How do you eat an elephant?
One bite at a time.
Sure, its an old joke, but it can be very applicable for how to initiate change in education. I'm not a "one bite at a time" kind of change person, but I realize that not everyone works that way. Change for some is invigorating and exciting. For others, it means buying stock in Tums and lots of deep breathing.
Yet, there are many educators who want to initiate change, but just do not know where to start. I had a conversation with another teacher that really demonstrates that. These words inspired this blog: "I love your room, but I don't know where to start. There is so much there!"
Truth be told, I have been thinking about how to explain the small steps someone can take to CREATE their classroom without eating the whole elephant at once. So if you want some ways to change your classroom environment, but are intimidated by complete change and redesign, this ones for you!
Flexible lighting might be the cheapest and quickest adjustment a teacher can make. Simply get a few lamps and place them around the room. Depending on your school's rules, Christmas lights also do a good job of offering light variety. Darker rooms actually help increase focus and discussion, as students are not as easily distracted and feel less exposed by the stark white florescent bulbs. But if you need full lights, a flip of the switch can accomplish that.
Flexible seating is our next stop. This is a buzzword in education, but it has real value. We often see couches thrown out as an option- and they are- but they are costly. Sure, you can find them cheap at garage sales, but you can accomplish flexible seating without them. Arranging desks or tables so students can make eye contact with each other has shown to be a powerful tool for increases engagement and collaboration. Setting the room up in a way that allows for free movement for those kinesthetic learners is good as well. If you have budget and access, there are numerous seating options such as bean bags, fidget stools, and exercise balls. Yes, there can be a distractability factor, but there is also the consideration of student comfort. For those who say that flexible seating won't work in a STEM classes, I suggest you take a look at some of the great things a teacher in my district is doing in her middle school math class. Follow @stephanieryon for some great ideas!
Classrooms can have a ...unique...odor. So, an easy fix is to take control and provide stimulating and refreshing scents. For most of my year, I have used coffee scents, but recently I have begun using nature scents like rain and forests. These are more clean and invigorating scents, which are needed as the spring wears on. It may seem simple, but if a room smells good, it can helps students to relax and feel comfortable.
I have an added incentive. There is a weightroom right across the hall.
Depending on your classes, you may have need of a lot of supplies. Be creative with how and where you store your supplies. I was inspired to have these supply stations by two sources. One, Starbucks uses a similar design to the tower in the left of the picture for storing some of their coffees and merchandise. But I also observed a video of our floral design teacher Sheridan Clinkscales utilizing centralized stations for students to retrieve supplies from. I saw this as a great time saving and personal responsibility opportunity for the class. I built the tower, and my mom built the colored pencil holder from a Pinterest board she saw using pallets. (She's a big supporter.) Even if you do not have a lot of supplies, you may always have students needing paper or pens, and this helps to meet their needs.
School walls are BORING. So when looking to dress them up, you could use motivational posters or educational ABC posters....or you could let the students design. I have always displayed student work products, but this year I had a really ugly cinderblock wall and not enough student work to display on it. So I got some black poster board and butcher paper and made a goal wall. Students can write their goals and keep an eye on it as the year progresses, they can monitor progress. Meet your goal? Sign and date and write a new one. The wall is highly visible, so it is easy to monitor for inappropriate phrases, and it lets students literally leave their mark on the room.
It is at the heart of the CREATE Classroom, but Student Voice is often the hardest for the reluctant teacher to initiate. It is letting students have more control, it is risking chaos, it is unpredictable. There are time constraints and content to cover. What if there is a tangent?
Valid questions, but I counter with this. What if it increases student understanding and thus success? Start small- you don't have to spend more than a couple minutes in class letting a student ask a question of the class. Indulge in a little tangent, then try to steer it back to content. Ask students what they want to learn- and how they want to learn it. Let students design a lesson, then teach their peers for five minutes.
Let them talk.
I want to leave you with a challenge. You do not have to make your class a coffeehouse, or spend 10-15 minutes a day letting students lead. But the challenge is this:
Try something. One thing, one element.
Let's see what that can CREATE.
CREATE means Collaborative, Reflective, Empowering, Active, Timely Environment.
I teach Psychology, Sociology, World History Honors and Debate at College Station High School, as well as coach the debate team, sponsor the TED Ed Club, and I am the Lead Innovator for LEADS CSISD (A student leadership empowerment program for 5th-8th graders). I am an aspiring administrator.