A Change of Space
At the beginning of last year, I changed classrooms, and moved into a classroom that was almost identical in configuration but with slight differences. The new classroom faces a different direction, has less shelving, and is further away from the office. Of these three things, you would think the new direction would have the least impact, the lack of shelving would be a detriment and the proximity to the office could go either way. That's what I thought and I was wrong.
A Change in Direction
I went from a class that faced south to one that faces north. I have really noticed a big drop in the amount of natural light I get. I now have this great view of the mountains, but on an hour by hour impact, I'd take the exposure to light. I don't sit and gaze out the window, so the view, though nice, does not impact me as much. My room seems gloomier without the natural light. I'm not a big fan of fluorescent light, so I don't have it going full blast very often, but without it, my class is on the dim side. I supplemented the light with these big Ikea paper lanterns which were cheap and nice looking. But because they are made out of paper, I did not want to use normal light bulbs because they get so hot, so ironically I have to use compact fluorescents, but I found some that have a yellow tinge to them to give off a more warm (in feeling, not temperature), friendly glow. I have four of these lanterns in my class. I also have a few free standing lamps, so it creates nice pockets of light.
A Change of Storage
Less shelving means less space to store things which can create panic in teachers (we teachers love our stuff). I actually found it more liberating because it meant I had to get rid of some things which I do not use on a regular basis. I took all of the textbooks I rarely use back to the book room. I can always get them when I need them, and so far that has been never. I got rid of a table that I kept piling junk on and never used. I got rid of the math manipulatives that I don't need regularly and kept a few that I might need on the fly. Having less shelving gives me more access to walls (for displays, reading nooks, ukuleles, etc.), and more room. But the biggest advantage of not having as much shelving is flexibility. The walls and the space are not predetermined areas. I can choose how they will be used. I like that.
A Change in Proximity
The move away from the office I thought was going to be bad. I am really forgetful and always forget things in the office. But so far, it has not been a big deal. I am getting a little more organized, I am sending kids to get forgotten things from the office (which they love doing), and I feel much more connected with the rest of the school. Before, I only had one class near me, and now I have three others of varying grades. When you stand in my doorway, you can hear a lot of interesting things going on. I am learning a lot from my fellow teachers.
Net Result? I Need a Change!
So if the move was so good then why did my new classroom feel so cramped?
I was really disappointed by November with the configuration of my classroom. I felt I had way less space and everything felt cluttery. And I could not put my finger on why.
Well, at least not until a student, T, asked me why I had my cool blue lights on the back wall instead of the front wall. I told her that when my mom decorates, she always thinks about the Feature Wall, which is first wall that people see when they enter a room. The Feature Wall should have impact because it sets the mood of the whole space. T thought this was a great idea and understood why the cool blue lights were there.
But she got ME (re)thinking about the Feature Wall. I stood in the doorway and looked at the first wall I saw which was indeed the far wall with the cool blue lights. The lights made sense, and the window on that wall was nice with the nice view, but your eyes were drawn lower to the sole shelving in the room. On top of the shelving was my classroom library. I had originally placed it there strategically because of the Feature Wall: I wanted people to get the message that this was a Reading Place (also because this was the ONLY shelving, it really was the only place for a classroom library).
I love books, but when books are different sizes and placed at eye level in front of a window, they look terrible! But where else could I put the books? I wanted them so that they were easy to access for my students, but the window wall was the only place with shelving in the room. As you may know by now, I'm not adverse to building things, but I was not relishing the idea of creating a large bookshelf. And if I did, where was the shelving going to go? The next wall has my sink and cloakroom area, so no go for books. The third wall did not have much, but it is the wall directly facing the window, so people outside would look across and see the same mess as before, so no go. The fourth wall had potential, but my Smartboard was there and that wall was the focus of my class during formal instruction time. But I realized I disliked the way that wall was set up. But if I moved my Smartboard, I was going to have to reconfigure my entire classroom (again!). But (I know, 3 buts) I remembered the dissatisfaction I was feeling with my current configuration, so after much thought, I decided to have my Smartboard moved and then rejig the classroom.
Rejigging the classroom turned out to be no big deal. I don't have that much on the walls, and the risers are a snap to move so reconfiguring my classroom took little time. Ah, the benefit of Spartan flexibility.
Feature Wall Redux
The new configuration is SO much better. It looks better, but more importantly, it works better. Kids are closer together during instructional time. The first thing you see on the far wall is a nice open counter top that has a few plants on it. The students face you so you see their angelic faces as you enter. Parents sometimes watch lessons from outside and can see the Smartboard, and they don't distract their children because they mostly face away from the window. By moving the risers closer to the new front, I have room for a reading nook, a counter to be used for stand-up writing and working on one of 3 laptops, a place for an art easel, a wet area, and a table area.
It has all of the elements I like: clean lines, flow, and flexibility. Again, a big change as a result of a small prompt, a question. Thanks T and Mom.