TCHERS' VOICE / Class Culture

Is This My Classroom?

Fire. Water. Earth. Space. Crazy patterns. Subtle colors. Trust me, my classroom themes have run the gamut. And with each theme I’ve started the school year in a costume that matched my theme: fireman, deep sea diver, astronaut. I knew from the first day of my teaching career that my room had to be over-the-top cool, with everything in its right place, and slogans and sayings GALORE! My classroom was going to make me a better teacher, dare I say, a great teacher. My students were going to love my classroom and me.

Now 13 years into my career in education, I have become more reflective of my practice and everything within and outside of the classroom.

The trend and shift away from the 1950s American Classroom into a world of color and design is a welcome change, but it got me wondering if we are really changing much? Ok, industrial blues and greens have been replaced with bright rainbow themes. The pull-down world maps have been replaced with beautifully scripted anchor charts. We create spaces for students to move about, reflect, lounge and read, and learn. We are plastering our rooms with inspirational slogans, sayings, and posters. Stores are even catering for our need to have the perfect classroom. 

This past year, I stepped out of the classroom and had time to just observe teachers, students, and classrooms. A very reflective time for me. But soon I went from looking at others to reflecting on my own practice. It became very clear that I was doing it all wrong.

Is this my room or theirs (my students)? 

Everything that I set up in the classroom was done from my perspective of what I thought my students needed and wanted…without ever asking them.

Did I create an environment that was for me or for my students?

I realized that I had too many things going on in our learning space: crazy colors or themes, too many places, charts and posters in every space. My classroom was leading to my students’ confusion, as they had no idea where to go or where to look for help. And all the crazy colors and themes left my students feeling like my classroom was a playground, not a place for exploring and learning.

This year as I set up my room, I decided to focus on these six questions:

  1. Is OUR room a calm and welcoming space or is every inch of wall space covered?
  2. Is our space ‘student designed’?
  3. Does our classroom reflect me, or does it reflect my students?
  4. Does our classroom feel like a cool learning environment or a bouncy house?
  5. Are the slogans and anchor charts written by students and/or in their words?
  6. Is our classroom focused on learning or decorating?

I am not suggesting that there is a right and wrong way to set up your classroom, but I am suggesting that we focus less on ‘social media perfect’ classrooms and more on a student-centered, student-designed learning space. Learning takes place all year long, so should the evolution of our classroom. These examples are, also, in no way to be judgmental. I LOVE A THEME! I commend the work and effort that goes into these classrooms. I am writing this a former VERY over-active learner and it has taken me time and experience to start to understand my room from my student’s perspective and the message that our classroom delivers.

Disclosure: My disco ball will be hanging in my classroom this year. Just for me.

Classroom with Lights
Classroom in Color

Jamie Ewing is a National Board Certified Teacher teaching as the Science/STEM Specialist at PS277x, the Bronx, in the New York City Public School system. He has been recognized nationally/international for the way he inspires learning. Jamie is the 2015 Henry Ford Innovative Teacher of the Year, 2014 MOHAI Teacher of the Year, and the 2013 National Academy of Arts and Science in Education Innovative Teacher of the Year. A 2010-2019 Microsoft Innovative Educator. Represented the USA at the 2013/2014 Microsoft PIL Global Forum in Prague, CR and Barcelona, Spain. He is featured in the www.Code.org video alongside Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and other industry leaders. STEM + Design Think + PBL + 21st Century Skills = 21st century education! Mentor, Innovator, Coach & Believer Students Come First.

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