The Learning Environment

I’ve been doing a bit of reading about the Montessori approach to education in the past day or so and these words have stuck with me as I mulled it over,

The classroom itself will typically be beautiful and enticing. Great care has been taken to create a learning environment that will reinforce the child’s independence and natural urge toward self-development. This is achieved in three ways: beauty, order and accessibility.

Beauty. Order. Accessibility.  These seem to be great words to live by in setting up a classroom environment and a home environment for children which is another educational environment when it is all said and done.

Beauty

I’ve been scanning photos from my high school days to share on Facebook (much to the horror of some of my old classmates) and I noticed the framed prints on the walls of the hall.  In Montessori classrooms the walls are not filled with children’s artworks so that no wall can be seen.  Items to be displayed are chosen carefully and may include student work but also other art works and beautiful things.  The room is bright, warm and inviting to students and parents.  I’ve been in many classrooms that are certainly bright and engaging but are also overwhelming for a child because of the sheer amount of things on display in them.  I think an over-decorated classroom/learning environment can cause a certain amount of sensory overload and make it difficult for  a child to concentrate.  Quality rather than quantity seems to be the message here.  There is a lot of beauty in nature that can of course be introduced to the classroom environment.  I know my boys are entranced by the fish tanks in a few places in their school and potted plants and even flowers really “lift” a room and soften the hard lines of what is usually quite utilitarian construction.  At home I often find the “beauty” obscured by clutter.  As I write this I have two special items on my desk –  a terra-cotta pot decorated by Daniel with “decoupaged” and differently coloured images of himself and one of our best wedding photos.  Unfortunately I can’t actually see either of them because of everything else on the desk.  Fortunately the living areas of our house usually look a bit better but the clutter frequently takes over there as well.

Order

I’ve had the experience now of arriving in many different classrooms for a day of work.  It is a much better experience when I arrive to a clear desk with everything laid out for me to use.  I know this is not always possible because teachers are often away from work unexpectedly but it is really helpful in getting off to a good start with a class.  I’m sure that as a relief teacher, that if you can appear to be “on top of things” as early as possible in the day you are better off.  Some classrooms I’ve been in have been so ordered that I was a bit worried about being able to leave everything in the same state that I found it.  However when I get to spend a bit more time in these rooms I can see how the “order” in classroom materials and books actually helps the day to run more smoothly.  Even very young students know where to get things, where to put them away and this enables them to be more self-directed and self-sufficient.  They can work at their own pace and this helps everyone to be more relaxed.  Having experienced such wonderful “order” in several classrooms has made me determined to have a lot more order in whatever work environment I find myself in next.  When I arrive to a desk strewn with different materials I have been known to put it all in a pile to one side especially if I’m going to be there for than a day.  That seems to immediately make it easier for me to think through what I’m going to do with the class.  For me, order in the home has a lot to do with routines.  Knowing that there is a designated time for homework and that every other activity will have to wait makes it much easier to focus on homework for all of us.  The other thing that helps is having all the equipment necessary – pencils, erasers, colours, scissors, glue etc – in a tote box that can be shifted to wherever we are working means that the flow of work is not interrupted in order to hunt for things.  I have especially found this year that when trying to get  certain 6 year old to focus on his sight words that every second is precious!  Of course a bit more order around here would make life much less stressful.  I’m sure that a certain 9 year old who raced around the house yesterday afternoon searching for his hockey mouthguard that had to be worn for training would agree with this!

Accessibility

Every student deserves a desk and chair that fits!  It is good if students can lift lids of desks or access tote boxes without affecting others.  Large storage for individuals does not generally work well because things are too easily lost.  I’ve seen magazine file boxes used for student books and smaller tote boxes that work well.  Having the bare minimum of gear in a student’s desk and distributing what is needed when it is needed seems to work well with younger students and some older ones who get distracted by having too many things out at once.  I think teachers deserve to be comfortable too!  I have loved working in classrooms that have an armchair for the teacher to sit in when the students are on the floor because I can be close to students without having to be on the floor.  Ideally students should be able to get to as much equipment as possible themselves without having to rely on someone to open cupboards to get things down from high shelves.  Being able to access and then put away resources that they need empowers students to become more independent as learners.  Children can become more independent in the home when they have access to what they need.  We can’t have everything that the boys need at their level in the kitchen but we keep a step stool here to help.  I’m also in the process of re-organising some of my cupboards with tupperware so that they can get to breakfast cereal themselves.  This small thing could be life changing in terms of parents getting to sleep in.  I’ve also solved some of my own accessibility issues with my craft storage area.  Being able to grab something out of a sliding tote means more precious minutes of crafting time!

