Teaching from the Sidelines

Teaching from the Sidelines

I often wonder what other people think when they enter my classroom, look through the windows, or listen outside the door.  I spend a large percentage of my teaching time on the sidelines, watching and listening.  People walk in and I’m often seated, writing anecdotal notes, taking pictures of students at work, or revising my plans based on what students are doing and demonstrating interest in.  During students’ exploration and play times, I’m often a silent observer.  I step in as needed (or requested) to help settle disputes, model ways to use things in the classroom, help kids clarify their thinking, or make a plan.  My phone is out most of the time because I document our play-based work with photos (which I share with parents/families through Google Drive), we play music (related to our learning if possible) most of the day, and I look things up for the kids.  The parents of my students know what’s happening, my boss understands…but I wonder how our classroom, and my teaching, are perceived by non-teacher employees, by visitors.

I spend about 15% of our instructional time providing direct instruction, which is what (I think) most people equate with “teaching”.  I can do that and still see amazing learning happening because there are two other teachers in the room with me:  the environment and the students.  Here’s why:

The environment is my co-teacher and I spend a significant amount of time and intention to set up the spaces in ways that will encourage students’ learning.  The way in which the classroom and furniture is arranged and the choices provided for learning are tremendously impactful on student engagement, oral language development, problem solving, critical thinking, social development, and targeted learning.  I take time, much more time than I spend doing direct instruction, to plan activities that are relevant, developmentally appropriate, and provide mutliple active ways for students to engage with learning.  Once the planning is done and the stage is set, I can sit back and be facilitator instead of  The Expert.

Because, you see, I’m not the only expert in the room!  I’m not an expert on horses (that would be Ainsley), or cats (Hazel), or Batman (Cyrus), or sharks (Ryder), or volcanoes (Mason), or … Sometimes, none of us are experts when a question comes up!  We went on a fact hunt last week about poisonous snakes.  I have no problem saying that I don’t know something and showing them real-life ways to do research.  I frequently look up words (I cannot ever remember how to spell vacuum, I look it up every single time). We learn together and from each other and, collaboratively, explore our world.




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