What does your ideal classroom look like?
First, let me just say, I don’t think there are ideal classrooms any more than there are ideal lesson plans. But I do believe in creating ideal learning environments, the kind that reverberate meaningful experiences back to our students. For some, like my friend Mike, that means his ideal classroom is a mountainside. Or for my friend Angie, it’s not just her library, but anyplace she can sit down and talk to a student about words. For many of us, a classroom is defined by four walls and it’s within this space we can either open our students to possibility or close the door to promise.
Here are some things I know for sure I love when I walk into classrooms.
- There’s student work on the walls. It’s not a perfect looking classroom, but it’s clearly about students and learning. When students see their work looking back at them, there’s no doubt what’s most valued in that space.
- It’s not too much. I love to be able to “fall into” a classroom. The art, the books, the color. But if I feel like I can’t find a center, like I can’t rest my eyes, I have a hard time concentrating on anything. So it’s the three bears rule here: not too sparse, not too much, but just right.
- Students can see themselves succeeding. Whether it’s pennants of colleges or universities they can attend, images or words of accomplished learners or lessons from former students who have learned in this space, being able to create foresight is crucial to learning now.
- Books, books, books. I know I’m partial to words and books. After all, I’ve been diving into them all my life. But regardless of the age or subject matter, books offer entrance. They offer entrance into viewpoints and ideas, questions and curiosities. Our students still must be able to go beyond soundbites and video blurbs. They have to be able to wrestle with the way ideas are constructed in a unique and profound way that only books can offer. Books. Everywhere.
- The room is flexible. Desks take up more room than anything else in a classroom and how we have them organized speaks volumes about what we value. Are they in rows? Are they in groups? Are they in circles? All of these? None of these? The way we arrange the sitting or standing space in our classrooms can help facilitate the kind of learning we want to see. Of course, all kinds of teachers are getting inspired to include alternative classroom seating in their rooms, complete with everything from stand-up desks to couches to desks with pedals underneath them.
- It’s inviting. Whether it’s the music they hear when they enter, the way it feels like a coffee shop or a living room, classrooms should be places students want to be in. But like any other gathering of people, decorations or ambiance are never more important than the energy, enthusiasm or genuine excitement of the person who invited them there. Teachers: we are the key to ideal classrooms because we can’t wait to see young faces, because we laugh when they do, because we smile when they won’t, because we know that time is precious and it’s our work to turn every moment into possibility.