From the Back of the Classroom

What’s your favourite place to work?

Where do you go to do deep work?

Is it different from where you do reading?

Where do you do most of your correcting?

Do you have that favourite chair where you love to read?

This is where, each morning, I spend time reading, free writing, and meditating. It’s my comfort space.

 

But it’s not where I spend time doing research or deeper writing.

Flexible Seating

I’m a big believer in flexible seating – providing students with different options for where they sit/stand when doing work during the day. I am noticing a stream of pictures and articles of classrooms focused on flexible seating. There are definitely some amazing looking classrooms with all kinds of seating arrangements and different options for sitting and working.

But is it all necessary? What are they key aspects that should be considered?

My wife, a Learning Resource Teacher, spends a great deal of time working with teachers helping them with implementing flexible seating in their classrooms among other things. Everything from standing desks to squishy seats. But, she is also very aware that this doesn’t work for all children.

As a parent, she knows that our 8 year old finds it difficult to concentrate in the classroom, especially with so many options. At times, according to his teacher, he is almost overwhelmed with the options. Although he likes the different options, flopping across a ball, bouncing on a squishy seat, he finds it very difficult to stay on task unless he’s at a more conventional seating arrangement. As parents, we’ve experienced this same situation with a couple of our children. Providing options can be a great thing but it can also become an overwhelming distraction.

As I discussed in my post Classroom Design – Not everyone likes learning at Starbucks about the importance of classroom design on learning, we need to be careful in decisions about classroom environment and ensure decisions are based on sound educational practices. As Eric Sheninger discusses in Research-Influenced Learning Spaces

We need to move away from classroom design that is “Pinterest pretty” and use research/design thinking to guide the work.” – Eric Sheninger and Tom Murray

Much like the ‘Ditch-the-teacher-desk’ that became a trend, flexible seating seems to be something that has become a topic of conversation.

The Teacher’s Desk

I know that there are great reasons for getting rid of the teacher’s desk. I got rid of mine years ago. But, I also learned that there were other considerations to keep in mind that, well, I didn’t consider before I made the move. I needed a working space in the classroom and had to make adjustments in order to manage this. When I was an administrator and a few teachers wanted to get rid of their desks, we met in each room to discuss the different ways to accommodate this while still providing options for the teacher to work. With 5 of us in the room, brainstorming ideas about the advantages and disadvantages was also a discussion about classroom design which eventually led to further classroom changes.

Barrett, Davies, Zang, and Barrett (2015) identified three dimensions, or design principles, to be considered in classroom design:

Naturalness: relates to the environmental parameters that are required for physical comfort. These are light, sound, temperature, air quality and ‘links to nature’. In particular there are specific requirements needed for children’s learning environments.

Individualisation: relates to how well the classroom meets the needs of a particular group of children. It is made up of Ownership, Flexibility and Connection parameters. Ownership is the first element and is a measure of both how identifiable and personalized the room is. Flexibility is a measure of how the room addresses the need of a particular age group and any changing pedagogy. Connection is a measure of how readily the pupils can connect to the rest of the school.
Stimulation (appropriate level of):has two parameters of Complexity and Colour. Colour is straightforward, but does encompass all the colour elements in the room. Complexity is a measure of how the different elements in the room combine to create a visually coherent and structured, or random and chaotic environment. It has been suggested that focused attention is crucially important for learning.

We all have different preferences for doing work and, usually, it depends on the work we are doing. When I’m doing research and writing, I like to work in a space that allows me to focus and is free from distractions and has natural light. My wife works at the kitchen table. Our 16 year old likes to work in the livingroom in a chair or at his desk in his room, depending on the work he is doing and his mood. The 14 year old likes the kitchen table as it allows him to be social while working. As for the 12 year old, you can find him on the floor, lying on the couch, sprawled across a chair or sitting on his bed but he likes a quiet space. The 8 year old will read to someone wherever but it usually involves a great deal of shifting and moving and probably a few side-bar conversations about something that catches his fancy. When our older daughter was in university, her favourite study place was the library (away from 4 energetic boys)


  • From the back of your classroom:

    How do you view the learning environment (as a student or a teacher)? Is this view based on opportunities for learning?
    What was the main focus for how you designed the learning space?
    Where did you get your inspiration for the space?
    Did you consider Naturalness, Individualisation, & Stimulation in the design?
    Have you asked others about the design? What were the reactions (learning focused or other)?
    Have you considered safety and movement in your design? Can it accommodate all learners?

