Tuesday, April 27, 2010


It started out as a joke, but turned into something that is making me think in a new way.

It all started when my new teaching partner began in my class. I needed a place that wasn't in my classroom to store a few things because every time I went in to get something, it would really interrupt his teaching. My principal gave me access to room 106 which I share with the Aboriginal Ed program and the reading to dogs program (I'm not kidding). But when I went in there, the space was so uninviting (it is also used for desk storage and paper supplies, etc.) that it depressed me too much to go in there.

So little by little I started decorating it with little odds and ends. With the lights on, it still looks like an ugly classroom/storage space, but with the right lighting, it looks like a very relaxing cafe. I pretty much kept this to myself, but as time went on, more staff members learned about it. Now it's to the point that I can show up at work and find someone in there having coffee by herself, or sometimes and I will spend my spare blocks with someone in there having an espresso. My crowning moment was one Friday at 5:30 there were about 8 of us in there (including a TOC/sub), hanging out, playing music. Did I mention that it was 5:30 on the Friday when Spring Break had already begun almost 3 hours before?

Cafe 106 or "The Space"
This is what it looks like with the full ambience,
(i.e. low mood lighting, jazz playing on the sound system, the smell of espresso brewing, etc.).


Just chilling out.

The Hmmm

The whole staff has been through by now, and it has actually toned down a bit, but it made me really think: what is it about our jobs that we need to go into a calm, relaxing place that has virtually no semblance to that job? (Part of my decorating scheme was that I did not include anything that looked like school). Some teachers especially seems to relish the lack of stimulation in my space, and given some of their jobs, it's no wonder.  I know that companies like Electronic Arts put a lot of thought into their workspaces and staff rooms.  They try to make them as inviting and fun as possible so that employees see it as a good place to be.  It can only increase morale and productivity.

The Question
And then over Spring Break, I got to thinking: how could I apply this to kids and the classroom?

Years ago, I met a teacher from an alternate school, and she told me how in her class they didn't have desks, just tables and coffee tables. So that year, I tried to make my class way more homey. I got some coffee tables and some big pillows. It was actually a bit of a disaster. I didn't implement it very well, so the kids treated my classroom as if it WAS their home. They left their stuff all over the place, they laid on the floor and didn't do any work. It was a change just for change sake without any real intention and had failure stamped on it from the start.

This time, I've got an idea, or at least a kernel of an idea. How does classroom atmosphere affect children's learning? My goal is for kids to see that learning happens everywhere, not just in their classrooms or at school, but in their lives outside of school. With that goal in mind, I want to de-institutionalize my classroom. Kids see their classrooms and school as they place they go to learn and then they turn that switch off when they leave because their atmosphere's change the minute they leave school.

So now I had my theory, but still no plan. I didn't want to just make my classrooms homey because of what happened to me before, so I was searching for design ideas.

This is how my project began.

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