Steve Jobs is a brilliant, brilliant man.My latest source of inspiration has been the Apple store: clean lines, uncluttered shelves. The focus is on the product and the customer. There is no separation between you and the products, nor you and the salespeople. This creates a very intimate experience with the product. Go ahead, touch it, try it. This is how it is going to look when you take it home. And me, Joe Applesalesguy, I'm here to help you with that experience.
When I figured that marketing strategy out as I stood there, it made me look even deeper. There is no cash register, and only one real counter (where the "Geniuses" hang out to help you with big troubleshooting). The salespeople walk around with handheld credit card machines, so you almost never see any money exchange hands (kind of like a nice, intimate drug deal). They use bright, but flat lighting, and no colour on the walls. The tables are made of a nice, wooden veneer. The effect of this is, when there are no people in the store, the store looks like an art gallery with the products neatly on display for you to behold. And when people are in the store, they breathe life into the store, into the products because the only real colour and movement in the store is created when (clothed) people walk in the store.
Compare this to any big box electronic retailer and the comparison is striking. Big boxstores are ugly, cluttered, and induce heart-palpitating sensory overload. It's like they want to impress you with the amount of stock they have, and want to whip you into a buying frenzy. The first things you see are the cash registers and then the clutter. The exact opposite is true for the Apple Store: there are no apparent cash registers, and the only place that verges on clutter is the back part where they hang a few accessories, but they are well out of the main focus of the store.
The parallels for education are apparent. If the third teacher is the environment (after the paid professional and the peers), then I want the third teacher to be more like the Apple Store than the Big Box. I want an environment that is an invitation to explore and to stay awhile. I want an environment that soothes and inspires. I want an environment that says, "I'm here to help you." But the problem is that classrooms, like the Big Boxes, have environments that are designed to get you in and get you out; environments that excite but in a fleeting and surface way; environments that say, "I'm not here for you, I'm here for me."
So how did this Apple experience manifest itself in my classroom?
I rearranged everything because of that experience. I mentioned before that over the Christmas holiday I moved everything. Between the concept of the "feature wall" and the Apple experience, I had to reorganize my focus. I now have a clean counter at the back that over looks my window, and I moved the clutter of the classroom library out of direct sight lines.
My next plan was to change the colour of my walls. I'd like to paint them because the walls are the same colour as baby vomit, but painting is really hard to do in my situation. I'm not supposed to paint the walls myself because of union concerns, and it would be expensive for the school if I had them painted, plus I don't own the room so if I happen to change rooms the next teacher would be stuck with my design aesthetic (which is impeccable, but a matter of taste). So I was going to put up this white fire retardant paper. I've been meaning to put it up for a month, but luckily my wife talked me out of it. She visited my class last week, and when I mentioned how much I hated the wall colour, she said that she didn't even notice it. She did, however, notice my nice big window with the uncluttered view. (Okay so my plan actually worked).
The other Apple Store manifestation is on that same back counter. When kids are writing, I set up 3 laptops back there so they can stand and write on them. The kids can get inspired by looking out the window, and they themselves become featured pieces of art as they stand by the back counter, a focal point of the room, and can also be viewed from passersby from the outside.
Now, I just have to let my students know they are welcome to stay, explore, and be inspired. And that I am there to help them and share in that experience. And no money will change hands.