  • Habits, Groups, and Growth Mindset

    How often do you think about which hand to brush your teeth with? Or comb your hair? What about where the bowl for cereal is located? Or the spoons? How is your refrigerator is arranged? Or your clothes drawers? Why are they that way?

    Habits build up over time, often being introduced to us when we are children and developing as we grow older. We don’t often even pay attention to what we are doing or wonder why we do things that way. They can be helpful, allowing us to focus on other details while we go about the day. They can be harmful and destructive, something that we struggle with for years.

    But not all habits are created equally.

    Keystone Habits

    Keystone habits are habits that have a profound affect on other habits. They shape and influence other habits. They can be good habits which then affect other habits. For example, when I began a morning routine, it had an effect on the rest of my day. The routine had an influence the other habits I had around organization and productivity. These have slowly developed into routines – a series of habits that I use in the morning and in the evening. Over time, some become automatic, allowing me to focus more on moment that I’m in or what I am reading. It also works the other way, keystone habits that aren’t so good.

    According to Charles Duhigg in The Power of Habit, keystone habits

    say that success doesn’t depend on getting every single thing right, but instead relies on identifying a few key priorities and fashioning them into powerful levers. … The habits that matter most are the ones that, when they start to shift, dislodge and remake other patterns.

    We all have habits that we rely on throughout the day. These habits affect all aspects of their lives. When we combine these habits into routines, the habits can help us to build even more habits. Now these habits can be good or bad. By knowing that some actions trigger other actions, we can begin to take action, either to reinforce the good habits or begin to change habits that aren’t so goof for us.
    But individuals are’t the only one with habits.

    Group Habits

    So if individuals have habits, can groups also have habits?
    According to Hudigg, when you have a group of people, these habits become routines. In the classroom, the routines are what influence individual habits. Everything from how the room is set up to the structure of the day influence what is taking place. Determining trigger points for students can help to determine where a particular habit or routine might need to be changed. By examining the behaviours and tracing what is happening to the trigger points, it is possible to begin to identify some of the reasons behind certain things that are happening in the classroom.

    But how to determine what might create change or how to change the habits and routines? According to Hudigg, this requires what research calls “small wins”.

    Small wins fuel transformative changes by leveraging tiny advantages into patterns that convince people that bigger achievements are within reach.

    Too often in the classroom, we react to the actions of individuals without taking time to identify what is causing the actions or reactions. There are many systems that are used and implemented in classrooms that try to manage behaviours of students without taking the time to determine if there are habits that may be causing the behaviours.

    Are there are specific triggers or cues that might can be identified? What is the routine that might be resulting in the behaviour?

    Habits for a Growht Mindset

    Carol Dweck, author of The Growth Mindset, outlines how the mindset people have influences their ability to make changes and continue to grow and learn. Recently, Dweck began discussing what she calls a “false growth mindset” in which people praise an action but don’t take the necessary steps to go deeper to understanding what needs to change in order to improve.

    False growth mindset is saying you have growth mindset when you don’t really have it or you don’t really understand [what it is]. It’s also false in the sense that nobody has a growth mindset in everything all the time. Everyone is a mixture of fixed and growth mindsets. You could have a predominant growth mindset in an area but there can still be things that trigger you into a fixed mindset trait. Something really challenging and outside your comfort zone can trigger it, or, if you encounter someone who is much better than you at something you pride yourself on, you can think “Oh, that person has ability, not me.” So I think we all, students and adults, have to look for our fixed-mindset triggers and understand when we are falling into that mindset.

    I think a lot of what happened [with false growth mindset among educators] is that instead of taking this long and difficult journey, where you work on understanding your triggers, working with them, and over time being able to stay in a growth mindset more and more, many educators just said, “Oh yeah, I have a growth mindset” because either they know it’s the right mindset to have or they understood it in a way that made it seem easy.

