By Lani Aquino
The birds are chirping, there’s a breeze blowing in through the open windows, and all the amazing tools, décor, and furnishings that have been integral to learning throughout the school year (and often many years prior) are strewn about this well-used educational zone. Springtime is upon us, and there’s no better time than this season of new growth to take a closer look at the tools, materials, and design elements that we rely on to promote growth in our students. Educators should reflect on all elements of the learning environment and make decisions about what is needed moving forward and which items and/or design ideas are ready for a parting of ways.
This should be the easiest purge, but teachers are always wanting to get the very last drop out of anything and everything. Tasking some reliable students to make judgment calls on the longevity of some consumables may be best for both time and attachment. Students can test all the markers in the giant tub, toss the glue sticks with no stickiness left, pitch the scrap paper that is tattered into the recycling bin, etc. A wish list for finishing out the year and/or next year’s supplies can be created at this time. These lists can also assist teachers in creating the supply list requirements for upcoming students.
Every teacher has a coveted collection of resources. Some are fresh and new, and others have probably seen better days. There may be tubs of manipulatives, posters, binders of lessons and/or activities, books on theory and best practice, games, organizational holders and bins, etc. Taking the time to pick up each one and answer the questions: Was this used this school year? Does this still have relevance in my current and/or upcoming teaching assignment? Can this withstand another year of usage? If the item wasn’t used this school year, no longer has relevance, and/or is lacking in durability, pitch it or pass it along.
Some classrooms and teacher storage areas can start to look like an advertisement for a new reality series on hoarding. The reality of it is that many teachers actually need to say goodbye to some of their more antiquated and/or irrelevant treasures. This is a perfect opportunity to offer some gently worn treasures to other colleagues that are in a better position to utilize them. If you taught 6th grade ten years ago, it may be time to pass along those curricular materials to someone else and only fill your space with items that have an impact within your current teaching role. If you can’t bring yourself to completely cut ties with your treasures, make a small investment in a stamp with your last name, mark the items, and place them on loan to those that may benefit from using them.
A perfect teaching world would allow everyone to design their classroom with no budgetary confines. This rarely happens in the actual world where the majority teach though. With that being said, many teachers rely on hand-me-downs and inexpensive finds to add some more personalized (and often cozier) learning zones to the classroom. This is a great way to revitalize a space, but these items also need a yearly assessment on their functionality and possible safety. That leaning bookshelf that requires duct tape to stand probably needs to be retired. The typical desk and chair combinations could also stand to be reconsidered and possibly replaced too.
Reimagining spaces that could prove to be more functional for the style of lessons and student groupings needed for an active learning environment is often better accomplished with non-traditional configurations. If some favorite lessons and activities could’ve been further enhanced by more user-friendly spaces, this may be the time to start thinking about how to make those spaces happen. When the vision can’t be completed with the furnishings at hand, the search for some more student-centered seating options may need to hit the agenda. Look at designs that have worked for others like the Classroom Eye Candy series from Cult of Pedagogy and always keep the available classroom space and curricular needs in mind.
Making It Happen
Like any spring cleaning endeavor, time has to be set aside to refresh the classroom. This investment is time well spent because it revitalizes the environment for all stakeholders. Stamp your name on items you’d like to see returned and pass them along to someone who can use them in the now. It may be surprising to find there was really no reason to hang on to them for so long in the first place. Seeing as the accumulation of treasures seems to run rampant in the profession, try organizing an in-school or in-district swap via an online forum, group/department email, or an actual swap that’s set up in a large open space like a cafeteria or gymnasium.
From consumables to furnishings, there isn’t an element in the classroom that couldn’t benefit from a thoughtful assessment of necessity and function. By clearing learning zones of clutter and creating spaces that can be arranged to best support learning, teachers are setting up all stakeholders for success. When spaces are designed and resources are selected with purposeful designations, student engagement and learning are able to flourish.
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