Friday, August 8, 2014

Creating a Classroom You Love, Part II: Pruning

For me personally, when I tackle the thought of setting up (or taking down) a classroom, it’s déjà vu all over again.  Words just cannot express this emotion accurately.  However, music speaks when the heart has no words.  This song accurately summarizes my feelings:

Can you relate? 

So this post is all about evaluating the state of your classroom.  It all begins by having an honest convo with yourself.  Ask yourself, “When was the last time I used it?  Will it benefit me this year?  Or it be more beneficial to someone else?”

Then act accordingly.  If you aren’t going to use it, lend it, store it (only if you're absolutely certain you will use it again-not can use it again) or trash it.

And believe you me, I know how agonizing that can be.

To prove I that statement, here's my career trajectory: kindergarten, 5th grade, 4th grade, 4th grade, 1st grade, 2nd grade, K-1 split (a multi-grade classroom with both Ks and 1s), 3rd grade, 1-2 split (another multi-grade), kindergarten, and 1st*  And this year I’m headed back to kinder. *

*Okay, just trying to remember all that made me lose brain cells.  Regarding grade level placement, I’m pretty easy going-I try not to be a complainer (I’m more of a whiner), and I don’t tell administrators no.  My family instilled the “be glad you’re working” mindset from before I could speak.

Since I had taught everything (and had a new grade almost every year) I had quite a stash, too: chapter books, big books, posters, writing process posters, addition posters, multiplication posters, fiction and non-fiction.  As I had spent a lot of time acquiring them, I was sure no one else would treat them the way I did.  

And so my stash grew.  And grew.  And grew. 

I was a handful of items away from becoming another teacher statistic on the TV show “Hoarders”.  You know the ones- loads of crap in their home and stubbornly held onto items like a single pipe cleaner that was missing 90% of its fuzz.  Because those hairless pipe cleaners are just so very useful.

(On a side note, I find it interesting that when I typed TV a second ago, spell check politely informed me I was wrong.  Seriously.  And how does one misspell a word with only a pair of letters?  One that only relies on the recognition of two graphophonemic symbols. They claim you spell it TV, not tv.  And now headed back to the original purpose of this post.)

So I was nearly that teacher. And what’s worse, I didn’t care that I was being selfish. 

And then one Sunday at church the pastor was preaching his sermon.  He was preaching on John 15 which is a gardening metaphor.  In that passage there is a specific verse that talks about how the Lord prunes his followers.  During the sermon he talked about the apple trees he and his wife were raising.  He talked about his pruning shears and how he used them.

Then he said something that stuck with me.  He was talking about the true purpose of pruning.  I do not possess a green thumb, so I’d assumed it was simply removing the dead parts from the plant so it wouldn’t look tacky.   

And boy, was I wrong. 

He said that pruning is something that you do to help the tree realize its maximum potential.  It’s not something that’s spontaneous, but an act that requires truly assessing what will make the tree most bountiful and productive.  He said sometimes you may have to prune branches that are living.  Good branches, they’ve developed the way they should.  But in order to get the most out of the tree, it needed to be removed so that it would be ready for something better.

And that has stuck with me. 

I look around my room and see so many things I’ve got-lots of things.  (True story: last summer when I first started setting up my classroom, I drove a 14’ U-Haul 80 miles roundtrip so I could get all my things in one trip.)  They are in nice shape, the kids love ‘em. 

But if I removed them, it would make way for something better.  And I have to keep the big picture in mind, so as much as it pains me to take my mini-sofa and chairs out of the room, I know I can use that space more effectively without it. 

Over the last 3 years I’ve begun the task of pruning my educational products.  Some are books I give to other teachers.  Some I lend.  Some I simply donate or trash.  Even though I don’t enjoy the process of pruning, I am delighted with its results. 

So next time you’re in your classroom alone, take a good look around and remember this pic:

This stop sign is one block from my school.  They fixed it over the summer which has made the drive home way less fun.

Pay heed-grab your shears and get busy. I’d hate for us to wind up on “Hoarders”.

*I'm not finished yet...come back Monday for Part III.  If you'd like to read Part I, you can here.*

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