Walking a thin line

24th April 2015 at 01:00

I'm a corridor man. Always have been. Since my teacher training I've made a habit of standing in the doorway to my classroom and watching as students move through the hallways. In part, it's good behaviour management. I peer over my glasses at those who are dawdling and give a subtle jerk of the head. The more exuberant, I yank back down to earth. It's good to have a presence in these transition times, to ensure a calm and orderly flow of human traffic.

But I gain a lot more from watching students pass by. I take great joy in hearing them discuss material they have covered in class, suddenly making connections and beaming with understanding. Sometimes a refreshingly frank view informs my own approach. Most importantly, however, I get an insight into the ways students communicate and socialise with each other.

In short, I'm in favour of a little bustle. There is a school of thought, however, that class transitions should be much, much more regimented, even institutional. You see it mooted by behaviour consultants, usually from across the pond, and trialled in British schools with behaviour problems.

The thinking is that if students have a set hallway routine - walking silently in single file - then there will be more time for learning in the classroom. It is said that following these patterns will settle a group ahead of learning, giving them the best possible chance to succeed.

I won't lie: part of me finds a lot of merit in this approach. What teacher wouldn't love to see students silently entering their classroom in the last period on a Friday? Routines, as we know, help students to focus and remove a lot of uncertainty. I've read Teach Like A Champion and I'm aware of the sorcery that Doug Lemov's techniques can achieve.

But in establishing such corridor routines, are we cheating students out of valuable time and space to share ideas and experiences? It's an issue that's central to the question of what schools are for. If our primary focus as educators is to ensure a certain academic grade, then by all means let's take a rigorous, institutional approach. However, if we're also here to produce resilient, independent and articulate young people then I don't see what stripping students of agency achieves.

A school can seem like a city in miniature and ideally acts as a safe space where young people can learn how to interact in a real-life environment. Indeed, many schools are realising the power and influence that shared spaces can have on young minds, and are developing rich learning environments outside the traditional classroom. I've had the privilege of working in several such schools and the boost to learning can be phenomenal.

It would be a terrible shame if, in our race to ensure that young people can compete on a global stage, we robbed students of the opportunity to develop social skills and the ability to plan their own movement.

I am a corridor man and I hope that I can remain so for the rest of my teaching career.

Mike Stuchbery teaches history, geography and PSHE at East Point Academy in Lowestoft, Suffolk

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