The Third Teacher - Mid-Pacific Institute

Elementary School Principal's Blog

The Third Teacher

Posted on April 27, 2009

by Dr. Edna Hussey on April 27, 2009

Monthly assemblies are always a pleasant surprise.  Generally, a class or two does a curriculum sharing, we recognize students and faculty celebrating birthdays of the month, and we might have a faculty member share a special hobby. This past Thursday, the multiage 1-2 students in Ms. Field's class described their classroom "makeover," inspired by the "Extreme Makeover" TV program (see the M 1-2F classroom weblog on the elementary website for photos).  The actual inspiration comes from the preschool faculty who are known to rearrange their classroom layout each semester.  In the Reggio Emilia approach, the classroom is considered the "third teacher," with parents as the first teacher and classroom teachers as the second.  Learning environments are carefully planned because children are honored and respected, deserving of beautiful environments in which to work and play.  The classroom environment should support children's learning, so before any piece of furniture is moved, the teachers make careful observations about how the children move about the classroom and where they naturally cluster in small or large groups. The results in the preschool are always impressive. The classroom environment appears warm, inviting, and spacious. Ms. Field was the first to respond to an electronic memo that I sent to the entire faculty about a classroom makeover with a $200 budget. The classroom makeover quickly became a learning inquiry for the teacher and her students.  

This process began with a meeting between Ms. Field and the preschool faculty to discuss the elements of the inquiry. Ms. Field's students were consulted about how they might envision a transformed class space, what they wanted to keep in the existing space and what they wanted to change.  They wrote and drew pictures and discussed the merits of their ideas.  Ms. Field again conferred with the preschool teachers, and a plan to renovate the classroom was scheduled during spring break.

The classroom was stripped bare -- furniture, portable shelves, and every piece of paper on bulletin boards removed.  As painstaking as the work involved, it did help to start with a blank slate. Then they deliberated over every piece of furniture, discussing its new location, based on students' input, and whether it belonged in the classroom.  The classroom was reassembled piece by piece, taking on new character. You can see for yourself the amazing results on Ms. Field's classroom weblog, but there are other details worth mentioning here.  A wicker settee and lamp were added to create a library corner. Above the bookshelves hang fishing net and outrigger paddles and photos of Ms. Field's favorite sport.  The teacher's desk was cleverly hidden by low wooden shelves, and chrome shelves were removed to create more floor space. Children's portraits, including the teacher's, now cover the walls.

However, the real story is the day the classroom makeover was revealed to the children.  The teacher announced the unveiling in an email to parents, inviting them to the event. The blinds were closed, so children couldn't see into the classroom. At 7:30am, students waited excitedly until Ms. Field opened the door to welcome them inside. From within the classroom, one of the preschool teachers documented their entry on video. Imagine the wide-eyed students looking all around the room, pointing to new objects and arrangement of furniture. They hugged each other, slapped palms in high-fives, and sort of gleefully ran from area to area. Five children immediately squeezed onto the settee.  Several weeks later, the students have settled into their new setting, and the teacher has observed some changes in their behavior. There is more cooperation among students and formation of different groups. Since the teacher has a clear vantage point from her desk, she can more readily respond to their needs. Transitions from one space to the next or from one activity to the next are more fluid. Altogether, this inquiry into learning space has provided helpful information about the relationship between the students and their learning space.  And as you might imagine, several faculty members are hoping for an opportunity to do a classroom makeover!

There's one more item to share about the recent school assembly.  One of our third grade students, S.S., and his older brother, G.S., a middle school student, performed the song "I'm Yours," by Jason Mraz, popular among school-aged children and older. S.S. sang and G.S. accompanied his brother on the ukulele.  The talented duo impressed us with their upbeat rendition, especially S.S.'s soulful singing.  Their performance was bittersweet because their family will be relocating to the mainland, and we have appreciated how well both brothers have represented Mid-Pacific Institute in the classroom and in the community. In addition, their parents have been very supportive of MPI.

If you have time, I encourage you to read the weekly-updated weblogs posted by the classroom teachers, including the specialists.  You'll have a much better idea about the preschool and elementary program and what classes are currently learning.

Kite Day, an MPI tradition, is this Thursday, April 30, beginning at 10:00am for the preschool and elementary.  Every student will be flying a kite! Students in the middle school and high school will fly their kites immediately after us.  It is a sight to behold!  The entire school -- from preschool through twelfth grade -- gathered on the field to celebrate MPI!

May Day follows on Friday, May 1st.  All families are invited to the performance, Celebrating the Broadway Musical! There is no admission charge. Parking is available on the football field.  The program begins at 12:30pm, so arrive early to secure a seat (first-come, first-served) on the bleachers. Chair seating on the gym floor will be for guests who will have trouble stepping up into the bleachers.  After the performance, approximately 1:30pm, all students will walk to their respective classrooms. If you wish to pick up your child after the program, you must sign out your child with the teacher at the classroom (elementary campus).  It can be quite chaotic immediately after the performance, so this procedure is to ensure that every child is accounted for and released to the right parent or guardian.  May Day is a regular school day ending at 2:30pm, and the afterschool program runs until 5:30pm for preschoolers and 6:00pm for elementary students.     

Details about Kite Day and May Day will follow in next week's posting. We hope to see you at one or both events.

For our children,

Edna L. Hussey