A boundary is not that at which something stops, but that from which something begins.
In the early 1980s, many years before there were hundreds of Starbucks, my favorite literature professor used to host her weekly office hours in a tea shop just a block from the university. Any student who wanted to confer could stop in, and she would treat you to a cup of tea. I went only once, but it was a reminder to me that the best teachers find ways to meet comfortably with students in spaces that aren’t quite classrooms, and aren’t quite homes either.
I thought of conferring with my professor in a teahouse when Mary Howard posted this photo in a tweet of a meeting with kindergarten teacher Amanda Gruenberg:
I often have COFFICE CONVERSATIONS. Ts just schedule a time & choose a topic to discuss at Panera’s (babies welcome) #HackingLeadership
“Coffice” is a portmanteau combining “coffee” and “office.” It’s used by folks who work at home or young professionals who want a break from the office for any local shop where people work as well as have treats. What I love in Mary’s photo is that toddler. When we take our work outside school, we’re reminded of the larger world and what matters most to others. When we make space for those concerns and people to be a part of the scene, we know them better. And when we know them better, we can do better in serving them, understanding their needs, and fueling their creative passions.
Liminal spaces are in-between zones, and they are essential to life. In the natural world, it’s the marsh that is the transition between large bodies of water and land. It’s the hub airport you travel through on your way from home to a vacation beach. The need for liminal space in relationships is why couples go on honeymoons, to ease the transition from single to married life.
I worry about the gradual loss of these in-between spaces in our teaching lives. One of the most insidious effects of random acts of violence is that schools have “hardened,” with almost no boundary space for teachers and families to interact naturally in the transitional moments between the start and end of the school day. We’ve added all kinds of barriers, rituals, and rigid expectations about everything from “dropping in” to a classroom to recognizing birthdays that discourage any in-between spaces for home and school. In the natural world, there are organisms that can’t exist without liminal space. And in the world of schools, there are important conversations lost forever if there is no in-between space outside of classrooms for talk.
This week we celebrate the spaces between home and school, looking at how teachers can play with the boundaries to better understand students and the families who love them. Plus more as always — enjoy!
Founder, Choice Literacy
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Helping parents learn to talk with their children about what’s going on in the classroom may be more valuable than any homework teachers assign. Max Brand shares some practical tips and prompts he gives to families to launch conversations at the dinner table or in the car:
What can you learn from having toddlers “read” to you? Plenty, as Meghan Rose soon discovers:
No one navigates the in-between spaces of home and school, teaching and writing with more heart and clarity than Ruth Ayres. Here is one of the vignettes from her blog on how she negotiates the territory:
Matt Renwick has many tips for partnering with parents at the Stenhouse blog:
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Dana Murphy realizes the best way to introduce students to reading in kindergarten is to apply the principles that work at home with her own children:
Creating “world” maps is a great way to explore the territories beyond school that matter most to everyone in your classroom. Suzy Kaback explains how to create them with students early in the year as a way to get to know them as learners and community members:
In this week’s video, Katherine Sokolowski helps her fifth-grade students expand their territory for their animal research projects by sharing information sources and peer connections:
Asking the right questions of family members can get you far more valuable information than anything from an assessment, especially when you are dealing with English language learners. Stella Villalba explains why initial meetings with new families are crucial:
That’s all for this week!