Routine

I went to a friend's magic show on Thursday. He's a pretty good magician. In the middle of his performance, he told us he was getting into motivational speaking. I was a bit skeptical, but after he made his case, I realized he had great insight into the human condition that was worth sharing. 

He essentially revealed that magic is about creating moments of delight, transporting someone out of time and into a moment. Most people, he claimed, want to learn magic not because they actually like the magic tricks, but because they want the reaction that magic creates. To create that moment, doesn't need magic, he argued. You just need to break people's routine.

This got me thinking. As adults, it seems like that is where delight breaks in--when routines are interrupted, when anomalies occur, when the unexpected strikes. Adults get into habits and patterns of living that can start to feel monotonous. We feel the need to alter routine with vacations, new jobs, and new experiences. The adult routines feel like something humanity bucks against. 

But then I compare this with our knowledge of a child's development. Children need routine. I have both been told this repeatedly by educators I respect and have seen the need first-hand. My students freak out when a subject goes overtime or I deviate from the schedule written on the board. If a meeting runs longer than the anticipated time, and I get back to my class in an hour rather than the expected thirty minutes, the rest of day looks like the Lord of the Flies. Routines, knowing what is going to happen next, seem to provide a degree of safety. When they aren't in place, there seems to be anxiety.

There is also this--I have a series of what I believe are engaging, entertaining, and extremely productive activities that I intersperse throughout the school year. One for example includes learning how to use Google slides and then creating presentations on a variety of topics. I can do about three of these before they start to lose interest and I have to change it up somehow. So here, they seem to get tired of the routine, of knowing the steps and outcome. I have to modify the activity to include a novel element, such as turning it into a group project or changing the audience from their classmates to the sixth grade class. It seems as if routine has its limits.

I need to change desks periodically, introduce new cooperation games, new comprehension activities for our reading, and a variety of other changes to maintain engagement and excitement. 

So I have these two human needs--routine and novelty. Holistically, we probably need both as humans. We need an idea of where things are going to go but also hunger for novel experiences that stimulate us, and consequentially, lead to our growth. That boredom on my student's faces that forced me to stop daily oral language four weeks in could just be a manifestation of their minds needing to discover and learn something new.

Side note: I believe that school can always be exciting. Through relevance, real problems, and instruction that has been planned in response to watching and knowing your students, education can always be exciting.

So, it seems like the answer is an amalgamation of both. It's like the paradox of education Locke identifies; that children need government (structure) but also to be prepared to govern themselves as rational and free adults in society. Is that a good example? Is the entry into self-governance what I am seeing when they get board with an activity? Maybe children transition into the freedom of adulthood on their own account. Maybe the desire for freedom is natural and drives them to obtain it. Freedom seems like something you never need to sell a kid on. So that transition to self-governance that is endemic to adults is initiated by the child, but then given in manageable increments by adults. Like the loosening of a leash, based on what the governing adult feels they are equipped to handle.

This makes me think of my family's cat, when we brought her home for the first time. She stayed under my bed for the first day without moving, then began to leave for short periods of time as she became acclimated to the sounds and smells of the new home. If there was a new noise or person, she would quickly dart back under the bed. After a few days though, her times out became longer and longer until she didn't return to the bed, wandering freely around our home at ease.

I wonder if this a good analogy for children. They need the structure of routine only so they have a safe place to rest in before their desire to grow forces them to venture outside of it. They need routine as a place to return to for reflection and safety when the learning feels too much. Maybe routine is this support structure that needs to always be present in a child's life, always being reworked to fit the growth of the child, so that child has a safe foundation for taking risks, learning, and growing. 

The application for education is that teachers would need routines perpetually in place, but also the flexility for them to be broken or reworked. This would also mean the routines are flexible in the sense that teacher is always gauging whether the routines are a good fit for what the students need at that stage of development. 

That feels more settled. Children need routines and opportunities to depart from them. 

I wonder though, what routines exist in schools out of the need to manage large groups of children with limited adults. To say that a different way, what routines are in place to support our industrial educational model? What routines are in place not for the welfare of the child, but to help teachers maintain control? 

So, can we create a safe environment for children that facilitates risk-taking without routines?

Public Shaming, the Classroom, and Locke

This past week I’ve been working off of this idea that Locke suggested in one of his essays. He thinks that the best way to motivate a child, the thing that will build intrinsic motivation, is reputation. This is tempered by his insistence that a child never is shamed or put down in front of others. The only way you talk about a child in public is with praise. This way, he says, you build up their love for having a good reputation and their investment in preserving it. 

The idea of a child being motivated either by achieving recognition or avoiding shame doesn't sit well with me. But neither do stickers. Or color charts. Or anything else that shames kids in front of their peers or rewards them extrinsically. So I’m experimenting with what feels like the lesser of those two evils.

This week, its been my main focus. Not bringing any negative attention to kids in front of the class, only praising them. I save correction or reflection for a private time either after class, on the way to recess, or during some class activity when I can quietly talk to them alone. 

I mean, a few times I caught myself calling out individual’s names. Like when one kid was rolling around on the floor. Or another trying to turn off his friend’s computer. Or another poking a hole in her water bottle cap with a pencil so she could squirt the water into her mouth instead of having to perform the trite task of unscrewing the cap and drinking it normally.

But by and large, its been good, if I can be permitted to use such an absolute. The results have been good. The class feels more peaceful. There are less conflicts, quieter voices, and better ideas coming out of them. Today, the whole class worked hard during centers for an entire hour and a half. Unprecedented. 

I really cant draw a definite correlation. I can say though, that it’s an improvement for my own heart and know it has to be one for theirs. I knew from day one that publicly shaming kids or using the peer group to conform behavior wasn't conducive to emotional safety and therefore wasn't good for learning. But I did anyway. It would just happen. You find yourself negatively interacting with a student in front of the class because it’s expedient and easy. But somewhere, deep down, you feel there has to be a better way. I think there is—not doing it. It's hard, especially if thats what we were given during our time as students.

Public shaming also risks forcing kids to cope. They decide to receive the negative attention and actually start to seek after it. It becomes “their thing.”

Children need to feel emotionally safe if they are going to learn. They can’t feel safe if they are worried about being shamed in front of their friends.