On Thursday, we were doing a very flexible activity in 6th grade. For the majority of the class, students were given the freedom to work on what they needed to while I worked individually with a few students. Some were marking their music, some were practicing scales, some were practicing their actual music, and some were focusing on flash cards (to work on note-reading). Some students worked by themselves, and some worked with partners or in small groups. The class was flexible, so students came in and out of different groups and focused on different things. This type of free-flowing learning is not unusual in my classroom - it looks like (mostly organized) chaos, but I'm used to it.
Fast forward to debriefing with my practicum students. They mentioned how they were impressed that the students were all focused the whole time, even in a fairly unstructured environment. Immediately, I went to being apologetic, both in my mind and out loud. "I'm sorry, you probably want to see more of a traditional rehearsal environment. It's true, I run a very flexible classroom, this isn't very typical. Soon, we will get on to more rehearsal, so you can see what music classrooms really are like."
It wasn't until I was reflecting later that I realized how the negativity and pushback that sometimes accompanies innovation had leaked into my own mindset. Why was I apologizing for the way I run my classroom? I fully believe in what I do - I always try to design my room in a way that is best for kids! I don't wish it was different or have any plans to change. So where did the need to apologize come from?
Pre-conceived expectations. Comparison. That is the answer. I was comparing myself to the imaginary teacher that I thought these students wanted to see. To what I thought they expected. Not because they had said anything - but because I still have this picture of a traditional music classroom in my head that I was holding up as the ideal, and in the process, discounting the different forms of learning that occur in my room.
As I reflected, I came to realize that they had actually paid me a great compliment. Students directing their own learning and being fully engaged for the whole class period? That's what I want! In many ways, that is BETTER than the traditional environment I picture where the teacher leads and students respond. Sometimes I think I am moving more toward innovative, student-led teaching/learning methods, but then I have a moment like this to show me how much I still hold onto my old notions of what teaching is.
So I'm choosing to take that as a positive comment. I'm choosing to reject the thinking that says it has to be done the way we've always done it. I'm choosing to move forward and be proud of the environment I create in my classroom. And I'm choosing to not compare myself or my class with others!
*Note: There is definitely a place for traditional teaching methods, and I do not think they are all bad - I just do not want to limit myself or my students when designing instruction!