Decluttering pedagogy – creating space to spark curiosity

I’m about three years late reading Marie Kondo’s Joy of Tidying Up. The thesis of the book is that if an item doesn’t spark joy, then dispose of it.

To an international school teacher, living light is a necessity.  Sentimentality goes in the bin along with your unwanted possessions when you are under a strict weight limit.

As I start the school year, my mind wandered to learning.

If cluttered environments create stress and unhappiness, what about a cluttered pedagogy?

Year after year I learn new skills and strategies.

New programmes are introduced.

Yet during my teaching career, I’ve never really given much thought to what I need to stop doing.

What teacher actions do I need to throw away?

Rushing to get ‘start of the year’ assessments done

I know, know, that data is needed to get those literacy and maths groups set up. Remember those end of year assessments? Use them. Trust the previous teacher’s judgment. Accept kids grow and change over the summer. Adapt groupings in response to needs.


One thing I’ve noticed teaching in an Innovative Learning Environment is teachers talk. A lot. I’m guilty of spending excessive time explaining at the expense of children doing the heavy cognitive lifting. This year I’ll set a silent timer to give me a hurry up.

Routines that waste children’s time

Do I give children multiple exit points for modeling?  How often do children have to suffer through whole class ‘talks’ due to the actions of a few individuals? Are the children set up to start learning as they return from breaks rather than waiting for the whole class to assemble for instructions? A few minutes here and there can easily add up to a lot of lost learning time not to mention lost opportunities for children to exercise independence.

My teacher chair

I don’t have a teacher’s desk. Yet I still have a teacher chair that grounds me to a spot and also keeps me comfortable when giving instructions. Time to repurpose that ‘mat time’ chair away from the projector screen.


Before hitting print, I need to consider. Does each child need a copy? Would a wall display of the information be sufficient? Is it something that the children could take a photo of on their iPads and annotate? Could the information be sent out digitally? Is this something children can write or draw for themselves?

Wall displays that aren’t regularly utilized by the learners

I’ve never been one to spend much time on wall displays. Every so often, I’ll look around other learning spaces, feel guilty at the barren walls in my space and put something up. The display then languishes on the wall for most of the year. Make peace with emptiness –  pull down or move displays if they aren’t being used. Let the visuals be purposeful.

Over the top ‘tuning in activities’ and summative tasks 

In my rush to infect my enthusiasm for the unit on the children, am I being responsive to their needs and interests or front-loading them with content?

Is this an activity to keep them busy or a provocation that reveals children’s thinking?

Some of the summative assessment tasks are often more about the task itself than assessing understanding. Is this an assessment or a learning engagement?


Instead of lengthy email updates once a week, what about frequent smaller bursts on Instagram?  Instead of me doing the writing could the children produce a video newsletter as part of their literacy learning?

As the child of a teacher, I know we have pack rat tendencies. We hold on to resources we’ve invested our precious time creating just in case they might be useful again. But by holding on to the past, whether in our possessions or actions, we overburden ourselves.

We don’t create space to grow and change.

If the practice doesn’t spark curiosity, it’s probably time to put it in the bin.

What is it you will stop doing this year?

How could you de-clutter your pedagogy?


8 thoughts on “Decluttering pedagogy – creating space to spark curiosity

Add yours

  1. Thought provoking Stephanie – I have shared your post on the PYP Coordinators FB page – I think it is a great engagement to do with PYP teachers as they begin the new academic year in International Schools.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post! I love how you say that you have 100 cookie cutters that you almost never use, BUT that we should declutter. This note is really fantastic and I love the way that you write and share your thoughts.


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