Dreaded Seating Arrangements
Almost every teacher I talk to says, “I have a really difficult class this year.” The difficulties identified are most often tied to “behaviour” issues. In my experience effective classroom “management” can be connected to dynamic programming and developing solid relationships with students. Many of us go to things like Class Dojo or incentive programs to “manage” behaviour and some have their merits. However, they might “manage” behaviour, but does it help student to learn to self-regulate? I understand that there are students who have behaviour safety plans that can provide challenges and I do not mean to downplay the effect that even one student’s behaviour can have on an entire class. However, there are ways in which we can have small tweaks in our triggers and habits in teaching that will have a positive outcome on developing a community of learners.
So what is a trigger? A trigger in psychological terms can used to describe sensations, images or experiences that re-visit a traumatic memory. It can also mean to make something happen very quickly; a reaction. It is also referred to as an event that kicks off the automatic urge to complete a habit.* Habits are seen as something that people do often or regularly. Habits can even be unconscious behaviours and sometimes difficult to stop. What do triggers and habits have to do with teaching?
Over the years I think I have become more self aware in the classroom about my own triggers and habits. It is easy to continue to do a routine in a classroom simply because it is something that we have always done. Even when we have sound pedagological reasoning, it can be difficult to change or cease a habit. For example, for many years I put names on the desks of students before they entered the classroom on the first day of school. I don’t really know why I began this habit. Besides a wedding, some kind of gala or a reservation at a restaurant, I get to choose where I sit every day. It is a fairly important life skill. I’m not going to find my name on a seat on the city bus. Once I recognized that this routine was purely out of habit and was “triggered” by the first day of school, I decided to change it up. On the first day of school with a grade 4-5 class, the students came into the room and sat wherever they wanted. I admit that this made the perfectionist in me who loves order, routine and habit rather uncomfortable. I had some students sit in groups, some in pairs and some on their own. Then we had a class meeting about how they had felt when they entered the room and had to make their seating choice. There was talk of anxiousness, sweaty palms, heart rate increase, fear of missing out and for some it was no big deal. I decided to create a google form to survey the students about where to sit in the classroom, how often we would change it up and who would decide. The results of the survey were fascinating. Some students wanted me to choose where they sat and wanted to have that same spot every day for 194 days. Some never wanted to “sit” in a group but wanted to be a part of it during group work time. We came up with a plan that each Monday the students would choose where to sit for the week and the students who wanted a regular spot would be able to keep it and the other students would respect their choices without question. We also had some extra choices for seating that students could go to if their choices for that week weren’t working out. The students gained incredible insight into self-regulation. I heard things like, “I sat with Gracie all week and we’re such good friends, I didn’t get my work done so I’m not going to sit with her next week.” or “I don’t hang out with Olivia but I know she is a serious student so I’d like to sit with her in a group.”
It isn’t easy to be self aware while we are trying to keep our head above water, collect permission forms, listen to announcements, adjust our day plan for the assembly that was announced, deal with a parent that wants to chat in the hallway AND teach curriculum. I GET that…however, being aware of triggers and habits and making small tweaks to our teaching behaviour can make a big difference in our classroom community.