It is a week before classes begin, and I am getting ready to bring in a new crew of 7th and 8th graders! Every school year there is something new and different that I set-out to try. If you’re reading this, you must be a teacher, or educator of some sort. Well, don’t you find that teaching thrives when new challenges are set for a new school year? Building professional practice is good for the soul, and good for students. When we as teachers take risks, our instruction benefits, and this trickles down to the students. These benefits to students do not necessarily come from this instant instructional change, or evolutionary growth. More often than not, when I try something new…the tasks, activities, and tools are un-tested and un-tried. This makes teaching and learning RAW and a bit unpredictable. Students witness risk-taking in its most raw-form. They come to understand that it’s okay to not know the outcome, and mistakes will happen. No pain, no gain, right? This translates into students taking risks too, and that is precisely what excites me as a classroom teacher. EXCITING!
This year will be no different for my students and I. We will once again embark on a new adventure, and dive into the unknown! Personally, I am consistently drawn-in to trying new methods that better engage students, and build community in the classroom. So what will it be this year? Well, I am about to relinquish my TEACHER POWER, go a little crazy, and invite my students to design and construct our space. EXCITING!
This year, our classroom will be a student-centred space. When students arrive, they will enter a classroom with no posters, no bulletin boards, no fadeless paper or borders. Walls will be empty, staring back at students, longing for their personal touch. Desks, tables and chairs will stand at attention, around the perimeter of the classroom, like disciplined soldiers ready to parade in a circle. I can’t wait to see the look on my students’ faces! Ha! Ha! Ha! The blank stares, heads circling around the walls and ceiling, mumbling and whispering, “Where do we go…sit…put my stuff?”
In doing so, is there fear that I will fail to harness the power and control needed to manage my students?
Will students be deprived of a warm sense of welcome that we assume they feel, when our rooms are wallpapered with Teacher Store glamour?
How might our blank dull space set the tone for the year? Oh my! What a risk!
Well, somewhere in the 1000’s of hours of teacher-geek reading, I have come to learn that all of my (our-collective teachers) best intended efforts, and investment of personal money may not have achieved what we often hope. When teachers handle all of the decorating and organizing, it might leave students feeling as though they are stepping into our space (the teacher). After pouring 3-4 full days into cleaning, posting, stapling, and sticking things up, teachers feel energized and proud of their warm, welcoming space. Their pristine, electrifying classroom sprinkled with stars, basketballs, smiley faces, flowers, suns, polka-dots, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. But just think, students come to us with varied interests and preferences. When they enter YOUR classroom, they in essence invade this pre-set space; covered with their teacher’s favourite colours, themes, quotes, and organizational style. In the first days, students might be told or led-on to list the rules, routines, and agreements their classroom will need to be productive and successful.
But how do students REALLY feel? How might the 9-year old boy feel when he walks into the classroom with coffee-coloured borders and bubble-gum polka-dots? How does the 7-year old gymnast feel
when she walks into the room with basketball borders and an explosive orange bulletin board? How comforting is it for the quiet student, who is easily distracted, when he walks into a room with 10 posters, 7 quotes, 2 banners, and 12 math charts already set on the walls? How will he know where to look?
Community is about coming together to get to know each other. We get to talk about our interests, confess-to our quirks, and ask for things we need. I can think of no better way to welcome my 7th and 8th graders, than to entrust them with the job of designing our space, and leading the way towards building our community together.
So, what have I done for two straight days? I have scrubbed every shelf, counter, cupboard, board, drawer, and the like. I have torn down bulletin board paper, pulled off borders, pulled-out staples, and stored all teacher materials behind cupboards. Books lay along a bookshelf, unsorted, unlevelled, uncategorized. Our space is clean, and it’s clear. Period.
I know there is another colleague embarking on a similar journey. I encourage you to visit her blog too. Okay Ms. Sanders. Let’s do this!
**Stay tuned for other steps towards building a student-centred classroom space.**
What happens to all of the furniture?