We’ve tried to stack the deck in their favor. Each child visited at least twice this summer and met some of the other students. We did pre-assessments so we could start them where they needed to be. We listened to their suggestions about how they’d like school to be. Procedures are posted on the wall; they never have to wonder what they do when they come in first thing in the morning—it’s there and it’s the same every morning. We schedule plenty of movement.
But I’ve discovered this week that what makes the biggest difference in their attitudes is that we have structure without rigidity. We are highly structured. They are given procedures for every transition and expectations for every situation. The schedule is posted prominently and any changes are given in morning circle time. There aren’t many surprises.
But structure isn’t the same thing as rigidity. Within that structure there is room to meet each child’s needs. Each room has a popup tent in the corner with a beanbag chair in it. Kids regularly ask to go to the tent for a few minutes. Sometimes they read, sometimes they just sit. Over the years, our kids have been taught multiple strategies for coping with anger and lack of impulse control, but parents report that they often weren’t allowed to use them in school. Taking time and space is a great strategy and one that can be done without a fuss. One child hates stationary desks; he wants to control how far away from his desk he is. Luckily we have multiple seating options. Another likes to sit in a bean bag. Why not?
One child got very upset about where we assigned him to start in his math book. He knew that, he said. “Fine,” his teacher said. “Show me where you think you should start.” He spent twenty minutes looking through the book and finally decided lesson 82. She had him do a few problems and he did them well. He’s starting in lesson 82.
Surprisingly, no one complains that things aren’t fair, because we don’t try to be fair. Students have different needs and need different accommodations and challenges. Because we do that for every child AND include them in setting goals and objectives, they don’t mind that things aren’t the same for everyone. And they know they have different challenges as well. In front of the school is a wonderful but very loud school bell that they love to ring. But they don’t even ask when E. is around because they know he has sensitive ears. Some children have reading tutors; some don’t need them. Some use the computer to write; others don’t need to.
Structure without rigidity. Far too often I see rigidity without the structure. We thought we’d try something different. So far it’s working.