For nine months in 1915 in the city of San Francisco, the Panama Pacific International Exhibition hosted 18 million visitors from all over the world. They saw a Ford Model T assembly line, a model of the recently completed Panama Canal, brand new planes, new foods grown in California, and a glass classroom.
For four of those months, behind glass walls, 30 children attended a Montessori classroom. Montessori education was catching on in the United States, and visitors would sit on benches to watch the teaching in this classroom. Maria Montessori was so confident in her approach that she only allowed students without prior school experience to be a part of the classroom. The glass classroom was a success, garnering the attention it desired and spreading the word of the power of Montessori education.
Jennifer Gonzalez and Mark Barnes highlight this experience in Hacking Education. After a quick google search, I was thrilled to find out that Montessori educators have brought this experience back recently.
What if your classroom were surrounded by glass walls? What if visitors came to watch you teach every day? Would you be thrilled to share your classroom with the world? I can honestly say that I would have been scared for people to watch my early years of teaching, and reluctant at best 12 years later today. I am proud of my teaching, but having spectators is a whole different story.
On the other hand, I think that this phenomenon, or even the idea of teaching as if I was in a glass classroom, could have transformed my teaching. If people were really coming to watch my classroom, paying for tickets to watch me teach (as Beth Houf and Shelley Burgess describe in Lead Like a Pirate), I might have approached my lessons and units differently. I would like to think that some of my lessons and units were worth a small price of admission, but I wish I could say that about more of them.
I wouldn’t want a teacher treating every lesson as if it is a roller coaster ride or an exciting new TV series that needs a massive audience; students would become classroom adrenaline junkies. However, if students are never entering our classroom with a sense of anticipation or leaving with the cliffhanger that draws them back for the next lesson, then we are not engaging students successfully. Engagement is not the end goal, but it can be a critical step toward empowering learners.
Create your own glass classroom
As Gonzalez and Barnes point out, social media have made it easier for us to share our teaching and learning with others; this idea shouldn’t be limited to the Montessori classroom. Social media and digital portfolio sites have given teachers the opportunity to create a version of the glass classroom. These resources invite parents and other teachers to see the amazing work happening every day in classrooms. They also can give students more ownership of their learning, providing them the opportunity to take leadership over what is shared and how, even adding their voices to the work to reflect on their learning.
I was excited to learn through my research that Toney Jackson, the teacher used in a recent Windows 10 commercial, is a real teacher and poet.
He is so comfortable with his teaching style that he let in millions of viewers to his room (or at least the commercial version of it). Who wouldn’t want to enter that classroom. I would pay admission to watch him teach.
If you haven’t yet, find ways to tear down the walls of your classroom. Hacking Education provides a wonderfully simple breakdown of how you might accomplish this goal, resources to use, and the benefits to sharing. My main takeaways – start small, find out how other teachers are already using this strategy, and make small adjustments to constantly improve. (Starr Sackstein – @MsSackstein and her YouTube channel – should be a great starting point.)
My goal this year is simply to share images or videos of students working and student work, including their reflections. One way to do this: let your students take pictures throughout the day. What does a school day look like through their eyes? It probably won’t be perfect and it should help you learn as much as any viewer. (If you are nervous, have students take pictures on a tablet throughout the day and then share out the most interesting/exciting ones. Or maybe it’s just once a week. Post them from your class Twitter or Facebook account, or to your class web page.)
One preschool teacher at our school made photographer a classroom job, letting each student take a turn, and then created a gallery in the building of their photos in large print. To see our school and that classroom through a three year-old’s eyes was priceless. She wrote multiple blog entries highlighting her learning from the experience. It inspired me to take on the task of sharing our school’s amazing learning this school year. I’m still looking for the right hashtag, but I’ll let you know when I get there.
In the meantime check out my next blog for a new idea – The Glass Classroom Challenge. My goal is to find a way to break down the walls and spark the playful, passionate innovation that we all hope to develop in our classrooms.