Power Lines


Last week when I asked my students to form a straight, quiet line, one thoughtful child threw his hand up in the air and cried out, “But Ms. Kelly, why do we have to walk in lines?”  When I realized that I could not answer this question, I said, “You know what, I’m not sure.  Let’s talk about it when we get back to our studio.”  As we walked, I thought about possible explanations supporting requiring kids to walk in a straight, silent line.

Here are some of the answers my students came up with.  I’m adding my thoughts in italics.

  • Kids walk in lines because it’s safe and organized when there is a fire.  True, but teachers require lines when there aren’t fires or fire drills.
  • Kids walk in lines because teachers tell them to.  This answer makes me cringe.  Students should always understand the reasoning behind teacher requests.  Teachers need a reason to ask for a behavior. 
  • Kids walk in lines because they are at school.  But why? 
  • Kids walk in lines so they don’t get lost. Ok, but my first and second graders aren’t going to get lost.  They knew their way around school after the first two days. 

These answers did not satisfy my students either.  The more we thought about it, the more we all could not figure out why kids are expected to walk in lines.  We decided to compare the way adults walked around our school with the way the kids walked.  We sat in a high traffic area outside and took notes about the way we saw kids and adults walking.  In a 15-minute period, we saw one adult running and 10 kids running.  We saw two adults yelling, and we tallied 10 students yelling.  Only 3 of the students who were yelling were walking in lines.  We saw 4 students pushing.  We didn’t see any adults pushing.  We saw a whole kindergarten class holding hands.  We didn’t see any adults holding hands.  We saw one student crying and no adults crying.  We saw two classes walking in absolute silence.  We didn’t see any adults walking in silence unless they were alone.

From these observations, my students decided that adults usually walk around school quietly and respectfully.  They noticed that students didn’t always walk quietly and respectfully.  They also noticed that students walked more quietly and respectfully when their teacher was with them and when they were in line.

Eventually, we decided as a group, that we would not worry about walking in a single file, silent line.  Instead, we would focus on walking through our school quietly and respectfully.  So far, this is working for us.

Sometimes I wonder if the other teachers are thinking, Poor Ms. Kelly, I remember what it was like to be a first-year teacher.  She must have such a hard time with management- she can’t even get her students to walk in a line!

Sometimes when I see a group of students walking by in an exceptionally straight and silent line, I get that teacher impulse to say, “Wow, look at what a great line Mrs. So-and-So’s class is making!”  However, now, I stop myself, because, really, what’s the big deal?  Why do we need to control the way our students walk?

We want our students to be responsible, respectful, innovative, and creative.  We want our students to think outside the box.  We want our students to become critical thinkers and problem solvers.  We want our students to see the big picture, to always seek the why.  We want our students to crave deeper answers and new understandings.  We want our students to walk in straight, silent lines.

This last desire doesn’t seem to fit in with the others.  If we are trying to empower students, why exert our power over them in such a controlling, trivial way?

I’m new at this though.  What do you think about lines?  Why do you or do you not require that your students walk in lines?


Kelly Leehey

Kelly Leehey

Tucson, Arizona

My name is Kelly Leehey and I am a first-year teacher in Tucson, AZ. I currently teach a primary multiage class in a public Dual Language and Project-based Learning K-8 school. I begin my career as a teaching professional brimming with excitement and armed with a wonderful student teaching experience.

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