Monday, June 6, 2011

Mr. High School Goes to Elementary

This year I teach a Leadership class made up of mostly freshmen.  For most of the second semester I've traveled with my class to a local elementary school to provide assistance in the classrooms.  My own children have been in elementary school for five years, but this experience has provided a different perspective for me on elementary education.  I've seen many things go on at this elementary school that I would love to see transfer to the high school level.  I'm sure not every school is the same, but these are the things that I've loved watching at Hollymead Elementary school in Albemarle County.

1) The building is filled with adults who all seem to have a role to fill hands on with students.  If I sit in the lobby for more than ten minutes I will see three to five people walking down the hall with anywhere from one to six children.  When I walk down the k-3 hallways, every classroom has at least one other adult than the teacher.  I haven't figured out how many are volunteers and how many are staff, but the impact on the climate of the school is quite notable.

2) The building is filled with color.  Most newer high schools I've visited are colorful places as well.  My high school has several additions that feature natural lighting and lighter colors, but the older wings are still quite dark and cavernous.  It is easy to underestimate the impact that environment has on attitude and behavior and I would like to see even older facilities kept up to better reflect this.

3) The building is filled with sound but not noise.  I rarely passed a classroom without some sort of interaction going on.  Students have so much opportunity to interact.  This can quickly turn into non-productive chatter, but having so many available adults helps keep the activity directed.  For the most part, teachers seem to work with this sound without letting it reach the level of distraction.

4) The building is filled with students working actively.  Whether moving about in the hallway, or quietly producing something at their tables (not desks, I noticed very few desks at the school) students were continually engaged in learning.  My first day at the school I witnessed one class working on paintings of leprechauns and rainbows. (It was close to St. Patrick's Day).  It was a nice activity, but when the teacher reinforced the pattern of colors in the rainbow using ROY G BIV, I knew this was more than just a fun holiday exercise.

If I have the opportunity next year I plan to continue this involvement with elementary school, hopefully playing a more active role myself in the classrooms with my students.  It has been an excellent professional development opportunity for me.  Perhaps greater interaction among teachers actively engaged in the work of instructing students could serve all educators better if the time and opportunities existed.

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