Theodore Levitt said that “creativity is thinking up new things. Innovation is doing new things.” Today’s educators are facing the pressures of standardized testing, school accreditation, meeting the diverse needs of students, keeping up with technology, bridging the global achievement gap, and teaching larger classes with fewer resources. How can we possibly meet these needs? It takes courage to move from having a traditional teacher centered classroom, with the teacher lecturing to students sitting in rows, to a student centered environment with flexible grouping and hands on activities. When teachers lead from the heart they “have passion for their work, compassion for the people they serve, empathy for the people they work with, and courage to make difficult decisions.” (George, 2007)
I have personally observed teacher leaders revamping their classroom environments with success. When Kim Poore and April McDonough began working in a collaborative VA US History classroom, at Hopewell High School, they noticed that their students in this urban setting were struggling. Determined to see their students succeed, they started taking risks and completely transformed their classroom to bring life to their content. When they began reimagining their content through the eyes of comic book superheros, students became engaged and started making huge academic strides.
Melissa Nelson, an English teacher at Powhatan High School, courageously took the challenge to honestly look at the needs of her students in this rural setting. Inspired by a blog on having an “eye candy” classroom, Melissa started to reimagine her space. She replaced traditional desks with an assortment of tables, chairs and posted only the items vital to her content on the walls. Her students were eager to come to class, allowed to sit where they felt most comfortable, and produced work on a deeper level.
Last year, I decided to rethink my classroom. I noticed that the special education students in my consumer classes were embarrassed for their peers to see them enter “The Sped Room.” I completely redesigned the space to feel more homey. The room now had a library with comfortable seating, an executive suite (a comfortable workspace with minimal distraction), and student desks arranged in flexible groups. I also incorporated activities involving technology. Students thrived in this space and were eager to participate in projects that moved them toward deeper learning.
“The physical structure of the classroom is the critical variable in affecting student morale and learning.” (Phillips, 8/2014) While these classes look completely different, they have one thing in common – teachers who are innovative in meeting the needs of their students. What can you do to reimagine your classroom environment?
George, B. (2007). True North: Discover your Authentic Leadership. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Gonzalez, J. (2017, March 27). Classroom Eye Candy 2: The Learning Lounge. Retrieved September 24, 2017, from https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/classroom-lounge/
Phillips, M. (2014, May 20). A Place for Learning: The Physical Environment of Classrooms. Retrieved September 24, 2017, from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/the-physical-environment-of-classrooms-mark-phillips