When do you find time to conceptualize the layout of your classroom? In a perfect world, there would be scheduled time for teachers to organize the space in which they create learning. The reality however, is that the first few days before the school year starts is over packed with meetings, more meeting, development meeting, icebreaker meeting, meetings to discuss norms for future meeting, and even meetings about meetings that happened last school year. Did I mention there are a lot of meetings?
The result of this over planning for ‘school vision’ and ‘necessary’ administrative protocols is that classroom teachers have scant time to invest deeply in creating a space where students feel inspired, motivated, and safe enough to engage in the difficult task of becoming open to learning. Teachers are often told that they have the two days before students show up to organize their classrooms but in fact, those days are packed full of meetings AND the building is often open to new, prospective students and parents to come and introduce themselves (as they should) to teachers. If only teachers were given space to privately meditate and contemplate their space and how it impacts students’ needs.
My personal solution is to take the three weeks before I am required to go in the building and spend as much time alone in my classroom. It is not required, but I REQUIRE the time for personal reflection and preparation (mentally) for my task of creating learning. I will often start slowly the week after the custodians have finished prepping and spend two to three hours a day in the space. I conceptualize, I role play, I try desks and bookcases in different combinations, and sift through the previous years’ mountains of material I created to gauge whether or not I should keep them for the upcoming year or retire them in favor of a new creation that has yet to emerge from the depths of my brain. I unload new materials that have been sitting in my house and pack up old ones. Most of the time though, I stand and reflect. I reflect on the previous years of students that have spent time in class. What was their experience like? Did I serve their needs well enough. If I haven’t, what can I do differently this year?
When I think of the layout of my classroom I have to take a number of important things into consideration.
- Where do you put tables, desks, chairs, et al. in an organized manner so I can move them efficiently as to not lose valuable instructional learning time during class?
- How can I make that organization part of class culture so that my students are efficient in moving things safely and without getting each other’s’ way?
- Does the space ‘feel’ right after everything is set up?
- If not, why? How do I change this?
These questions are just as important as the questions I have for myself in regards to lesson planning and scope/sequence of units. In many respects these questions are even more important. If my room is not a place where students feel like they can learn, then no amount of lesson planning will change that. As Sugata Mitra puts it in his TED talk on the child driven education, “Learning is a self organizing system”.
It is my responsibility to create the right conditions for learning to emerge. It starts with the space itself.