It’s been awhile since we’ve seen each other. I know we don’t talk that often these days, so I thought I’d drop you a line and see what’s been happening with you.
How are you? How’s your summer? Hot? Are you chillin’ like a villain? Doing some grillin’? I wish I was… But I’m not. I’m kinda’ blah right now. I’m bored. And I’m boring, too. I’ve looked the same for centuries, and that’s a long time. Trust me.
Look, I’m not saying it’s your fault. And, I’m not saying you don’t care. I’m just saying that I’m in need of an update in the worst way… I’m Outdated. Constricting. Confining. Compromising. I’m Obsolete! You know what I’m saying? I want a change. I need a change. I must change!
No more rows, columns, grey, and gloom. No more control — it’s an illusion.
Collaboration is where it’s at. Communication, creativity, and critical thinking are what I want to emulate, stimulate, cultivate, and propagate.
What you say mate?
How about some couches, armchairs, coffee tables, high tables with stools, restaurant style tables, standing tables, a rug, and maybe even a yoga mat? How about you make me look like Starbucks, but cooler? Can you do this for me?
I promise you won’t be disappointed and the kids will love it.
What Does Your Classroom Communicate?
As teachers, we spend a great deal of time in our classrooms. Sometimes it may even feel like we’ve moved in. I imagine our students feel the same. If we’re going to spend most of our time in our rooms, the space should feel good. It should feel comfortable. A classroom should inspire creativity and productivity, but that’s not always our reality. When something is off in your classroom — when your design lags behind your teaching style — you can feel it. It’s almost as if your classroom is trying to tell you something needs to change.
The End Is Just The Beginning
Sit down, shut up, and chill. That’s what my teacher brain always said at the end of each school year. I’m a high school teacher and once the beginning of June hit, I was DONE.
But not this year.
The end of this year proved to be a light bulb moment for me. What’s a light bulb moment? It’s that sudden flash of insane genius when your mind becomes convinced the impossible is possible and you proclaim your vision to the entire world.
I Want My Classroom To Feel Like Starbucks!
A just question, indeed.
Research proves that our physical environment has a significant effect on our social-emotional well-being and student social-emotional learning. I want to provide all of my students with the opportunity to gain 21st century skills by creating a 21st century learning environment that promotes creativity and innovation, but also builds a community in which students learn not only to accept, but to embrace personal differences. I’ve come to the conclusion that desks promote compliance, while coffee shop style seating encourages community building through increased and intentional emphasis on communication and collaboration.
Think about how you feel when you’re in a trendy coffee shop like Starbucks. Environments like these are alive. They promote creativity and conversation. It feels good to work in that space. How might we channel that energy and bring it into our classrooms?
I believe that, as a teacher, I need to be intentional about how I set up my room if I want students to work together toward a common goal. It’s one thing to “wish that students work in groups,” but it’s entirely another to understand that community and team building is a process a teacher needs to deliberately put into action.
Teamwork doesn’t “just happen.” Teachers must support it with the right physical and emotional environment and build it “from the ground up.” Sharing ideas and learning with and from others through collaboration has been shown to increase school success and retention. Success (deeper learning first, grades second) improves the social-emotional well-being of students. In turn, they learn better. The cycle of awesomeness perpetuates.
This year, my students will work together every single day and I’ll be working with them as part of the team. I will be both facilitator and collaborator as we implement a new, blended learning model. And, we’ll be moving around, which is crucial to focus, health, and proper brain function. Humans aren’t meant to sit in one place. We are born curious and we learn by exploring our world, which requires all of the senses.
Sterile, industrial-era rows aren’t very attractive or motivating. Even more, I’ve become convinced that traditional educational settings dull the senses. We know that breaks and interruptions after periods of focused activity actually help in learning, yet we sometimes ask our students to sit still for an hour or more with little freedom of movement. I believe the “Starbucks” environment will promote that freedom and movement.
Freedom is the key ingredient to social-emotional well-being and deeper learning. Rows and columns constrict. They hold and stifle. That is the truth. That is the reality in many U.S. classrooms today. But no longer in mine. Never again.
The 21st century called and I answered; I’mma Starbucks My Classroom! Will you join me?
Take It Easy. Make It Easy.
I know. The summer came quickly and is almost GONE. Crazy, right? What I propose may seem huge. It is HUGE. Especially RIGHT NOW. So let’s take it slow, because
“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.”
I view this project as “work in progress.” If you’re interested in incorporating a few “Starbucks” elements this year, here are a few things you might try:
- Talk to your principal: Convince. Bribe. Twist arm. Get support.
- Ask custodians: They know where stuff is. One teacher told me she just asked and they had furniture in storage no one wanted that was actually suitable. JACKPOT.
- Ask family and friends: Someone is always updating their space.
- Ask students and teachers: I got a table with six chairs from a student’s family, four picture frames and three side tables from two Home Economics teachers, and three rectangular work tables with adjustable legs from a Technology Education colleague. Not a bad haul!
- Start a crowdfunding campaign: I am currently running a GoFundMe campaign to receive donations for the furniture I want to buy. I went to Target, took pictures of pieces I wanted with price tags, and then spent about an hour setting it all up online. I emailed friends for support and am promoting it on social media. Check it out: 21st Century Learning Space.
- When in doubt, Pinterest: You’ll find amazing ideas for flexible learning environments and student-centered classroom design for all grade levels with a simple search. Happy Pinning!
- Follow #StarbucksMyRoom and engage in the conversation: #StarbucksMyRoom is a Twitter hashtag I created as a repository of ideas on flexible seating and “Starbucksing” classrooms. Check it out if you’re interested in finding out more about flexible environments and what other teachers are creating. If you really like the idea of shifting from traditional to more modern digs, use the hashtag for inspiration, help, ideas, resources, and collaboration. Ask questions. Post pictures of your space. You can give support and get support. A nice ‘attaboy or ‘attagirl every now and then helps.
A few days before the school year ended, I told my chemistry class that I’mma “Starbucks” the classroom for next year.
I explained it. They said: Why can’t you do it this year? They see it. Can you?
So, what are you waiting for? JOIN US.
For your students. For yourself. For the future.
Oskar Cymerman is a Chemistry and Principles of Engineering Teacher at Woodbury High School in Minnesota. He has a BS in Earth and Environmental Sciences and an MA in Teaching. His professional interests focus on discovering and learning how we learn and acquire lasting knowledge and skills, so that teachers can use research based strategies to help students learn more effectively. Oskar recently published a book “Crush School: Every Student’s Guide To Killing It In The Classroom” on brain based learning strategies. The Kindle version can be purchased on Amazon. In addition, Oskar blogs on his own platform focus2achieve.com/blog and for several other educational organizations.Connect with Oskar on Twitter: @focus2achieve.