I believe classrooms need structure to thrive. Just as our own children need and want structure, rules and boundaries, so do our students. Clear expectations and reliable routines give children the security and predictability to explore, make mistakes and succeed.
Constructing and reconstructing routines to meet the needs of my students and management systems that meet my needs as an educator are probably my greatest personal challenges as a teacher. I spend a considerable amount of time thinking about it, talking about it and doing it. Organizational systems in my classroom are constantly evolving. I am always juggling the ever increasing paperwork – where did I put those math assessment results, where did I put that pile of narratives, where should I put this pile of permission slips, where should I put this letter? And that is just my desk and filing systems. The students’ desks, cubbies, folders and binders are entirely different systems. I hollered over to my colleague next door the other day (I am able to do this because we work in an open-concept school, that’s a fancy way of saying we don’t have walls) and said “Speaking of freedom in structure, I need a new structure for my desk because I am not “free” to do anything because I am crippled by this mound!” She agreed and then we called in the rest of the team for a group UGHHHHHHH and what do we do with all this stuff???????? Unfortunately, I am still looking for structures to free me (admitting you have a problem is the first step), but I do have a standing invitation from the Yoda of organization in our school to visit her room for tips and secrets. Maybe she should be a guest blogger next!
Luckily, I think my systems and structures for my students are more effective. My students have a great deal of freedom in the classroom. I need them to be independent in gathering and using supplies, passing in work, using the bathroom, finding math manipulatives they need, managing their unfinished work and in essence being students. Their freedom with these tasks allows me more time to meet with small groups of students to do what I do best, teach. This freedom comes naturally when I teach the students how to use the classroom structures I’ve created or better yet, when I let them help me develop routines that will work for our unique classroom community. I believe that students respond very positively when I set the expectation that the classroom is OUR learning and living space and that we are all responsible for making it run smoothly. Freedom is a great responsibility, one that needs practice and respect.