    As Dweck suggests, identifying the triggers that keep us from growing and developing are important in order to make changes to what we are doing and they take time. If change and innovation is what schools are seeking, then starting at the source, with the habits and mindsets of the teacher and students is essential to creating lasting change and innovation.

    How do we identify the triggers?

    One way is to develop a journaling habit. As a full-time teaching administrator I fully get how busy teachers are in the classroom and, in recent years, this ‘busyness’ has increased. Yet, with all the tracking and record keeping, management systems and reporting systems, teachers are frustrated with what is happening in the classroom. In almost all instances, the systems don’t get to the root of the issues but are directed at recording the implementation of different systems of behaviour management.

    In order to change the culture of any group, there needs to be a change of culture. Without examining the keystone habits of the group, making changes will run into the embedded habits which can be difficult to overcome. Unknowingly, old habits won’t be changed. So, despite people’s best efforts, change may begin but the cultural change needed will be hampered by systemic habits which may, ultimately, undermine even the best intentions, ideas, and plans.

    Cultures grow out of the keytsone habits in every organization, whether leaders are awere of them or not. … Keystone habits transform us by creating cultures that make clear the values that, in the heat of a difficult decision or moment of uncertainty, we might otherwise forget. Charles Duhigg

    In schools and classrooms, spending time examining the habits of people and the systems being used is essential to determine whether there are triggers and cues that will undermind the change efforts. In my experience working through change in a number of schools, a great deal of effort goes into explaining and laying out why change is necessary/important. Very little time is spent exploring what is currently happening and examining the existing routines and habits to determine the affect they have upon the current system. Trying to innovate or change will be very difficult if the current routines and habits are not explored.

    This work takes great effort and isn’t very “flashy” or “innovative”. It take patience and some time to determine the current triggers and cues in place and, if possible, determining if there are any keystone habits that might be key resistors to change. Too often, change agents want to get the process underway. Innovators want to implement their innovations. But, like so many gym memberships that are purchased at New Year’s by coaches who extol the virtues of the gym and exercise, once they have your membership, it’s off to the next one.

    I Wonder ….

    What would happen if we started to innovate or change by asking “Why do things happen this way?”

    How the change/innovation process would benefit from a deep exploration of the current systems and habits within the organization?

    How teachers might use reflection in their classrooms to explore how behaviours are affected by the current routines and habits?

    I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas about this. Leave a comment or you can connect with me on Twitter @kwhobbes

    Creative Habits

    Screenshot 2017-06-29 17.37.14

    Habits – they help us to get through the day. We develop them over time. Many of them are helpful but there are some which can be damaging.

    We become so use to them, we don’t even notice how much they influence what we do or affect the choices we make.

    Until we do something like move.

    Moving Habits

    Our family has moved a number of times – 10 I believe but I might have missed one or two somewhere. When you move, you briefly become aware of your habits although you usually don’t see them as habits.

    • Why are kitchen utensils in THAT drawer?

    • Where is the large roaster?

    • Has anyone seen the shampoo?

    All these little things that we use each day are in specific places for a purpose – they help us to go about doing various tasks and getting on with our day without having to pause to wonder where we put your socks this week.

    It’s like so many of the things we do. We tend to take the same route to work each day. It’s easier for us to navigate. Ever notice how you feel when you have to make a detour because of road construction? Does it mess things up? Do you talk about it when you get to your destination? Would you discuss your drive if it was just routine?

     Routines and habits are necessary for us. They help us to navigate through each day without becoming exhausted from decision-making.

    But (you knew that was coming)

    these routines and daily habits can eventually lead us to be less creative. As we go through each day, our habits often have us doing things before we really know we’re doing them – turn right at the lights, turn left two lights later – Did you notice the new sign? Was anyone sitting at the outdoor patio? (If it was winter you might notice!)

    The routines and habits do serve a purpose as they help us to focus on areas of greater need and not become overwhelmed figuring out where we put the cereal. It’s also why sometimes solving problems is more difficult or coming up with ideas is strenuous, especially if we are in a routine-structured environment such as a school.

