After seeing how meditation, carpet and couches have transformed my friend's classroom, I wonder if this new thinking really works and what other kinds of experiments in education can make a difference.
An Observation in Classroom Comfort
I went in to watch a friend teach a lesson this week after hearing all summer about his plans to make his 9th grade classroom less intimidating and more student friendly. When I walked in students were sitting in a circle, some on a polka dotted carpet reminiscent of a 2nd grade, about to begin a one minute silent breathing exercise before starting the day's work.
Students were encouraged to block out all thoughts and just concentrate on inhaling and exhaling through their nose. I was impressed with how seriously they all took it. A freshman whom I had seen escorted out of an all school assembly for cursing out a dean, was now calmly concentrating on his breathing.
My friend went to a "mindfulness in education" conference over the summer and has completely restructured his classroom and the way he runs it this year. There are couches in the corner where students can work, clip boards in hand. The room is full of plants and they even have a class hamster, Veronica, which students can visit if they've finished their work.
"I want them to feel comfortable in here," he told me and for the most part, they appeared to be. After the lesson got started, it looked much more like your average math class, with a do now and work stations and group work, but the community that has been established certainly gave the room a different feel. It's an interesting experiment and one that the administration at my school has supported thus far.
Experiments in Education
As a relatively new teacher, I sense the entire education system has been and will continue to be going through various experiments in the coming decade particularly in poor urban neighborhoods. A classmate of mine just started working at an elementary school with a new experimental model - class size, 60; number of teachers, 4 Lessons are taught to every kindergartner and 1st grader in three different languages and the teachers don't get any breaks. Oh, and the master teacher on each grade level makes six figures but hasn't been in the system 22 years.
I welcome the change and admire educators like my friend and classmate who are willing to go for it, while kidding themselves about the potential to fail.
As I left his class, I couldn't help but wonder if they will learn any better, being comfortable. They may be less likely to cut the class but algebra on a couch with nature sounds playing in the background is still algebra. We have to be careful not to forget that people have been working on the issue of improving public education since public education has been around and that we don't need to create everything from scratch. On the other hand, to see significant results, we need significant change which may challenge much of what we consider education today.
Phil is a teacher and writes for TeachHUB.com.
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