“Sometimes it is hard to believe we raised two kids in this space,” my husband has said more than once.
He’s right. By modern Westchester standards, our house is tiny. Before we carved out a bedroom in downstairs space that was once a garage, our kids shared one of the two main floor bedrooms and one bathroom, share being the operative word. The “yard” is a mini lawn, too small for real sports, but big enough for a sprinkler and a sandbox, though not at the same time. With some sidewalk chalk, however, the driveway–the steepest bane of our winter existence–became a pastel canvas, a new gallery with every rainfall. We nurtured a family botanical garden that, over the years, yielded roses, tomatoes, sunflowers, marigolds and spices.
What our house lacked in square footage, we more than made up for in warmth. Our kids agree that as children, they never felt deprived. Our house was truly a home where family and friends–theirs and ours– felt welcomed. The dining room table was the hub of activity: dinners, homework, snacks, holidays meals, games. Yes, everyone adapted to share the space–a lesson not always easily learned–but generally, we were–and still are– happy.
OK, fine. But what does this have to do with teaching?
Like a house, a classroom doesn’t have to be decked out with the latest and greatest gadgets to be a home for kids. The best educational toys–at home or at school– mean nothing if all we do is throw them at kids, expecting results. An effective classroom, like a comfortable home, does have to be a safe environment where it is OK to make a few mistakes and take some risks. There should be structure and routine and there should be humor and kindness, none of which are available in stores or on line.
Learning communities are built around the human elements in the room, not the space, not the accessories. Instructional bells and whistles are like 4th of July fireworks: loud but ephemeral. Smartboard lessons and technology can be engaging, but it will always be teachers who nurture curiosity and confidence–with or without iPads – who create classrooms where kids will see learning as a life long adventure. Scholarship is embedded in the culture of these classrooms. So are self-esteem and pride and dignity.
Families–in homes, in classrooms–evolve out of people. When kids feel loved and safe, the sky’s the limit.