Classroom Environment

Does Your School work for your Child?

A.S. Neil, the founder of one of the world’s oldest democratic schools once said, “The school should fit the child, not the child fit the school.”

Too many schools set themselves up in a particular standardized way so that a child attending that school needs to fit in to that way of being. Often, public school administrators and teachers do recognize that all children are different and do make efforts to try and make the life of that child and the child’s learning as meaningful as is possible within the system which is set up. But the system does not make this possible.

Through my years of teaching and school administration I have spent hours and hours trying to make the curriculum and content I was responsible for delivering fit the children under my care, desperately trying to differentiate my lesson plans so that they could access the learning at their level.

DSCN5959The administration in schools spend hours, days, weeks and months tweaking or snipping around the edges of a school system with the aim of improving test scores and trying to help children understand and retain the information given.

Schools try instructional grouping (putting them in different groups in a particular subject based on skill) and tracking (putting a group of kids on a track that involves multiple subjects). They ‘fast track’ children into ‘gifted and talented’ groups for students who are advanced beyond the majority of the class, or ‘special needs’ groups for students who are deemed to not be able to retain and understand the information for whatever reason.

Labels like ‘gifted and talented’ are terms I have largely disliked in my career. In fact, when I was a school principal, a parent came into my office and proudly declared that at her son’s last school he had been ‘gifted and talented’. My reply was that all the kids at our school were gifted and talented in some way it was just that we needed to discover in what way they were gifted and talented. Equally, another prospective family came to my office and said that her child had ‘special needs’, to which my response was the same, “All our children have special needs, it’s just a question of identifying their strengths and weaknesses.”

I, of course was being a little facetious. I knew exactly that their previous schools were attempting to group their children with other ‘like’ children. But I also knew that under the system the schools offered, my school included, there was a reasonable chance that they would fall through the cracks.

So, despite the billions of dollars spent on education reform (which, as I described is just snipping around the edges or pasting up the cracks of a failing system) schools still lose kids. Many don’t just ‘fall through the cracks’; the system labels them at an early age and they are squeezed through the cracks like icing in a tube.

How does a school fit the child? How can a school fit every child that walks through the door? The answer is surprisingly simple. Schools need to recognize that it is not their right or duty to decide what a child must know. The vast amount of acquired human knowledge cannot possibly be learned. So we should accept that and not have the gall or audacity to think that we know what a child should learn. Let children be free to explore what interests them. It may take each individual a while, but children will eventually lean towards an area of human knowledge or discovery that interests them, and then they will study that in detail and with passion and with intrinsic motivation.DSCN5423

So many great thinkers, explorers and inventors turned away from traditional schooling and followed their hearts and passions instead. Shouldn’t all children be allowed that privilege?

Whether that ‘learning’ be the arts, design, Math, astronomy, cooking, music- it does not matter.

A school that is democratic and free gives children exactly that. A TRUE voice in THEIR school and the freedom to learn in the way they were born to learn.

Ben Kestner,Co-Founder and Staff Member, Glacier Lake School

Categories: 21st Century Learning, Born to Learn, Classroom Environment, Curriculum, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Learning in the Classroom. Classroom ‘Discipline’

Classroom Discipline

Here’s what the definition of Discipline is according to merriam-webster (

2obsolete : instruction
3: a field of study
4: training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character
5 a: control gained by enforcing obedience or order b: orderly or prescribed conduct or pattern of behavior c: self-control
6: a rule or system of rules governing conduct or activity

Punishment? Training? Control?

These are all words which we shouldn’t be using when we talk about helping kids to learn in the classroom. Everyone in the classroom needs to be caring, supportive and encouraging. The question is ‘How?’.
Teachers train to be teachers. Part of that training always includes sessions on “Classroom control” or “Classroom Discipline”. They prepare you by giving you talks on ‘how to control a difficult class’ or ‘dealing with class room misbehaviour’. From my experience, what’s important is to make expectations for the classroom clear. Such as arriving on time, having correct equipment, being respectful, being supportive, giving others time to speak etc. I mentioned in the last paragraph that everyone in the classroom needs to be caring, supportive and encouraging. This includes the students and the teachers.

The clip below shows an education training film for teachers made in 1947. It shows what they consider a bad lesson and then contrasts it with what they consider a good lesson. The good lesson example contains excellent advice for teachers which of course still apply today. We might sometimes describe some teaching styles as ‘old school’ or ‘old fashioned’ but this clip shows that good teaching has been around for a long time.
If kids see that you care, have a little humour, are consistent with behaviour expectations for all, relate learning to the real world in an interesting way and are ‘on their side’ ,then there is a good chance some excellent learning will go on in the classroom.

Dennis Littky in his book “The Big Picture – Education is Everyone’s Business” Published by ASCD says:
“We all know that in classes that kids enjoy, there are fewer or no behaviour problems. And we know that kids enjoy a class when they’re involved. If they’re doing a project on something they’re interested in, something thats real and has real world consequences, then they don’t tend to pass notes or ask to go to the bathroom 10 times”
Have a look at this clip. It’s about 14 minutes long.

Categories: Classroom Environment | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: