Building Structure to Build Flexibility

Teaching this year has been a new challenge every day. At least at my school, how we’re teaching, who is going to be there, and the tools we’re using has changed more than any other year I’ve taught. Flexibility and adaptability have never been more important. At the same time, we know that most people thrive in an environment with a stable structure, offering clear and consistent expectations. As the teacher, the question I’ve been dealing with all year is how can I structure my classroom to promote flexibility in the students. While it’s obviously an ongoing process, here are a few things I’ve found helpful.

  1. Structure the things you can. Look, some things will always be up in the air and beyond our control. That’s fair, and that’s why we need that flexibility. At the same time, there are also a lot of things within our control, and we should be controlling them. In the classroom, I don’t know where class conversations are going to go. I can’t determine what answers the students will give. What I can do, though, is make sure I have provided the backdrop for the conversations. I structure the lessons that lead up to the conversation and help to direct the learning leading up to the conversation. In our lives, we can’t control what others are going to do and say, but we can build the framework of how those interactions will happen.
  2. Have clearly stated expectations. In the context of a class discussion, the other thing I build into our structure the rules of engagement. At the very beginning of the year, we establish our expectations of respect. Once we build this structure, we spend the rest of the year building the habits of meeting these expectations. In general, people will live up to(or down to) your expectations. If people know what is and isn’t acceptable, then if things go off the rails a bit, it’s easier to bring things back because there is a real structure which they can see they have left.
  3. Keep communication lanes as wide open as possible. When you get right down to it, the only way to really build and maintain a structure for our communities that will allow for the adaptability and flexibility to cope with the unexpected is if we are in constant communication. The students need to be able to talk to me about how they feel things are going without worrying that I’m going to respond harshly. They need to know that we are partners, working together in the confines of the structure we’ve built together to find solutions to the challenges we are facing.

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