My Not-So-Perfect Classroom

This morning, I read a blog post by Doug Peterson about the “perfect” classroom. In his post, Doug takes a closer look at this article that he read the other day, and compares his classroom to the standards described in this article. He ends his post with this challenge to bloggers:

2015-04-06_09-57-51I love a good challenge, and I always love the opportunity to reflect on my classroom design, so Doug, this post is for you!

This challenge is a hard one for me, as in 14 years teaching for the Board, I’ve taught at six different schools and every grade (in some capacity) from JK-Grade 6. While there are some overlapping similarities between all of my classrooms, there are also a lot of differences. I’ve taught in rooms with no windows, a few windows, and a wall of windows. I’ve had desks, tables, and a combination of the above. Students have sat in small groups, large groups, partner groups, and even in rows at times (I kind of shudder when I think of the last option). I believe that these changes over the years have always been with my evolving understanding of classroom design and my attempts at best meeting student needs. With this in mind, I’m going to reflect on the standards in the article based on my current classroom.

1. Light – I currently have the most beautiful window that takes over about half of the back wall. The “blinds” (sliding bulletin boards) are always open, and I really try to take advantage of this sunlight. Last year, I read Stuart Shanker‘s Calm, Alert, and Learning, and I thought more about the impact that light can have on self-regulation. While the classroom is naturally light, I usually only keep one set of the overhead lights on at any given time. The impact on students is huge! If another teacher happens to flip on both lights, the classroom is louder and the students almost instantaneously find it harder to focus. With a little less light, and more natural light, the classroom is calmer and quieter.

2. Noise – I’d say that there’s always a “quiet hum” in our classroom. Yes, students collaborate regularly with each other, and this does lead to some noise. But we’ve talked a lot as a class about what we require to stay focused, and the students agreed that they do better work when it’s quieter. So we work on using whisper voices and being respectful of the noise level that other students need to do their best work. We also have lots of quieter areas in the room — from little alcoves to smaller tables in the corner — where students can go when they need a quieter spot. Then the room seems to work for everyone.

3. Temperature – I’ve never really looked at the temperature in the classroom before, but I think that it’s set for around 72 degrees Fahrenheit. We do have air-conditioning, which makes the room way more comfortable in the warmer summer weather. I remember teaching in many classrooms without air-conditioning, and it was so hot and humid, that both students and teachers found it difficult to concentrate and learn. Both air-conditioning and a lovely window that opens up and allows for some fresh air, really make a difference in different ways and at different times of the year.

4. Accessibility – This is really important to me! I want all students to be able to easily move around the classroom and access necessary materials. I think that “space” helps with accessibility, and I really considered the use of space this year. The use of tables instead of desks seem to give us more space in the classroom: allowing all students to move freely around the room. Lower shelving definitely helps students with the access of materials. The classroom is for the kids, and they can certainly all get everything that they need!

A Look At Our Classroom

A Look At Our Classroom

5. Layout – Instead of desks, we have tables this year. The classroom has three large circular tables, as well as a guided reading table, two small rectangular tables (one pictured in the photograph above, and one in the corner not seen), and a large rectangular table by the window (not seen in the photograph above). There is no assigned seating though. Students choose the best area for them for the given task. Some students work alone at the tables. Some students work together. Some students spread out on the floor or on the carpet. Some students work in comfortable chairs in our book area (not seen in the photograph above). The layout may allow for collaboration, but it also allows for independent work.

6. Plants – I’ve heard all about the benefits of plants from Reggio-inspired teachers. I tried plants. At the beginning of the year, I bought a bunch of them for the windowsill and for our nature table. I kept on forgetting to water them though. I tried to get the students on board to do so, but I don’t think that we developed a good system. In the end, all of the plants either died or were knocked over, cleaned up, and knocked over again. As we begin to explore “living things” more in Science though, I wonder about trying plants again, and making “plant care,” an organized student responsibility. I’m not giving up yet!

7. Wall DecorationsReggio-inspired teachers have inspired me when it comes to wall decorations. The bulletin boards remain their neutral colour, and the work that’s up is either student work or documentation of student work. The students help with “wall decorations” (more “work” than “decorations”), and we’re careful to make the wall displays useful for students, while not creating too many visual distractions. If the wall displays become visually overwhelming, then they have the potential to impact on self-regulation, and I try to remain very cognizant of this (and what I can do to avoid it).

Reflecting on these standards, make it clear that I have certain perfect elements, but not an overall perfect classroom, according to this article. I think that classroom design is ultimately about the students though, and our current design, meets these student needs. Looking back at students that I’ve taught before, I would probably consider some elements differently. Some students do need their own spots. Some students need brighter light. Some students need silence, and some can continue to focus, even with noise. Maybe the biggest benefit of this article is that it’s forcing us to think about our classrooms and how they meet student needs. It’s making us consider things that we may not have thought about before, and it’s putting kids at the centre of classroom design.

How would you respond to Doug’s challengeI’d love to hear from all stakeholders in education. What do you want to see in a classroom? Why do these elements matter? I look forward to hearing your thoughts!


2 thoughts on “My Not-So-Perfect Classroom

  1. Agreed on lighting! It’s been quite the experience for me as well since I was using paper lanterns and the district asked us to remove them due to being a fire hazard. Fluorescent lights are the worstest, natural light is the bestest.

    • Thanks Kathleen! I think that the natural light is ideal, and I feel lucky to be in a room that has so much of this light. I wonder what a good option might be if there are a lack of windows. I know that some teachers bring in lamps, but the location of chords in the classroom makes this difficult for me. I wonder what others do.


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