Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Phenology of the Classroom

A vernal pool at Caledonia State Park, June and July
If you follow my Twitter feed, you'll probably notice lots of pictures of flowers, many with #phenology. I'm incredibly lucky to live in a place where two gorgeous state parks are within a 20-minute drive--and one of those state parks is on the way to a larger town where we do a lot of our shopping. So I get to walk a great deal on the same paths and see the same places day after day, week after week.

And yet they're not the same places. Even within one season a location can change a great deal. Year to year, I can see the same patterns unfold in different ways. This is the joy of phenology! Cardinal flowers that were in one location are a few feet away the next year. Mushrooms sprout after a wet August but remain hidden in a dry one. Garlic mustard invades a few more feet each year. A new stream erosion prevention barrier has been built--does it work? I could walk these paths a thousand times and still see new things.

When school begins, I take this same sense of phenology back to the classroom. Each week with a new class is like rediscovering an old trail in new seasons. Just as I know to look for blooming skunk cabbage as an early sign of spring, I also know to look for very early signs of class cohesiveness. In the first week someone will have an idea that goes beyond my imagination--an idea that takes the class in a new direction. This is as miraculous as that first spring flower.
A skunk cabbage flower wouldn't fit in August. Some routines that work
well in May just don't work at the beginning of the year.

In the later weeks, I see the same kinds of patterns unfold. Sharing becomes a treasured routine in the classroom, but each group of students shares in a different way. Each class has certain favorite classroom spots, favored clean-up songs, favored ways of tweaking our classroom routines. Seeing these patterns emerge is as delightful as watching spring come to a forest. Not quite as restful, though--because in the classroom I am always a participant, not an observer!

Walking the paths near my house helped me to see how the seasons naturally unfold. As you begin your school year, I invite you to try out the lens of phenology. How does your classroom ecosystem develop? What differences do you see as similar patterns build? If you see a negative event happen--the same kind of thing that happens every year--how can you intervene to change it?

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