Recruit and Retain: The Future of Education

Keeping Things Moving: Classroom Management Considerations for the Covid-19 Era and Beyond

Covid19 shook up the education world in ways beyond the obvious. Classroom management decisions have involved more than just ensuring the proper spacing of desks or marking foot patterns on floors. The decisions teachers are making play a part in classroom safety – and they may shape education in the years to come.

How is this the case? It helps, in attempting to answer this question, to consider the classroom management decisions made in normal times, including furniture layout and movement patterns.

Classroom Arrangement

Young children engage in many different types of learning in a school day. Some is social. Some isn’t. Different types of layout support different types of learning. As for what the ideal is, it’s more complex than it may seem from the outside. Consider whole-group, teacher guided lessons. Some – like learning how to form letters – are teacher guided. There’s a correct way to perform the task. It’s generally not helpful for children to see what their neighbors are doing or discuss it. But literature discussion is a different matter. When children turn to a neighbor and process their thinking before sharing out, it can be a real boon for engagement (and ultimately, a boon for learning).

Classrooms have different zones to support different types of learning. But there are constraints on how many they can have. Decisions have to be made on what takes center stage. It was very common, pre-pandemic, to set up classrooms in a way that was more supportive of social learning than teacher-directed, independent learning. Desks were pushed together to make tables. There were multiple reasons. One was space. Tables take up less space than desks, and that means more free space in the room for other things: learning centers, projects, classroom libraries. Another consideration was philosophical: What message was the teacher sending to students about what learning was?

Transitioning from zone to zone was sometimes an issue. Many primary teachers conducted whole-group lessons in different parts of the room at different moments of the day. Sometimes children sat at their ad hoc tables. Sometimes they huddled together on the rug while their teacher presented a book, modeled on the document camera, or wrote on an easel. The children walked back and forth a lot. On the one hand, the walking gave them a chance to move their bodies. On the other hand, some children struggled with transitions. Things had a way of happening during transitions.

Classroom Routines and Material Management

Teachers also made decisions about routines: Would individual children turn in their work as they finished? Would collecting work be a student-assigned job?

Again, there were many factors to take into account. Decisions weren’t just about what was most convenient or quickest. They also took into account the messages children were receiving: messages about independence and responsibility and having a role within the community.

Here, too, movement was an issue. Allowing children to move gives them a channel for their energy. Brain science tells educators that movement also enhances learning.

Covid19 has impacted management in many ways. It has become imperative that children maintain physical spacing not just at their desks but around the classroom: when getting materials and returning them, when collaborating – and yes, when having conflicts!

Movement in a Teacher-Directed Environment

Teachers have needed to exert more control in the recent past. They’ve needed to rearrange the furniture in ways that might be considered “old school”. They’ve needed to find new ways to support community – and to support children’s needs to move their bodies. They have by necessity, taken more control.

Technology has been an aid. Short, jazzy education videos became very popular during the virtual learning era. Kindergarten teachers got to know children’s musician Jack Hartmann well. They expanded their repertoire: Mr. R’s Songs for Teaching, Mister B. They showed a lot of YouTube Clips. Some clips were akin to the chants that have sometimes been used to reinforce the basics, but higher energy and more visual. Others incorporated decision-making on the part of the participant. Children might, for example, move when they saw and heard two words that rhymed and freeze they saw and heard two words that didn’t rhyme.

Teachers (and districts) also designed and collected lessons that incorporated movement. Students might, for example, do jumping jacks if they selected one answer and arm circles if they selected another.

Teachers continued to use these tricks to keep their children moving after they transitioned back to physical classrooms.

Classroom Design for the Future

Some teachers have felt very good about their classroom management across their years or decades of teaching. Many, though, have had some stressors or some things that weren’t working. Some teachers have come of age in the Covid19 world. They’re not far beyond the College of Education. Either way, teachers can have strong opinions about the messages they send students and how their classrooms reflect them. Now many have been forced to make changes.

There have been some surprises here and there. Desk arrangement may signify one thing to a kindergarten teacher – and something else to the kindergarten students he or she finds in the room. The children may like having a desk of their own. They may not realize that this is how elementary classes were set up in the 1950s. They may be thinking less about how un-egalitarian it is to face the teacher than about how good it feels to have a space of their own, with noone’s elbows or materials encroaching.

Ultimately, there’s no one style of management that fits all learners and all teachers. Some will favor classroom designs where the teacher is a facilitator in an environment designed for self-direction. Montessori classrooms use this approach. A lot of design, though, goes into training the students as well as the teacher. Some teachers may find that they’re more relaxed and nurturing – and ultimately more egalitarian – when their classrooms are arranged more traditionally, and the movement is more controlled. Many will evolve and change over the course of their teaching careers.