Last month, I had some teachers from Australia come by for a visit to my classroom. They had encouraging things to say about the design and decor of my classroom. They asked a lot of questions, ("What do the parents think?"). They also had some suggestions, ("Wouldn't it be great if you took some data to back up your ideas here?").
But it was the first comment they made that really struck me. It was something like, "I wish I could show this to some of our teachers back home. They say they can't make changes to their classrooms because all they really have are four walls." The Australian teachers liked how I had drastically changed the atmosphere of my classroom without having to tear down any walls or bring in a lot of expensive furniture or equipment.
A Love of Labour? Wrong Guy
I took their comment as a huge compliment. If you told me a few years ago that I was going to transform my teaching by transforming my classroom, I would have laughed. (And if you told my mom that other people would be looking to me for design advice, she would have laughed). In retrospect, I've poured a lot of time into this little project. Here is an incomplete list of the things I have spent hours and hours on, with respect to classroom design:
- getting rid of things that emphasized the factory model of school.
- bringing in personal touches from home.
- reading or trying to find resources that will enhance my classroom design journey (there are very few).
- designing and constructing the risers.
- looking for lapdesks.
- finding deals on lamps, stools, material, etc.
- rearranging things in my room.
- thinking, thinking, thinking.
The Design Guy
Speaking of work, I wrote in this blog that on Tuesdays, I have been seconded to look at innovation in my school district. I have seen lots of terrific things and have been lucky to visit quite a few classrooms. But the really funny thing is I always seem to spend a portion of time on classroom design. Either by word of mouth or from this blog, people want me to come and see what is happening in their classrooms in terms of atmosphere, or they want me to drop by to give them advice. People have done some really effective and unusual things in their classrooms. (I am really happy to see that the changes they made reflect their philosophy about teaching.)
Some teachers have some real challenges on their hands: no windows, no plugs, a science room that has sinks every couple of metres, noisy floors and heating systems, really ugly wall colours, too much storage or not enough, etc. As I said, I don't really know what I am doing, but I try to give them a few suggestions based on what I hear the teacher saying about what they are trying to accomplish (e.g. a relaxing mood, a community feel, more visibility, etc.). Sometimes, I give lots of suggestions because I get really excited about the possibilities, but that can be really daunting to the teacher who is just beginning their own design journey. I tell those teachers: "Start small. Do as much as you can handle. Start with something that you think will have an impact on improving learning, but make sure that something is manageable."
Advice from Those Who Know
I wish I could take credit for this sage advice, but I heard it first from my students. Remember? After the first year, I asked them for advice and they said to introduce the risers slowly to get everyone used to the idea. That way it was manageable for me and for my students. Starting small or slowly makes daunting doable.