Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Creating the Climate: Classroom Design

For the past decade, I have taught in one of the smaller classrooms in my school. Nestled into a central hallway, the classroom sees a great deal amount of traffic and is conveniently located near the Special Education office that houses a printer that I can pillage from in a pinch. Being an older classroom with original vents and windows that look directly into windows of another classroom, the room is not without its rustic charms (And by charms, I mean dust. An abounding amount of DUST). Nevertheless, I love this little classroom and the memories that have been created with my students and speech team members through the years. This year, my husband even purchased a portable air purifier, which significantly improved my ability to breathe through allergy season. Why didn't I purchase this miraculous device years ago?

To compensate for the cramped feeling that a small room can exude when 26+ seniors are packed into desks with no air conditioning on an almost summer day, a few years back, I asked my awesome and supportive assistant principal if I could have the custodians remove my teacher desk. Freeing up even a meager few feet significantly impacted the aesthetics of the location. In its place, I was given a narrow table on wheels on which I could rest my computer and sit in the early morning before the start of a school day. I also stocked supplies into a three-drawer contains to house school supplies that my colleagues who also shared the room could use. I even started stashing paperclips and pens in a speech team trophy - another cause to chuckle at my expense (I'm practical if nothing else! What else am I going to use a trophy for? More dust collecting?). Removing the teacher desk, which can be viewed as radical, freed up floor space, encouraged my students to move around the room with increased frequency, and provided me with a flexible, movable, and multi-functional piece of furniture. The act of riding oneself of the teacher desk also made me rethink the space and my habits as a teacher. Proximity is so crucial and can send a myriad of nonverbal messages to students. Through my observations, my constant movement not only keeps me energized throughout the day, but also encourages my students to remain engaged and also gives them another reason to poke fun at my expense! Another subtle change that I made involved moving the desk away from the wall. While the room does not have space to spare, a few feet (I'm petite) allowed me to squeeze behind my students, much to their chagrin. Now I could conference more directly with them and peer at their Chromebook screens as a subtle and gentle reminder to stay focused in the short time we have together each day. 

Next year, my room is approximately 1.5 times the size. I still will not introduce a teacher desk, but I will have additional space to begin infusing flexible seating into my room design. With the third child on the way, my husband and I have been nesting this summer by rearranging furniture and finalizing our daughter's playroom - also known as the entire basement. In doing so, I have procured a worn but functional couch and am aching to find a new shelf or two to be filled with scripts and books that have been boxed or inaccessible to my students for a while now. I am eager to arrange the desks and feel out the space before I begin to fill it. The topic of flexible seating has been on my mind, though, especially with the official adoption of 1:1 and the changes that will bring to student needs and student-life (such as a need to charge a Chromebook on occasion). 

I finally started reading Joy Kirr's Shift This!: How to Implement Gradual Changes for MASSIVE Impact in Your Classroom. I love how reflective her writing is and how much wisdom she shares from her experiences as an educator. Knowing her through Twitter and EdCamps, I have always been inspired by her and find her passion contagious. I am absolutely loving her book and have loved how timely her first few chapters have been to my reflections this summer - especially with room design and construction. After completing the first four chapters, I cannot recommend that every educator who is looking to grow and reflect this summer pick up a copy and read it! (Who isn't learning and growing in some way. That's a part of the gig, right?)

As the summer passes by, here's my list of priorities to consider with the new space:

A Student Center

With the use of technology, we rarely need supplies to demonstrate knowledge or write. Often, student writing is produced on the Chromebooks, but that does not mean we do not shut the Chromebooks to write on whiteboards, journal, complete group work, etc. In fact, closing down the Chromebooks is an excellent way to brainstorm ideas, collaborate, and connect with others. In doing so, we need markers, supplies, and even tape. Students in high school barely bring their books to class let alone a functioning pen or pencil. As a result, having a student center stocked with supplies at the ready and a few chargers for their Chromebooks would be so helpful to all in the room. Instead of a teacher desk, I sincerely have taken to this idea. Plus, I need a place to dock my computer as well. My long, rolly table will serve nicely as a place in which a student or I can access needed supplies, sit if he or she needs to a place work other than a student desk, and as an added bonus the corner that I'm looking at already has all the cords for the computer!

Bulletin Boards

I have NEVER had bulletin boards. I do not feel equipped to craft bulletin boards as a high school teacher. This single fact was one reason why I avoided elementary education. My former elementary teacher turned principal mother, however, is quite talented at bulletin boards and making everything perfectly centered, proportioned, and positioned. I have already enlisted her assistance in this process, but I still need to procure the supplies! What I loved in Joy's book was that she suggested keeping the classroom as an empty canvas - a place in which students can add their ideas, celebrate community happenings, and personalize THEIR classroom. I will devote at least one bulletin board to this purpose; however, I want to develop some skeleton to provide structure. My theme for this board will be "Oh the places we're going..." Yes, perhaps the idea sounds a little youthful for high school upperclassmen but instead of Dr. Seuss centered, articles from the local paper, information about the books we are reading, and what we are learning will appear, and this board will change throughout the school year. Reading and learning is an adventure! This idea is vital to instill in students. Another board will be devoted to my "Life Challenges" theme - a new project I will explore this fall. Students will be blogging about and completing brief life challenges each week. In hopes of developing empathy, making content more relevant, and creating community awareness, I will highlight how and why we should be cognizant of our community by completing and documenting our experiences with these life challenges. So, these are my two primary ideas for the boards. Thank goodness my mom will be helping me put these ideas into fruition.


In my old room, I inherited two narrow bookshelves with no backs. Students would unintentionally push books and play scripts through the back causing unneeded damage to the books. Also, the position of the shelves caused the books to be not accessible to students. I moved the shelves at the end of the year but still found them to be nonfunctional. In the move, I left those shelves behind and am looking for a better bookshelf or even a pocket-style, rotating rack to store the books. I want students to read and embrace the books that are there for them to use. If the shelves prevent or deter the browsing of books, then students are accessing them! Finding the proper shelves is still in works and will come with time.

Seating Arrangements To Spark Conversation and Flexible Seating

Like countless teachers, I have played with the arrangement of desks. Personally, I prefer clusters that allow me to move swiftly and quickly within them. In my old classroom, limited space prevents me from experimenting with the formation. Finally, I settled on three clusters of desks in a horseshoe formation, which worked. Now that I have a different space, I am excited to find a way to spark increased conversation and collaboration with a few variations on the horseshoe formation. Perhaps, I could even try tables or incorporate various types of seating in the future once I have a better vision for the desks. Flexibility seating is such a fascinating topic, and I loved how Shift This touched on experimenting with the possibilities. Also appreciated from this section of the text was the reminder that grant money might be able to help me purchase alternative tables and chairs that would facilitate collaboration and group work to an even greater extent. Any changes to the traditional desks that I currently have will more than likely occur in year two of this venue change, but it is certainly fun to imagine the potential.

A minor shift like moving to a classroom a mere a hallway over is exciting. A new space implies more options and the opportunity to rethink classroom design. Subtle alternations to the arrangement of a classroom can significantly impact on the overall climate. I am excited to read further into of Joy's book, which has raised timely topics for me as an educator and has challenged me to reflect on my goals for the school year that is about to begin. Please check out her blog and her work! Joy is an inspiring lady. 

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