Thursday, March 26, 2015

M.L. Something-a-rather

M.L.E. An acronym that has been floated around for awhile in the twittersphere, perhaps due to it being filled with early adopters and future focused teachers.  M.L.E - or Modern Learning Environments, is a new acronym to my colleagues and one that has caused quite a lot of confusion and chaos in our preparation for upcoming changes to our school building.

My understanding is that the Ministry of Education has decided that current school buildings in New Zealand do not all meet the needs of today's learning. They are requiring all schools to move towards being an MLE.
Shiny shiny new things...

These new spaces appeal to most magpies because of the infinite possibilities for new furniture, better ventilation, heating, lighting and soundproofing and good storage. However re-creating the open plan learning spaces of the 1970's falls short of future planning. Suddenly there is an expectation that we will all be team-teaching.

Now I for one am not against team teaching. I used to be a Kindergarten teacher and I worked very closely and very collaboratively with my team.  It's not a new thing, and it's not an impossible thing, I'm just not sure it's the right thing for everybody.

Recently on a trip around some new school builds a teacher reflected quite honestly and openly with me about the lack of flexibility of sharing a space. She said she was working 12 hour days as they needed to meet every day after school, that she couldn't just take the students out for a game because it had a knock-on effect, and that she was really worried about one of the beginning teachers as the demands were so high.

I took her reflection and reflected on my own values and beliefs. I value autonomy and flexibility. I want to be able to stop a lesson because it's not the right time/space/place and go do something else. I want to innovate and mix things up and build really strong relationships with a class of children.

One of the designs presented to us as part of our consultation is based on a singular cell with a collaborative space right outside.  I think this would be a far more beneficial step towards collaboration as it allows autonomy and the ability to connect.   I think moving towards open plan is too far away from people's comfort zones.

The biggest thing that I am scared of is working with others. Hey wait a sec! Didn't you just say you worked collaboratively as a Kindergarten teacher?? Ah yes I did.  And I spent a lot of time picking the right team to work with.  I was very selective in which team I wanted to work in.

Existing staff who are used to working in single cell classrooms will struggle with collaboration.  A Principal will struggle to find teams that will gel together and fit within existing school structures.  If I were in the position to decide how team teaching would look then I would be looking at finding partners who established what team teaching looked like for them.  I also wouldn't have everybody using the same model.  Juniors have different learning needs from seniors and so forth. I would also trial things - make nothing permanent.  Another aspect that annoys me is grouping of students. My school currently uses a Year 1/2, 3/4, 5/6, 7/8 model. I'd like to see some flexibility in that. I'd love to mix it up especially since so many of my Y4 students were already working in Level 3 last year.

But I am one person. I am an early adopter. A future focused teacher who makes things happen for myself. I am in touch with what happens beyond my four walls. I am an easy person to convince to try something new. So how about my colleagues?

Please note I am not against team teaching in open plan. I am somewhat jealous of schools that are able to hand pick their teachers and be innovative in what they are doing. But there is a spectrum here and it is all relatively new. Nobody in those environments are saying that they are perfect either but I do admire their open reflections and allowing others like myself to come and have a look.