A few weeks ago there was yet another "chicken little" education article about MLE's claiming the sky is falling. These opinion pieces fuel emotions about education and perceptions about the alleged harm to children as many schools shift the discussion away from “what should a classroom be like?” to “how do children learn best?”
It may seem like semantics, but the contrast in that key question seems to lie at the heart of peoples experiences and perceptions about how schools and classrooms should and could function.
With such a one-sided perspective continually placed into mainstream media - a place many in society generally rely on for factual information (weather details, sport results, holiday road tolls, political information etc.), it is not surprising that anything we hear, watch or read from a reputable news source is received the way it is. And with the way we use social media more and more to receive news that is of interest to us - we can find ourselves in what former president Obama calls a “bubble.”
However, it might surprise many people that I do not doubt that the experience of the parents and teachers reported in these articles is probably accurate. I do not doubt that when they describe concerns about noise, children falling through cracks, lack of relational connection with the teacher or children having no direction or support for their learning etc. could very well be accurate.
However, it would be equally easy to find as many, if not many, many more examples of parents with children in single cell classrooms who also have recounts of those very things happening!
Is the argument that noise is not an issue in any single cell environments?
The answer, of course, is no. My experience of over 16 years is these concerns, queries, wonderings from parents, teachers and school leaders alike is not a new occurrence and did not emerge with the arrival of MLE!
My experience has been that when any of these discussions are raised, it always relates directly to;
The point is the issue is not the physical space or the different ways of working that causes these issues; the issue is teacher practice.
One of the rationale pieces for Leamington moving to co-teaching spaces is that our experience has been they amplify the effectiveness of teacher practice. My experience, and that of many of my colleagues, has been that since moving to co-teaching spaces I now field far fewer concerns from parents about any of the above concerns. Parents generally raise concerns about the idea of a co-teaching space at the outset, but do not return saying “I told you so!”
As a school, we receive many visitors to learn about how our classrooms function, the routines that are in place for the children and the way that the teachers operate. The first question I ask them is “what is your shared understanding of how children learn best?” Almost all visitors are completely undone with this question. And this is the issue as I see it.
When there is no clear understanding of;
As a school, we have spent considerable time researching and developing clarity across our team about how children learn best and how children both individually and collectively best engage in learning. Our classroom environments, no matter how they look, are then built from the ground up from this DNA and then continually calibrated against these key drivers. (Look at our Cogs, our virtues, our progressions, our use of Technology to magnify the potential of the learner, contextualised and targeted task design, our commitment to learner agency and culturally responsive practice, the commitment we have to relationships and getting to know the children in our class, opportunities to learn independently, inter-dependently, from both adults and peers alike, the way we scaffold children to have choice about their learning, making learning and progress visible, including more and more authentic learning contexts, having a bias towards creativity, curiosity, problem-solving, self regulation, resilience etc.)
The reason we have moved to co-teaching spaces is that our experience has been that within co-teaching spaces these learning opportunities and relational experiences are amplified for more learners more often when teachers collaboratively work together to meet the needs of individual learners.
So what has been the impact for our school?
In addition to our achievement data continuing to trend upwards, when we look at our engagement data from the Me and My School Survey designed by the New Zealand Council for Educational Research (NZCER) we see that the Leamington results are superior to those seen across NZ in single cell environments across all criterion. These include:
Again, the point is this - the concerns that these articles raise are valid - but they point to concerns about the impact on children as a causal environmental issue when it is, in fact, a teacher practice issue. And just like in single cell environments, teacher practice is the greatest variable within any school (ERO, Hattie). This is also the case within MLE environments, particularly when there is no clear rationale from the school about how an MLE amplifies learning for children, rather they focus primarily on the physical space and how teachers work together. Therefore it is no wonder that children fall between the cracks, because from the outset they were not the centre of the discussion!
To lump all MLE and single cell classes together in all-encompassing statements and articles is not only misleading and inaccurate, but it is also damaging and in my opinion slanderous on the many, many teachers who run extremely effective learning programs for our children, no matter in what space they may work.
At Leamington, our commitment to our community, our learners and each other is to avoid the personal and professional attacks that are misguided in many of these discussions. Our commitment is to discipline ourselves to focus our time, energy, blood, sweat and tears (literally) and attention on how children learn best and how they are most readily engaged; to do our part in helping to create futures.
Our commitment is to discipline ourselves to focus our time, energy, blood, sweat and tears (literally) and attention on how children learn best and how they are most readily engaged; to do our part in helping to create futures.