This week was the week of lightening unannounced class observations. As they were lightening and unannounced I was actually on my lunch break when the observation took place. I came back to find the two members of senior management in my room who then proceeded to question me about various things they had observed-largely to do with our crappy outside area, what the adults were meant to be doing, why all the children went out at once, why I was on my lunch break at that time, which areas were which in my room and so on. This took about another twenty minutes of my time which meant my TA actually missed her afternoon break in the end. Meanwhile a child in my class had managed to poo all over the floor of next door's toilet, so I went to help with him, then it was tidy up time snack time and home time.
This was on Wednesday-the second day the children were back after the holidays.
I had my feedback yesterday after school.
It was actually pretty interesting for the following reasons-it started with negative points, (No three stars and a wish for me, more three wishes and a star) and ended with positve points which to me are the things I am trying to achieve summed up.
My room is messy.
It doesn't have clearly defined areas.
Some of the mess was actually a danger to health and safety.
(This I think referred to a cardboard box temporarily filled with the duplo I was using that day as I had nothing else to put it in. The box was perched on top of the large duplo tub into which everything was dumped at one point then never sorted out as the storage (old and tatty but usable) was thrown out.) A lot of stuff has been thrown out but not enough yet bought to replace it which is one of the major issues in the outdoor area. But things take time, especially when they depend on many layers of decision making and pointless circular messages between all involved. I suppose the cardboard box could have fallen on someone's toe. And if something happens then yes we are liable, but I don't think it was dangerous-just messy yes, but I feel I do not have a dangerous classroom (believe it or not I take children's safety seriously!). (And surely the same argument should apply to the outside-the gate, wall situation-if something happened etc etc-despite management having known about it since September)
Anyway, my answers to these criticisms were. yet again, that I have no storage, that my room is a difficult room to arrange (read 'poorly designed') due to the windows, radiators, doorways and smart board ready cabling boxes on the walls. The clearly defined areas I agree with but I have tried. I have now rearranged the classroom about 3 times in a major way, and it now works pretty well. I had already planned to rearrange my writing area in the light of ofsted so them coming in and telling me that is pointless. (Though now I have a deadline-next Friday-yippee!)
Specific criticisms were that I had not yet got a display up.'You had a lovely Diwali display up but that board is empty now'. To which my answer was that it is only the first week of term-and in fact when they came in it was the second day! I have a display planned and the work is beginning to be collected but I can't manage it out of nothing. My Diwali display was ordered to be taken down at the end of last term when I was not there, with the argument that Diwali was long gone. (Next door's Diwali display is still up and they were not told this)
Another choice criticism was that my classroom had 'more of the appearance of a playgroup than an educational setting.' Having looked at the definitions of playgroups online, they all refer to a group set up by parents to allow children to play together and develop play and social skills. Doesn't sound too bad. THe educational environments in Scandinavian settings often aim to look like homes-cosy and welcoming and a place for children to adjust from home to school. I aim for my room to be a bright welcoming and stimulating place which I think largely it is.
Eventually I had finished arguing with all the negative points,(or at least giving my reasons that they were as they were. And I kept finding myself saying 'this sounds like an excuse but it isn't' before giving the reasons-for example that we are not allowed to stick anything on windows or blu tack on walls, and I only have one display board and then cupboard doors and cardboard packaging boxes. Plus I have totally inadequate storage.) What annoys me the most is that really, I have massive complaints about how the nursery has been equipped. It is simply not good enough-not even in a basic sense but where is my right to complain? And how come everything comes down to being my fault, despite having spent the whole of last term asking for the things we need and NOT getting them?
Then we got onto the positive points (To be fair on the person feeding back to me, if I had just shut up and let her finish instead of arguing with every point then we may have got to the positives a bit quicker-but I just can't help myself) -which were:-
The children were all engaged well in their play.
The children were cooperating with each other and helping each other.
They were cooperative with adults (even strange adults which the observers were to them)
They were calm and well behaved
The children were happy. Yes happy!
So to sum up, the negative points are clutter, dangerous mess and lack of clearly defined areas. (An example- 'The children had maths resources in the home corner', to which I replied 'yes, they use them for cooking'. And to which I thought, 'have you ever actually spent time in a class room full of three and four year olds?' They use stuff as they see fit. (I acually planned to put the maths area near the home corner so they could use the resources if they needed to) For example I was offered a bowl of people to eat yesterday. I did have to draw the line and said 'I don't eat people!' At which the child laughed and took them away. A small tiny interaction amongst many in my day A small human interaction based on our knowing each other, and what we are like. She knows that I am not being unkind in not eating her bowl of people. I know that will make her laugh and also that we can get a conversation out of it involving 'why' questions and reason giving-or not-because that is human interaction.) Management are very fond of saying to us that we are missing opportunities to observe and extend children's learning. I just wish they would video me for a day and see how many opportunities I grasp, how I think on my feet and adapt in split seconds to the situation, whilst maintaining a calm and purposeful atmosphere and managing to nurture, love and make these children happy and secure.
So, whilst I do care about the classroom environment, and try to make it as good as possible for the children, yes, perhaps I am a little messy and sometimes, heaven forbid, a little disorganised. Or, to be kind to myself, maybe there are other more pressing things going on most of the time. Such as concentrating my efforts on making my class a confident, secure and happy group of children, who are allowed to learn in the most suitable way for them, and who, as individuals and as a group I highly value.
That's it, the end-happy because the children are happy! Happy Happy!