A colleague recently asked me why it is that in the initial stages of the Educational Framework process I like to visit a school and look inside each teacher’s classroom. The reason for this is simply because each classroom speaks a thousand words; it offers me both in-depth insight about the school as a whole and each teacher in particular.
The Cohesiveness of the School: The classrooms in a school offer an indication of whether or not the school is already functioning as a unit, or if each teacher has set up their classroom as they see fit. If a school already has a cohesive teaching culture, common threads will be found between each room, and a clear progression between grades will be visible. If this is the case, the way I approach the Educational Framework and planners I design will differ from my approach towards a school that would like to see a commonality between classrooms but hasn’t achieved this yet.
Implementing a New Vision: If a school is planning to implement a whole new vision, and staff had been setting up classrooms as they saw fit, touring classrooms will give me an insight into which teachers will already be comfortable with the upcoming changes. As I am designing the individualized planners and preparing staff training, I will keep my observations in mind.
Spaces: Before beginning an Education Framework, it is helpful for me to see the space teachers have to work with - are joint learning spaces available? What are the sizes of the classrooms? What equipment does each teacher have access to? Are classrooms equipped with desks, tables, or both, etc.? All of this information is helpful in designing both the Educational Framework and the individualized planners so that I don’t include elements that are unattainable in the available spaces.
Teachers’ Understanding: If a school is planning to continue with its existing vision and has already asked for certain elements to be in place in each room, a teacher’s classroom can speak volumes to their level of understanding of expectations. For example, if a school has chosen to follow the Reggio Emilia philosophy, each classroom should be set up in a similar fashion and reflect the philosophy. A teacher who is new to the philosophy or not comfortable in their understanding may be missing certain required elements, and instead of classroom materials being organized and serving a clear purpose, they may be arranged in more of a haphazard manner. This is important for me to note while I am designing the individualized planners so that if necessary I can add additional elements to certain planners.
Mentoring Teachers: If a school has requested my services in mentoring teachers through the use of individualized planners, my initial observations will assist me, as I will already have an understanding of each teacher’s starting point. As I have mentioned in previous articles, reminders about classroom set-up can be included as part of the individualized planners. As I am working with a teacher, these reminders will be part of our discussions, and additional helpful hints about classroom set-up can be provided.
Although I am able to design an Educational Framework and its accompanying planners without touring a school, I do feel that the classroom visits offer me valuable insights into a school and its staff. Every teacher is at a different spot in their career learning journey, and the more I can individualize their planners, the more of an impact the planners will ultimately make!