Classroom as Community, Students as Inviters
As the school year gets underway, we’re thinking about what it means for a classroom or a relationship to be “inviting,” and who gets to do the inviting. So often when we talk or hear or read about “inviting” spaces, we’re thinking about teachers signaling support and encouragement, creating physical spaces that are a comforting respite from the impersonal institution of school, designing lessons that are engaging and thoughtful.
But what if we were to think about students as the inviters instead?
If students are the ones doing the inviting— into their space, into their lives, into their experience in the mathematics classroom— and we as teachers don’t have permission to barge into that space unless invited, how does that change the way we thinking about teaching and relationships?
Do students own any of the space in math classrooms, or does the space belong to us, giving us the authority to decide who gets invited in based on the rules we set and the conditions we place on their welcome (…only if they “behave;” only if they “dress appropriately;” only if they “contribute”….)? Or are classrooms shared spaces where students and teacher negotiate the rights that each has in entering the other’s physical, intellectual, and emotional space?
And what if students invite us into some of their spaces but not others? In the same class we saw one student who would consistently invite their teacher into conversations as long as they weren’t about math, or invite them to help with problem #3 but then shut the door before #4 and another who was out on the front porch with lemonade all the time, constantly inviting the teacher into both mathematical and non-mathematical conversations. How many times do we knock on a door before accepting that it’s not open to us? Do we try to finagle an invitation, maybe by promising to bring cookies? Are there ever times we might barge in to their space anyway, out of concern or frustration?
To extend the analogy, we thought about classrooms as a large plot of land:
Students set up residence on some plot of land, and in exchange for enjoying the amenities provided by the community, take on some shared responsibility for making the community an enjoyable place to live. This might mean abiding by particular norms in shared spaces, regardless of what they do in their private spaces. If this were the case, how do we ensure that students occupy equitable amounts of space, and that different resources are valued? That the high status kids aren’t setting up huge homes with sprawling lawns and racing their Mercedes through the street? And how could we encourage students to develop the kind of community where everyone’s got a chair out on the front stoop, ready to collaborate with whichever neighbor drops by?
In your classroom “neighborhood,” what kind of zoning requirements and bylaws are enforced? Are the rules there for resident safety (like requiring fire escapes on every floor), for collective well-being (like limiting how often lawns can be watered during a drought), or for aesthetics (like outlining acceptable exterior paint colors)? And are these rules set in advance, or does everyone move in and just figure it out when someone wants to install an “unsightly” sculpture or have drum practice on the sidewalk at midnight?
We’d love to hear what you think.
Grace Chen (@graceachen) & Nate Goza (@thegozaway)