Collaboration in the Hallway

One of the great pleasures of my job is when the students do something entirely on their own that makes me stop and feel proud. One of those moments happened in the hall one Thursday between lunch and recess. Four students, representing two different classrooms, finished eating early. Unbidden, they clustered around a book in the hallway between their classrooms and shared it together. The oldest child, a second-grader, was reading aloud, and the others, two kindergarteners and a first-grader, were following along, one mouthing the words along with him, the other two listening silently.

It seems like a simple moment, but many things went into it. First, this gathering happened spontaneously in the hallway during a few minutes of free time. In a school where students are trusted to move around their space, they can find each other and interact without fear of sanction. Second, there was no sense of competition or hierarchy among them. Each was experiencing the book at their level. Our mixed age/mixed ability environments make this more natural. Research shows that in a mixed grade environment, students collaborate more, compete less, and are less interested in comparing ability level. Finally, their choice of reading as a pleasurable, shared activity is a testament to how enjoyable their teachers have made reading and learning for them.

In our small school, I get to observe these moments frequently. Equality and community are woven into their experiences every day, and I was pleased to be able to see this first hand.

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Karen Carney

is the head of school. Karen’s career demonstrates a rich and diverse set of skills: project oversight, curriculum development, educator training and mentoring, and classroom instruction. Prior to coming to Chicago Friends School, she worked as a senior specialist in science curriculum for American Institutes for Research. Before this, she oversaw educational programming at the Adler Planetarium, first as its director of education and then as associate vice president for visitor experience and learning. She has also worked in instruction and teacher development at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Learning Sciences Research Institute and has authored more than 20 scholarly papers, book chapters, and conference presentations.

Karen is an active, dedicated Friend (Quaker) and has held various leadership positions at the Evanston Friends Meeting. She enjoys baking, cooking, and painting and is a member of the Playmation improv comedy team.

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