools SHOULD be Comfortable

I received my recent edition of Edutopia in my inbox today and, again, I remember why I love my job (I may stop saying that every post, but you know, if [insert your "it" of choice] it fits.....) - because our school IS comfortable. The article lead was Shouldn't Classrooms Be Comfortable and the article was "A Comfortable Truth: Kids Don't Need to Squirm to Learn". Sometimes kids need to move to learn, but making them squirm is NOT conducive to learning - AMEN to Edutopia!

"Nothing about the industrial-school model required comfort as a precondition for success. In fact, school comfort, through the introduction of seemingly superfluous elements, was often seen to militate against the high ideal of efficiency. Even though no research or evidence supports this idea, a myth persists to this day that an uncomfortable school is probably good because it creates self-disciplined kids, not pampered softies." Thank you Prakash Nair and Randall Fielding whoever you are! I remember being uncomfortable in school, I remember daydreaming in school, I remember laughing and I remember some learning...hmm...seems like the order of that should be a little different...

Nair and Fielding list 8 truths about comfort and learning or comfort and schools:

#1:Comfort Matters
I agree, in fact, I can't imagine if I wasn't comfortable in my space for the whole day! Who likes to be uncomfortable? I hate going to trainings or conferences when I'm not comfortable - who care if I'm supposed to learn something or I've paid to be there - those "priorities" are not exactly what the learning portion of my brains are taking in at the time; in fact, there's probably not much info even getting that far into my brain. That's when I pray I am taking good notes, the handouts are awesome or I can find it on the web....

#2 Some Pain, No Gain
Except for the chiropractor, psychiatrist or other health professionals that will be healing the pain there is no evident gain for anyone else. I suppose if you plan to work on a bench or in a cubicle on a hard chair as your career it might be good training - oh wait, I suppose the gain then is called disability right? Oh, no, even cubicles usually have some kind of padded chair, some even ergonomically correct, saves on health care costs, etc... hmm..... seems like I heard something on the news about concerns about cutting health care costs. That would be an interesting research project - is the long term health of kids from comfortable schools better than that of kids in "regular" schools? Don't know how you'd measure that exactly, but that's not really my point anyway :).

#3 The Breathing and Learning Connection
Okay, I know a few people in HVAC fields, in fact my dad does industrial systems and I can't tell you how often I've heard about how inefficient the air systems are in school buildings. I also wonder about the fact that within the last 5 years or so, there's been more and more discussion about the increase in learning disabilities. There is also a high incidence of asthma, allergies, and other immune or air related difficulties in students with learning problems. How much of this may be influenced by the air quality, particularly in the younger grades? We won't even think about overall air quality once you leave the school building . . . in homes. . . etc...

#4 Louder is Not Better
It does amaze me how many sounds there are in a school, even one as small as ours. We don't have bells, PA systems or hundreds of kids switching classes, but we still notice the noise of the computer, or the lights, or the big truck that drove by, the HVAC guy on the ceiling, etc..... and since most of my students are active or are moving, we tend to create quite a bit of noise. But, another teacher I was speaking with a few weeks ago was saying that they can have up to an announcement every 3-4 minutes during his class and then bells might ring for staggered lunch periods, etc.. In my class, I joke because noise can often mean learning - but it certainly is the right kind of noise! Is it really TV or video games effecting kids' attention spans and auditory processing?....

#5 Cozy and Cheeful Wins Hearts and Minds
Nair and Fielding dedicate this truth to the "architects who design schools". It is funny when some buildings can be classified as a mini-Taj Mahal, but run out of classroom space quickly. I understand why in this day and age creating nooks and crannies for comfort may create spaces that are difficult to supervise, and kids, especially teenagers, are already good at finding small spaces; but what about feeling like school is less like an institution and more of a community of learning? This one has no easy answer for sure, but it seems like there may be some out there...

