Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Lessons from Lockers

It has been a whirlwind two days of school so far, and I'm loving every minute of it. I have a wonderfully unique bunch of new friends who are definitely going to keep me on my toes, and I've already had many positive experiences with both kids and parents. While nothing is going like I had planned (does it EVER the first week of school???) it interesting to see the lessons we learn in the littlest places.

Take our lockers.

When my friend Marsha asked me how my first day was, this was my response:

Getting into an attached combination lock on our hallway lockers is hard for our 4th graders. They have to remember the combination (although we help by sticking a label in a secret spot in their agenda), they have to remember to spin to the right, then left past the number and stopping the second time, then back to the right and stopping the first time you get to the number. Geez! That's even complicated to type!

There are sighs. There is frustration. There are rattles as the latch jiggles but no locker opens. There are many whines of, "I can't do it!" "I need help!" and, my personal favorite, "Mrs. Bair, my locker is broken!" There may also have been one or two whines of, "I'm only one person guys. I will get to you as soon as I can. Keep trying or see if a friend can help!" It's a harrowing balance opening lockers without stepping on our friends who have lower lockers or slamming them in the head when the top ones finally open. At the end of the first day all but one of us, and that one wasn't me, were pretty sure that we were never going to get into our lockers.

But these lockers are something special. They are LOCKERS. You can decorate them *any way you want* and it's your space. All yours. Big kids have lockers, and each 4th grader sees this locker as their gateway to being a big kid. So those lockers that may do us in are suddenly the best teachers in the world.

  • They teach us to stop and think about what we're doing.
  • They teach us patience.
  • They teach us our left and right. 
  • They teach us how to remember things.
  • They teach us counting on a number line. 
  • They teach us patience.
  • They teach us not to give up.
  • They teach us to help others.
  • They teach us to accept help.
  • They teach us patience.
  • They teach us what it's like to feel successful when it FINALLY pops open!
  • They teach us to be even more proud when we open it ON THE FIRST TRY!!

Magically, like a light shining down from the heavens and angels singing, the lockers clicked for almost my entire class at the end of the day today. The smiles on the kids' faces were priceless, and I love high-fiving each one as they came to tell me that they were successful. They did it!

And when the kids were all gone and the hallway was quiet, I realized that the lockers proved something I've known for a while now. Kids don't need a teacher to learn. They need a meaningful task about which they care. They need something they want badly. And when they have that some amazing learning happens.


Mahea Gaskins said...

Great article! Thanks... getting ready to help transition kids from elementary to middle school in a camp setting. I'd like one of the activities that we do to be around lockers and moving quickly from Point A Activity to lockers to Point B Activity. Any suggestions of how to help students master combination locks?

Becky Bair said...

You're welcome, Mahea! I think the two biggest suggestions I have to help the kids get the lockers are the "try 3 before me" rule and giving them plenty of time.

You probably already know the try 3 before me rule - the kids have to try to open their locker 3 times before they can go to a friend for help, and then they need to try 3 more times with a friend.

We also spend about an hour each day in small chunks (first thing in the morning, before our special class, after lunch, and at the end of the day) practicing the first week of school. One thing I've found to be helpful is having the kids turn the lock with the hand that matches the direction. So, if you're turning to the right, you turn the lock with your right hand, and if you're moving to the left, turn with your left hand.

The other thing I do to keep MY sanity is work with half of the class at a time. One half of the kids work on their lockers while the other reads a book to themselves in the hallway where we're working. After everybody has a chance to practice we switch.

Two other things to keep in mind. First, limit how often the kids can get into their lockers. I know that may seem strange after I said practice is so important, but your transitions will never happen if kids are always running to their locker. The second is to leave yourself plenty of time prior to dismissal so you don't have kids missing the bus. At the beginning of the year we leave 15 minutes for lockers and clean up, and after about a month we have that down to five minutes.

Hope all of these suggestions help. I'm looking forward to hearing how things go for you!