There is only a small chance that I will end up as a Montessori teacher and I’m far from being a Montessori “purist” but I do think there are things to be gleaned from this approach that will help in all environments in which learning takes place.


Interviews and Leeches

There you have it.  My top two most hated things in the world.  I should be more specific and add that I am meaning job interviews here.  I have enjoyed many a good tussle with parents in parent teacher interviews over the years and have achieved many successes.

However job interviews are a necessary evil for me at the moment so I’ve had to learn to deal with them before, during and after.  While I haven’t yet had an interview that has resulted in a job I know that I have been successful in other ways and that gives me the encouragement I need to move forward with this new direction in my life.  My most recent interview was yesterday afternoon for a job I would absolutely be delighted to get so please cross your fingers for me blog readers!

Here’s what has worked for me in the interviews I’ve done so far this year –

Before

Try my best to be really well prepared.  I’ve done as much research as I can on the various organisations I’ve applied to prior to each interview.  I’ve also made notes and thought through possible scenarios I might be faced with.

Getting good sleep in the nights leading up to the interview – easier said than done but I really do try.

Being organised for the actual logistics of getting to the interview – clothes picked out the night before, good plan for getting there on time etc etc

Getting there on time for some nice slow breathing in the car and being able to arrive in a calm, relaxed fashion.

During

Taking my time to answer questions so I don’t rush through it and make mistakes

Supporting as much as I can of what I am saying with real life examples of things I’ve done

Doing the best I can to relate the skills I’ve gained in 18 years teaching to different workplaces and jobs

Being realistic about what I am capable of and willing to learn more

After

Trying not to beat myself up too much on the way home.  I ALWAYS think of brilliant things to say after the event.


Mothers Day

I think Mothers Day went well for me this year because I let go of any expectations.  We’ve been struggling money wise since I haven’t been working full time so I knew there would be no big surprises or special treats.  It turns out that most of the treats were things that cost no money at all.  I started preparing for Mother’s Day early in a sense because being a Year 1 parent I had the opportunity to help on the school Mothers Day stall.  So for the past few months, in between other projects, I’ve knitted a series of cotton face washers in moss stitch.  I managed to complete 8 and they were sold very quickly so perhaps I should aim for a few more next year.

The celebrations started on Friday with a Mass for mothers which has now become an annual event at the boys’ school.  I went along even though I knew it would feel a bit strange sitting up the back on my own instead of being with a class.  During his homily, Fr Peter told the children to go and put their hands on their Mums if they were present.  I could just imagine the teachers cringing at the chaos which ensued however my two boys found me and laid their hands on me, repeating a blessing by Father Peter so it was very special.  After Mass I spent several hours working on the Mothers Day stall mainly taking the money.  I was careful to “avert the eyes” when my boys were shopping for their presents and I really enjoyed watching the very careful shoppers making their selections.  I gave Eric money for presents and raffle tickets and he was clever enough to win me one of the raffle prizes – a large white platter decorated with raised olives.  I can see myself putting it to good use at the next Book Club gathering at my place and at the big celebration we will be having for Eric’s Confirmation and First Eucharist in a few weeks.

On Saturday night I was asked to specify the time until which I would sleep in and at the appointed hour on Sunday morning  the boys came in bearing gifts and then served breakfast in bed. Coffee and croissants – what a great start to the day!  Eric then surprised me by standing at the foot of the bed and reading out a POEM he had written in my honour. Wow!  I will publish it here but at present it is back at school for possible publication in the school newsletter.  I am very impressed!  In amongst the gifts bought by the boys there was also a voucher for a pedicure and manicure purchased by dh.  I spent a quiet Sunday pottering around and on Monday night we went out for dinner.  A pretty good celebration all round with just the right amounts of everything.