#6 Cafes Are Not Just for Grown-Ups
"A school café (the antithesis of the typical school cafeteria) nourishes not only the body but also the spirit. Whereas a cafeteria is just a place to get food into kids and move them on, a café is a place where students might actually choose to be. Ideally, it would be much smaller than a big dining hall, accommodating no more than a hundred students at a time. There might be allday access to a variety of healthy and nutritious refreshments and beverages, and comfortable chairs and small tables could accommodate groups of four or bistro-type seating for individuals or two students at a time.
The area could also feature student artwork, plus newspapers and other casual reading materials, as well as good views to greenery and vistas where possible. Look into almost any popular city café; working people use such places as ad hoc study halls, and so can students. As with other comfort concepts in this article, such an environment may seem unlikely in the workaday world of public education, but if we can't imagine the ideal, we'll never evolve the real".
I loved how they said it so much, there wasn't much to add. :)

#7 Comfort is Important Outside, Too
Okay, I'll be realistic. I would love to have a terrace and places for social gatherings, etc.. but how do you maintain such spaces? It can be a struggle to get them to clean up after themselves at lunch :). No, I'm not all of a sudden changing my tune, but sometimes even coming close to the ideal is just way too much thought of work. On the same note, we just spent an afternoon moving perennials and flower beds to beautify the outside of the building - actually we will be under construction to not only beautify, but fix the outside of our building. So I am with the "outside is important'; but I'm not up for tons more space to be monitoring pick up. Any other ideas?

# 8 (drumroll....) Emotions Count in Comfort

"One of the most uncomfortable things about schools is the degree to which students feel anonymous in them." Okay, this is showing to be more true than ever within the past few years. This is not more important because the news is showing more and more incidences of those who are through being anonymous, but because it's part of being human. Connecting with other people is vital to a person's well-being. Some choose to connect in ways that others might consider odd, but that connection is still necessary. How can we foster this in schools? It goes beyond character education and beyond teaching social skills I think; how as teachers, aides, leaders, etc...., particularly when we are feeling overwhelmed by standards and all the other aspects to our job remind ourselves that we are the most important role models? If we act as if each student is important through our actions, words and decisions then they are more likely to feel that way. When we teach these concepts, but still feed into the stereotypes of specific students - the "bad" kid, the "slacker", the "nobody", the "cut-up", etc... through our actions, words and decisions, again, they are more likely to feel that way. This is not all on teacher though. Society portrays many things as "important" and kids interpret this in many ways. How can we help them interpret them in healthy ways; and, if I return to the education arena, how do we do this in this world of "high standards" and No Child Left Behind. How are you emotionally comfortable at school when No Child is Being Left Behind, but you?

Okay, I'll stop now, but I know that at our school there are less than 50 students in grades 3-12 and I know them all. Some better than others, especially since I really only teach middle school this year, but I know them all BY NAME. They all know that someone misses them when they are not in school; they know that someone will notice if they start struggling or stop turning in work; someone will notice if they cut their hair - or read that challenging word, or write an awesome essay, or draw their first recognizable drawing (okay, so that's me and I'm still waiting for that to happen); but they know someone, usually more than one someone, will know! They may not always like this attention, but I'm good with that. I'd rather they had it and were irritated that they couldn't "get away with anything" than feel noone cares. That is one of the most horrible feelings in the world - and it has no place in a school. True learning is learning from everyone around you, and you can't do that if everyone is not there..

I asked some of my family and friends to check out my blog to see if it made sense, etc.. and my aunt told me she was proud of me - okay, I may be thirty-something, but that still sounds awesome to me! She also told me that one thing she has learned about special needs kids, her term not mine :), was that she has found that she learns more from them than she does from "regular" kids. How true, and you know what, that's why I love my job!


Unknown said...

your aunt sounds like a very clever lady , my wife is a PICU nurse and as many of these same kids also have physical problems she comes into contact with them quite a bit and the one thing she tells me is their ability to show love is a blessing which we can all learn from

ldtchr said...

I have always found my aunt to be a clever lady. Thanks!

txdave said...

You have lots of good ideas, but internet readers tend to like shorter posts, smaller bites.

Doublecheck your proofreading tho for grammatical mistakes.

Also, some color, photos could help enliven your blog, see wht I mean:

good luck