Friday, January 13, 2017

Yes, They Can

This week's entry comes to us from Diane Behrman, a kindergarten teacher at Thorpe Creek Elementary.  One day she heard herself saying, "My students aren't ready for that." Upon further consideration, she wondered who was the one not ready.

Below is her story:

From Diane: Student Choice

As a first year teacher, pretty much everything has been a learning experience for me since I stepped foot in my kindergarten classroom at Thorpe Creek Elementary last August.  Education is going through some pretty big changes as we move towards HSE21 and Reggio-inspired classrooms, so I’m learning all of these new practices right along with my co-workers. One of those areas that I think many teachers (first year or not) struggle with is shifting toward allowing student choice throughout the day. 
There are no desks in Diane's classroom. Students can do
their work at low tables, traditional-height tables, a large picnic table,
or just have a seat on pillows or on the floor.

When the year started, I was all about having assigned seats when my kindergartners came into the room on the first day of school.  I knew that letting 21 kiddos with little school experience come in and wander aimlessly around the room without having an assigned spot would quickly become a disaster.  So, like many teachers, I placed name tags at each seat in my classroom.  Each student knew where to sit. 

This worked seamlessly the first day and the second day and each day after.  In fact, having assigned seats was working so well that I didn’t even think about getting rid of them. 

Then I had a friendly visitor from the district office stop by and ask me how I liked the flexible seating in my room.  I mentioned how my students enjoyed the seating options, but that I was assigning the seats. 

Then I said, “My students can't handle choosing their own seats.”  They were kindergartners after all! I couldn’t trust these little people with a big decision like picking their seats, could I? 
These are just kindergartners.  They can't handle choice!
Or can they?

The more I thought about this question, the more I realized I really should reconsider my answer.  

What was the point of having all of these options for students when I wasn’t letting them choose?  So, I took the plunge and decided that the next day I would let the students come in and choose their seats. 

I was a little nervous about this plan, but also very excited.  When I told the students that they could pick their seats, they were all smiles.  They loved having the freedom to choose.  They appreciated that I gave them a choice to make, and for the most part, they made good choices on their own about where to sit and who to sit by (and who not to sit by). 

In that moment, I realized that I had been afraid of something that I had no reason to fear.  I had underestimated my students, thinking they could not handle making that decision, but they proved me wrong pretty quickly.  
"I realized I had been afraid of something
I had no reason to fear!"

I needed to let go of the idea that all students need an assigned spot.  Instead, I needed to trust in my students to make good choices.  I had been trying to control a part of the classroom that didn’t need to be controlled. 

So, I let it go!  My students picked a spot that worked best for them, which is the whole point of flexible seating, and I didn’t have to worry about assigning seats.  It was so freeing! 
Let it go!
Good-bye, name

In fact, that experiment went so well that I started to evaluate other areas of the day where I could let my students have more choice in the classroom.

This was a great experience for me as a first year teacher and one that has pushed me to be better.  Yes, I needed a little push, but I learned that I need to be brave and take some risks to make good even better.

Are there times you think you could allow more student choice, but like me, you are too afraid or you think your students can’t handle it?  I’m here to tell you that it’s not as scary as you may think.  Take a risk and you may just be rewarded with a better classroom and happier students.  If kindergartners can do it, so can you!

Diane with her students.

Respond to Diane at

We hope you choose to have a great week, HSE.  

Your HSE Teaching and Learning Team
  • Jan Combs, Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning
  • Stephanie Loane, Director of Elementary Education
  • Tom Bell, Director of Special Education
  • Jeff Harrison, Director of Educational Technology
  • Phil Lederach, Director of Secondary Education

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