Same Teacher, Same Classroom?
At Highlands Micro School, a multi-age classroom is at the heart of our community. Parents are often curious if this is something we need to do because we are small, or if it is an intentional design element backed by evidence. In this issue of M&Ms, we go in depth on why we believe spending several years with the same primary teacher in the same space benefits your child and allows us to stay focused on the things that matter most.
It’s August and students have returned to school for the new year. A small group of new learners joined us, but the bulk of the kids are returning to familiar spaces and faces. As an environment that values iteration and continued learning, some routines and physical aspects of the learning space evolve with time to be responsive to each learner’s need. For the most part, learners feel immediately comfortable with a space they know and love.
What is the value in spending two to four years with the same teacher, in the same room?
1. We get to know your child really, really well – At the heart of our multi-age method is the ability to form deep relationships with your child. We know each unique child’s personality, the best way to support their learning, and spend less time discovering what kinds of hiccups can derail their day.
The benefits of continuity of guardianship are intuitively understood in the context of family life. There is little disagreement that children benefit from having stable caregivers over time. At Micro, we extend that stability and understanding to the classroom. Many students and teachers are just getting the hang of each other during the second half of their first year together. Imagine all the effort wasted if the benefits of that relationship are not fully experienced.
2. We can honor your child’s learning path – Children master skills and concepts at difference paces and in different sequences. In a traditional classroom, students are typically moved through curriculum in a linear format, one unit at a time, on a schedule determined buy the school rather than the learner. In this structure they will be assessed against their progress relative to their grade-year. Because we know learning happens in a series of “flights and perches,” we can invest in your child’s progress in the way that makes sense for your child. Two, three and four year groupings consider what a learner has mastered and identify the most appropriate next step toward larger goals and targets. Since the teacher knows his or her students before the new year begins, all learners will be wisely challenged from day one of the new school year.
3. Your child’s learning environment is stable and safe – By balancing just the right amount of new and interesting with safe and familiar, learners at Micro can spend their emotional and cognitive capitol on progressing their understanding of the world, not relearning space and teacher-specific rules and routines.
Imagine you are a student in a cooking school where you have paid your hard earned money to learn to cook. But once a year you arrive to a kitchen where nothing is in the same location as it was when you last left. In addition, you have a new cooking teacher and she actually doesn’t want you to do things in the way you have previously learned and become comfortable with. In fact, she took the oven out. No more oven. She really prefers microwaves.
Sounds like a fun reality TV show! But ask yourself this question: How much time would you lose learning to cook because the energy was reallocated to learning to find your way around a new kitchen and finding out how to please your new teacher?
At Micro, the “kitchen” undergoes small changes throughout the year in response to learner input and needs. Over the summer, bigger changes are made that keep kids excited about their space and to expand our ability to meet their needs. The kitchen got a few new tools and the oven moved 2 feet to the right. But it’s still the kitchen you know and love and you are ready to get to work.
Looking to Others
Other examples of extended learning cycles are all around us. Leaving our intentionally cultivated home environments aside, we can look to Expeditionary, Montessori, Waldorf and public schools with a focus on self-directed learning for more evidence.
The links below offer insights into the benefits of having the same teacher and same space beyond what has been highlighted above.
In Waldorf environments, students are grouped by a single grade year but stay with their teacher as a class for 5 to 8 years. This practice is often referred to as “looping.”
Looping, or the practice of one teacher continuing with his or her class for 2 or more years is growing in popularity in public and private schools nationwide as its benefits are documented. At Micro, looping is paired with the multi-age class.