Thinking out of the Box on “Old School” Ways

Standard                              (feel free to listen while you read!)

Dream School Series!

Side note: I am blogging outside of the box! The following are my reflections on a few old school ways. I have no solutions, no scientific research, and no set plans. I only have my reflections and possibilities of my dream school, which evolves daily. You will read lots of “woulds, coulds, and ifs” because I am dreaming as a write. Some of you may have my dream school ideas in place, and if so…please share with me! 


fearsanddreamsThat dreaded phrase, “We have always done it this way” can be very dangerous for educators. When facing a challenge, reacting the way you have always reacted will very likely give you the same results again and again. So why do we continue to keep some traditions in education? Routine? Habit? Lack of funds? Staffing? We could name hundreds of reasons why…but are these REAL reasons, or are they excuses that build roadblocks to our ability to think outside the box? Are they keeping us from dreaming? Are they keeping us from our vision of what is best for kids?

As an educator and lead learner, one of my most important roles is to think beyond what is in front of me. This requires getting out of my comfort zone and into a new area where dreams are birthed. I have a “dream school”, and every day I think of more ways to make that school better. It is impossible to dream inside the box! Kids are counting on US to think BIG, to dream BIG, and to make decisions that will increase their chances of success. This is a responsibility beyond measure, and one that I take very seriously. Parents are sending us their very best, and trusting us to give them every opportunity to learn and be successful. We owe it to kids and their families to jump out of our box and stay out! Are you ready?

Learning Space

The one room school house had some great things going! The teacher of the school was a differentiation specialist, teaching students of various ages. She taught with limited resources, and had to consider developmentally appropriate lessons and assignments for all ages represented. Students sat at desks and faced the front of the room where the teacher stood to deliver her lessons. Let’s consider the irony in this picture…differentiation for every student is often challenged by some teachers because of the amount of planning time required, yet in our world today we have an incredible amount of resources to support instruction that is tailored to student needs. We have classrooms for different grade levels, and the majority of them have “school furniture” such as the traditional desks, chairs, and tables. If we surveyed students, we would likely find that most do not feel comfortable working in a chair pushed up to a table or desk. In my dream school I would have classrooms with varied learning spaces so kids could have a choice of where to learn and work. If beanbags, couches, carpet areas, and different sized chairs and tables were available, it would provide a more comfortable environment for learning and working! It sure is fun to dream!

Sensory Break Room

Each year I see an increase in student behavior tied to hyperactivity and sensory processing. We must hold all students accountable for their behavior and keep expectations high while being sensitive to students who exhibit behaviors beyond their immediate control. Students with sensory processing disorders, sensory integration, and hyperactivity are often labeled as “discipline problems” when in fact they are unable to control many of their behaviors. Providing quick sensory breaks in the classroom can support teachers with classroom management, and most consider this a best practice to use throughout the school day. The fact is that some kids just need more! A sensory break room would provide students with sensory processing issues a balance. Sensory seeking kids would have access to mini-trampolines, mats for push ups and somersaults, and a wall with various textures. Students who tend to get into sensory overload would have access to weighted blankets and vests, calming music, dimmed lights, rocking chairs, and stress balls. Options for sensory diets would be available for kids who need a list of activities. Have I mentioned how fun it is to dream?


Homework is a long time tradition in all levels of school. It is something we have always done (there’s that phrase again!) and expected. Thinking out of the box has allowed me to see that most traditional homework assignments do not fit our kids. What if a child doesn’t have an environment conducive to completing homework? Some homes are rather hectic, and some children do not have homes. How can we expect students in these situations to return homework? Ethically we cannot. In my dream school, we would not assign homework. Instead, we would assign GOALwork (Thank you, Jonathan Kegler for sharing this term with me). GOALwork is…

  •  never graded
  • based on individual student goals
  • has no consequences for lack of completion
  • assigned with intentions of providing timely feedback
  • practice of a previously learned skill
  •  reading for enjoyment
  • short and not time consuming
  • NOT assigned daily, only as needed

GOALwork is a part of my dream school because the focus is not on teaching responsibility or getting grades for the grade book. It does not cause added stress for families or keep children from being KIDS! They need time to play and be involved in extra curricular activities. No student should have hours of homework…EVER. Boy, is it fun to dream!

No box thinking is required in order for us to make the best decisions for kids. Doing what we have always done is simply not acceptable. Yes, there are some “old school” ways that will always be considered best practice, but we need to consider thinking more flexibly with others. My dream school is made up of hundreds of small dreams, three of which I have shared with you here. This is merely a glimpse into the school I envision, where all students are on a level playing field in spite of their ability level, home life, or impairment. I plan to make my dreams a reality! What are your dreams? Let’s all jump out of our comfortable boxes and start thinking BIG! I use my Personal Learning Network to foster my dreams…join me and let’s dream together! Get out of your box, get connected and start dreaming!





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