As humans, we are creatures of habit. We do not like to be stagnant or bored. Our bodies and brains need us to be moving and doing for survival. We are wired to be engaged in tasks, especially those that are routine and repetitious. Eating at the same time every day or parking in the same spot day after day, for example. It feels good when we know what to expect, but our brains are also wired to expect the unexpected. We are animals, after all, prepared to live in a world in which other creatures are trying to attack and eat us. Being ready for any type of situation is an evolutionary survival tactic that is hard-wired into our DNA. However, in the very modern world in which we currently live, we don’t need to worry about an attack from a saber-tooth tiger, and so getting comfortable with a repetitive routine is quite common and calming.
I love knowing what to expect. Because I have a long commute to my amazing school each morning, knowing what the weather and driving conditions will be is vital to my schedule and plan, especially during the winter months, as I live in New England. I check the weather on a daily basis so that I can allot myself extra time if the roads may be slippery the following morning. My brain feels very happy when it knows what to expect. This knowing brings about a sense of harmony within my life. When I am prepared for the weather and have a plan for everything, everything in life seems to fall into place just so. I like that, but at the same time it can also make me complacent and bored. If things always go as expected, my brain isn’t able to flex its survival-skills muscles. As I’ve aged and matured, I have found absolute value and beauty in trying new things, taking risks, and being open to not having a plan. It’s nice to mix things up from time to time. I’m not advocating free-form living, I’m just suggesting, that for me, occasionally going into an experience without a plan feels good, as it allows my brain the novelty of something new. What do I do now? How do I solve this problem? I try to be open to not having a plan or being open to all possibilities at least three to five times each day. While the unknown can be scary, it can also be enlightening and magical.
Thursday morning, I set my classroom up for our monthly Yoga session with the amazing and talented Lisa Garside, a local Yogi. My students began that morning learning about the five Tibetan Rites. They were really into the mindfulness of it all. The atmosphere in the classroom was serene and peaceful. In the past, following our Yoga sessions, I had the students reorganize the classroom and return it to its normal configuration. It just seemed to make sense to me. Having a huge physical change will help them ready their minds to focus and work. However, as I observed my students during our most recent Yoga session, I realized that they seemed very at home on their mats. Their effort and joy were both very high. So, I decided to throw caution to the wind and take a risk following Thursday’s Yoga session. I asked the students, before we reorganized the classroom, “I notice that you all seem calm and peaceful right now, and I wonder if putting the classroom back together is really the best option for you all at this moment in time. What do you think? Should we conduct our math lesson on our Yoga mats or return the classroom back to its original configuration with desks and all?” The students unanimously voted to keep the Yoga mats. And so, Math class was completed on Yoga mats. The students lied down on mats to complete their Mad Math worksheets and various modules via Foolproofme.org. They were more focused and happier than I’ve ever seen them during Math class before. It was awesome. They worked effectively and efficiently to complete their assigned modules using the online financial literacy curriculum Foolproofme. They were attentive and scored better on the final assessments than in past weeks. They helped each other through challenges faced in quiet and appropriate ways. They did not distract each other, but instead, helped motivate each other to work well. It was so cool to observe this outcome. They were mindfully present and aware following our Yoga session. It was awesome.
So, what was the catalyst for this outcome? What allowed this peaceful atmosphere to be cultivated during Thursday’s math class? I don’t believe that it was one single thing that led to this outcome; instead, I feel as though many different factors contributed to what happened.
- I went into the day with an open mind and growth mindset. I wasn’t married to having the students reorganize the classroom after our Yoga session. I was flexible in my thinking and open to possibilities.
- Our monthly Yoga sessions help center and relax the students so that they are more open to being able to focus and work hard.
- Thursday’s Math class was a bit different from a normal work period as the students were completing Mad Math worksheets and a module within the Foolproofme program.
- I have created a classroom culture that promotes student choice and engagement. I want the students to feel heard so that the most effective learning environment is created within the classroom.
When you combine these four ingredients together, magic happens. And that’s exactly what happened in the fifth grade classroom on Thursday. Because I was open to any sort of outcome or plan, I allowed for anything to happen. While structure and routine have their place in middle school, student choice and voice are also a necessary part of creating an engaging atmosphere in the classroom. Students love to feel as though they can choose how learning happens. Perhaps that was the biggest contributing factor to this epic outcome. Maybe, due to the fact that I allowed the students to choose how Math class was conducted, they were more engaged and motivated to work hard. I suppose, anything is possible when you are open to everything; and as teachers, shouldn’t we always be open to allowing our students to tell us what they want and how they learn best?