Can I Go to the Bathroom?
A comparison of the same question/response from inside a traditional and a democratically-guided Project Based Learning classroom environment.
This flowchart is a complete illustration of what most great teachers consider — all in about .5 seconds — when a student of any age asks them if they can have permission go to the bathroom. I read through the chart and agreed, through my own 19-ish years experience as a teacher, that this is exactly the truth. .
However, in comparison, I wonder what a flowchart might look like in a democratically-operated classroom. A classroom that is used to asking kids to balance freedom and responsibility. A classroom where trust is extended before it’s earned. A classroom where student choice and independence is valued. A classroom where not all students are treated alike.
I just keep thinking back to how adults (even inside of schools) make the decision to go to the bathroom. We don’t ask our bosses or supervisors permission to go unless we’re in the middle of an important event where it would be rude or would cause a problem if we left our work. That’s the same as the classroom.
I want my students to 1) be able to determine appropriate break times and 2) to know that I trust them to do the right thing.
Sure, there may be kids who want to go to the bathroom just to stretch their legs or have a change of scenery. I absolutely understand that. So how do I deal with those instances? I ask them to tell me the truth and I can then give them a stretching break. Some kids (read ADD/ADHD) might need that more often than other kids. I also try to keep my classroom environment where they’re able to get up and move without it being distracting to others or without them having to leave. It’s not a big deal if they walk around.
But what if they’re leaving my room to go meet with some friends in the hallway or some other nefarious behavior?
Well, I hope they’re working on projects that are so interesting and/or important that they will choose to stay to work rather than talk with their buddies in the hallway, but I recognize that’s not always reality. So with those few instances, when I’ve found that is exactly what’s happened, that student’s freedom goes away. See, she relinquished personal responsibility and since our class knows that freedom and responsibility go hand-in-hand, she has earned the consequences.
And not everyone in the class has to suffer those same consequences.
I’m not saying this is perfect. I’m not saying this will work in all schools. It certainly will be troublesome if only one teacher in a school is doing this. I do say that I ran my school like this, grades 5 – 8, for 5 years. Sure, we had some instances of students making poor choices (usually the newer students), but that’s why we called our model “LifePractice.” We learned, we grew, and most importantly, we grew up.
So what’s keeping you from trusting your kids to learn how to use their own best judgement regarding their bathroom breaks?