By Sallyann Della Casa
It makes them feel at home. It makes them more receptive and engaged in their lessons and how can that ever be a bad thing? Not to mention the reduced costs of wear and tear on furniture
For decades in northern Europe, children have left their shoes at the school door due to snow, ice, or slush. And then something interesting started happening. They behaved noticeably more calmly, they were more focused than their peers with shoes on, they acted more kindly to their classmates, and schools reaped the benefits of reduced cleaning bills and wear-and-tear on furniture. Now academics are calling on teachers in the UK to apply similar “shoeless techniques” to give children the best possible chance of performing in their exams. Imagine that!
Experts are claiming that having children with no shoes in the classroom improves their learning, because it makes them “feel at home” and more relaxed when learning. Think about it, when was the last time you saw a child read in an upright chair? Most of us read while lying down in some form.
Having conditions in the classroom that are like those at home means that more boys are actually reading in the classroom. How can that be bad news?
Even some companies are getting in on this trend. At the San Francisco headquarters of Rainforest QA, a tech company that offers quality testing for websites and apps, the first thing you see by the front door is a shoe-rack full of slippers. Heather Doshay, VP of People at Rainforest, says: “If the average person spends eight hours per day at the office, it means they’re probably spending more time at work than they are at home (not counting sleep), and we want every Rainforester to bring their authentic self to work, and in order to do that the environment needs to be both comfortable and inclusive.” Companies are clearly taking their cue, in part, from educational research that shows how going shoeless at school can increase student learning.
So, what’s there to not like about this shoeless policy in classrooms?
Well, there is no valid explanation why it works. Looking to China, it is suggested that reflexology has the answer. But then there is India and the respect thing, since temples are shoeless too. Or it could simply be UK’s explanation, that it is “more like being home.” All hypotheses, however.
Researchers continue to mount a clear case for a shoeless policy. Bournemouth University. observed tens of thousands of children who leave their shoes outside the classroom, and found that these pupils are more engaged in their lessons, which in turn leads to better academic attainment. The study is based on observing and studying tens of thousands of children at over 100 schools in around 25 countries during the last ten years. Even schools in Spain, where it is more common to wear shoes indoors, also tested out the theory and found improved learning and pupil behaviour.
If you are, here’s how you should go about introducing a shoeless policy to your school:
1. It must apply to everyone, including teachers, parents, caretakers, and guests. It should be done with the kids, not to them.
2. You must give parents and kids notice, with alternative emergency options — you do not want kids being mocked for holes in their socks, etc.
3. You need to create a closed-in storage place for shoes, so there is a sense of tidiness and order.
4. You should put up signs and notify guests that you are a shoeless school, so that guests will not get embarrassed by having to take off their shoes.
5. This policy should be implemented alongside the “open learning zones” in the school — large, carpeted classrooms with up to 90 students from a year group in at a time.
And we know you are all wondering about this, so we will address it. What about smelly feet? One academic said this was not a problem: “Children’s shoeless feet do not smell, it is the shoes that make them smelly!”
Sallyann is founder of Growing Leaders Foundation and works with the UAE govt