I was truly embarrassed, and I find myself feeling that way at the end of every day. I invited a teacher into my room on Thursday to help her figure out how to put a video on YouTube. I couldn't stop myself from apologizing for the mess. It makes me feel disorganized and dirty.
Here's the thing though: after my exclamation to my principal, he talked about how he doesn't mind the mess. The mess means something happened in my classroom. It means my kiddos were moving around and engaged in something. He talked about classrooms he had been in where the desks were in the exact same spots day after day and nothing is ever out of place. It's harder to tell that learning goes on in those classrooms.
I've been wrestling with this for some time now. My classroom is organized; things have specific places and the kiddos know where those spaces are. They have constant access to the materials, and I give them the responsibility to take care of putting them away. This means that my whiteboards are never in a neat stack, their book boxes are often tipped on their sides, and the toy bins don't always have their lids.
This "chaos" goes beyond the physical classroom space too. I've been trying to push myself out of the traditional teacher mode - to leave behind the idea that the teacher is the source of the knowledge and my job is to give that knowledge on my students. It is my goal for the students to do the learning while I assist. They get to make choices throughout the day. They get to choose which Daily 5 they would like to do, which materials they would like to use for Work on Words, which books they want to read, and who they would like to read to during Read to Someone. In math, they get to choose which game they would like to play and with whom. With art projects, I frequently let them choose which shapes and colors they would like to use. I do my best to set the environment up for them and then let them do the learning.
To the untrained eye, my classroom might look uncontrolled and crazy. My insecurities get the best of me, and I constantly worry about this. If you look closely though, you'd see that most of my children are actively engaged in what they are doing. Even during quiet times, there are excited conversations happening - conversations about what they are reading, writing, or creating.
On Friday, I implemented something I'm calling "Fun Friday." Instead of going all out and doing the full Daily 5 rotations, we did our Jolly Phonics lesson, read a book, learned a song about space (our unit for last week), and completed 2.5 art projects. I let the kiddos take control of their art projects after explaining what they were doing. If you had walked into my classroom at 12:45 on Friday afternoon, you would have seen different groups of students working on three different projects at the same time. There was a group working at their tables creating their own planets, a group at the art table painting space scenes, and a group on the carpet putting together the solar system.
I was assisting the students painting their space scenes. During a slow time, I looked around the room. Every single student was doing what they were supposed to be doing, and every single student was smiling. It wasn't a stereotypical classroom. It was loud. It was busy. It was messy, and it wasn't obvious to figure out.
They were learning though! They were sharing ideas and using different materials to demonstrate their knowledge, and it was a break-through for me.
Learning really can happen through the chaos!