Based on what I have heard in my many discussions with other teachers around the country that want to start a play-based classroom is that there are two my barriers to break down .
1) Management perception of play
2)Parent perception of play
If you are anything like me, when you find something that you think will work for your children, you want to jump in boots and all. Unfortunately we are not an island and there are things to be considered before we begin to make fundamental changes to the way things are done.
I believe the key to real, fundamental, systematic change is time. At our place, when we are embedding change we give ourselves three years. A finding out year, a trying out year and an embedding year. Fantastically this links very well to the currently popular spiral of inquiry model. At our place it is all about trusting hunches and trusting each other....I am well aware that others are not this lucky (sadly) but I still believe fundamental and systematic change is possible, if we are prepared to give it time.
In this post let's start with management:
If we think from the point of view of the spiral of inquiry, we need to find a 'problem' and develop a hunch. What is the problem telling us? What do we need to do differently?
I always find it useful to directly relate this to our story, so let's go back to where it all started for us.
To the end of 2014, to ground zero and student x. I am guessing some of you will be surprised that this all started with one student. Student x entered school socially and emotionally quite removed from learning. His vocab was minimal and he struggled to process even the most basic instructions in the classroom. We were very worried. Within our classroom we tried everything that had worked previously in our traditional new entrant class. When I say traditional I mean quite structured and teacher led, however we had been using discovery time for a year, which I think also helped our thinking later on.
We needed to think on our feet, what could we do? (this is the part I find so exciting!)
Based on this we developed a hunch that in order to help this little guy we needed to basically travel back in time, to all those things he had missed....we needed to go back and lay the foundations. How were we to do this? We consulted with our SLT and she was able to secure a little funding. Together we developed a programme based on nursery rhymes. Basically he would learn a nursery rhyme to the point of knowing it off by heart (incredibly challenging for him) and then learn a new one, until he had five he knew well. We also implemented a programme that involved 3-4 statements to one question ....we did this with the whole class....the aim here was to feed in the vocab that was lacking. After all, how can you answer a question if you don't have the words to answer it?
To help his progress with social and emotional skills we developed a small group that would go out for an hour a day with our brilliant TA. They worked within quite a play-based way with a focus on movement and social and emotional growth.
As a flow on, we started to focus more on the nursery rhymes in our classroom. I started an early years inquiry which very basically outlines what our next steps were and where we are up to now. Rather than writing it all down again here, have a read and you will have a clearer picture of where we went. This also links to our writing review (have deleted some info here)
As you can see we took some very deliberate steps towards play-based learning, but at the beginning I had no idea that was where we were headed. In fact, those that have been reading this from the beginning will know how anti play-based learning I initially was.
So that is our story. Student x made fantastic progress for him. Now a few years into school he is still considered a target student, but is able to read, write, has much better independence in the classroom and we are seeing the benefit of taking the time to lay the foundations.
Ok, so back to the point of this post. How to convince management? I believe you do it by starting an inquiry. By showing management that there is a problem, by doing your research on play-based benefits, showing them this research and sharing your hunch.
But be willing to start slow. From a management point of view, the fear is that 'progress' will be slower, that results will be affected. If you are able to keep them in the loop about the progress children are making and continue to make in a play-based room they feel more confident about taking a risk.
It is also useful to ask them to put together a list of concerns, so you can speak clearly to these. On most occasions they will be thinking that you wont be doing reading, maths and writing. They need to be reassured that these things will still happen, but just look differently in a play-based room. I know that these things happen far more effectively in my play-based room now than they ever did in my traditional new-entrant room where I was always in a rush to get things done. Some will still be on the side of good old 'rote' learning of words, letters and numbers etc. By showing them that this knowledge will develop alongside crucial cognitive and social development in a play-based room...and happen in an authentic way, you can help to change this perception.
We all want to jump in boots and all, but we have to be prepared to take our own journey. Ours was rapid, once we saw the benefits...but because I am the new entrant teacher and the Principal, our situation is quite unique. You have to find a way to take your management team on this journey with you. Basically you need your own student x....I bet we all have one :)
Be prepared to take small steps. Even if it is beginning 'discovery time' but taking a student-led focus with this. Sometimes it is the word play that people are balking from. We created a discovery shed and used this at lunchtimes, it was a small way to begin incorporating more play.
On the flip side, management also needs to be prepared to take a risk to allow some changes and allow time to see the benefits. There are some practices that just do not gel with a play-based room. Certain testing certainly has no place and can be done in different ways. I guess the question management needs to answer here is, what is the point of the test and what is it telling me that is helpful?
And if it helps....our data has shown very little change over the past few years. We still have 'good' results across all levels. However the key difference I was hoping for had nothing to do with data. It had to do with happiness, resilience, empathy, creativity and real personal growth. On that scale we are rocking it!
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