By Brittany Janae and Kathryn Meetze
In May 2015, we were fortunate to attend a 2 Sisters live workshop in Charlotte, North Carolina. We left the weekend with journals full of notes in hand and feeling inspired, determined, and committed. We couldn’t wait to get back to show our students our growth. We hoped they’d notice a difference since we’d looped with them from fourth grade. Now fifth graders, they had grown so much over the summer, and because of The Sisters’ workshop, so had we.
We could hardly contain ourselves the night before our kids saw our new rooms for the first time. When The Sisters said “alternative seating,” we listened. After the workshop, we came back to North Carolina and closed the doors on our classrooms of the past. When our new doors opened, we had integrated alternative seating. We had spent the summer raiding thrift stores, closets, and yard sales, carefully designing our rooms with our students’ specific needs in mind. On a few occasions, our families asked things like, “Why are you taking our coffee table to school?” and “Mommy, where are you going with those stools?”
We created cozy couches out of crib mattresses for students who like cushioned seating. We raised the legs of tables and added bed risers for those who prefer to stand when they work. We lowered desk legs and added throw-pillow seating for students who like the cushion comfort mixed with the table surface. We pushed desks together for collaboration and separated some for independent thinking. Gone were the metal desks and plastic chairs of the past, and in were yoga balls and paint-bucket stools, coffee tables, and end tables. Our students had choices of where they could sit to do their best work. In true fifth-grade fashion, they smiled, nodded, and simply said, “Cool.”
Instructionally, The Sisters made us rethink small-group instruction. They explained that the most recent research shows that having five or six students in a small group is not effective, so we got rid of our kidney tables. We learned that WE had to move to our kids, where they learned best. We were committed to squeezing in between bookcases, sitting on a pillow, or standing up at the high-top tables beside our students to confer. As a result of our day spent delving into CAFE, we realized that most of the time, our students get more out of the intimacy and individuality of a one-on-one conference anyway.
A weekend with The Sisters transformed our teaching practices. We are true believers in Maya Angelou’s quote, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” The Sisters’ workshop absolutely helped us know better in more ways than we can count. And now that we know better, we are more than ready to do better!