    What if we want to be a bit more creative?

    Kafka Effect

    Franz Kafka  was a German-Language writer whose stories would take unexpected turns and twists that seemed to make little sense.

    His work, which fuses elements of realism and the fantastic,[3] typically features isolated protagonists faced by bizarre or surrealistic predicaments and incomprehensible social-bureaucratic powers, and has been interpreted as exploring themes of alienation, existential anxiety, guilt, and absurdity.

    The Kafka Effect, named after his writing, describes how a person’s creativity seems to increased after something in a person’s life happens which doesn’t seem to make sense such as a spouse leaving, a major move, or another such event. Nick Tasler in The Kafka Effect describes how scientists have discovered that people’s creativity seems to increase  when things don’t seem to make sense.

    •  In a series of correlational studies and experiments, Heintzelman and King found that when people believed their lives made sense, they let their intuitionguide their actions. But during times when they didn’t feel life was as meaningful, their brains shifted gears. “Before a trauma,” Heintzelman and King write, “a person was likely on auto-pilot, relying on intuitive processing. However, after a traumatic event, effortful processing may be crucial to making or reinstating meaning.”

    This change in the normal creates dissonance. We aren’t sure what we’re suppose to do and our brain begins to look for patterns.

    It works like this: When we detect something that doesn’t make sense—when the spouse we rely on to be our rock suddenly starts flaking out, or the neighbor in the Kafka story acts like a horse for no discernible reason—a cluster of brain functions called the salience network immediately activates a powerful set of cognitive skills that go to work finding other meaningful patterns around us. Once it starts, your brain won’t stop looking until it finds something to fill the void in meaning.

    According to Tasler, such events create dissonance which creates a “seed incident”.

    A seed incident is what stimulates people to explore new ideas because something happened which the same old stories we tell ourselves couldn’t quite explain. The seed incident sends us on a journey of discovery. What we end up finding on that journey is another story.

    This seed incident introduces a change to our habits and routines which then opens us up to new ideas or ways of seeing things. These events can can lead us to see things in new ways which allow us to solve a problem unrelated to the event being experienced.
    But no one is waiting for a major life-changing event to happen just to be a bit more creative.

    Tasler suggests that this isn’t necessary. Instead, we can do things in our daily lives that help us to create dissonance that can lead to creativity. He suggests such things as taking a different route, going for a walk in a different part of the city, meeting with people in a new location or trying something you haven’t tried before can all open us up to new ideas.

    Schools are Built Around Routines

    Schools and classrooms rely on routines to help organize the people who are there. This isn’t a bad thing. Routine is comforting and helps us to be able to focus more on the non-routine things. Any teacher will tell you that disruptions in routine can really affect students and their ability to focus and concentrate.
    However, the routines don’t always lend themselves to students being creative. So how can this be changed? How can we help students be more creative?

    Tasler suggest that it’s in the messiness that creativity take shape.

    researchers like Kaufmann make a compelling case that it’s right there in that messy, scary period of search and discovery that many of our most important innovations—our legacy-leaving creations—begin taking shape.

    Classrooms of Creativity

    Re-image the classroom as a place of creativity. There is a time for sitting and working deeply which is an important skill. However, by also allowing for flexiblity in seating and the design of the classroom, students can move out of the regular routine.
    Take new approaches.

    • Go for a walk before settling in to do learning tasks.
    • Take journeys around the school or the school yard but not in the usual ways.
    • Have everyone draw pictures with their non-dominant hand and share them and discuss the process with another student.
    • Write across the page from right to left.

    There are any number of ways to break away from the regular habits creating a little dissonance which may lead to a bit of creativity. It may not but, by building in these ‘seed incidents’, the normal routines are slightly disrupted which opens things up to possibility. Besides, it’s fun and who doesn’t want to have a bit more fun!

    I wonder….

    How do you already break the regular routine(s) to allow for creativity?
    Have you every experienced something like the Kafka Effect?
    What are ways you help develop creativity in students within the classroom?

    I’d love to hear your ideas and insights.