By Sarah Avery, Zulama Community Advocate, Educator
Consider the scene in Dead Poets Society where Mr. Keating asks the students to stand on his desk.
“I stand upon my desk to remind myself that we must constantly look at things in a different way” (Dead Poets Society).”
Mr. Keating tells the students that he “stand[s] upon [his] desk to remind [him]self that we must constantly look at things in a different way” (Dead Poets Society). However, he is not just reminding his students; he is reminding all of us. He asks his students to look beyond the boundaries placed upon them and imagine the possibilities for their futures. As teachers, we ask the same things of our students. We strive to inspire them and help them find their passions. But, what happens when our classrooms start to lose creative energy? It’s time for an update! “Stand” on your desk and imagine the possibilities for your classroom!
Sometimes when we look at a classroom full of rows of desks it’s hard to imagine possibilities for the space. As a substitute, I visit many classrooms. The most enjoyable moments are when I work with students who are passionate about the content they’re learning. On one of these visits, I thought to myself, why can’t the students be passionate about their learning space as well? During a study hall, I posed a challenge to the students: “How would you change this room while still fitting 25 seats?” Students began drawing, writing, and researching ideas to make the room more inviting and engaging. They tossed around ideas of beanbags, high tables, and couches. One of their drawings can be seen here. Though it isn’t to scale, it reminds us that there are alternative possibilities… if we are open to them. How would you redesign your classroom?
Consider your bulletin boards. How can you make them more engaging? Check out Valerie Barsevick’s Wall of Champions, and the “What Stuck with Your Today” board from teachertreasury.com. How could they engage your students? How could you modify them to fit your classroom?
Aside from interactive bulletin boards, we can even use walls as learning spaces. This 8th grade class at Liberty Middle School created an I Am Wall to discuss stereotypes and individuality while reading The Outsiders.
If there isn’t enough space for student work or an extra bulletin board, but you are looking for something to cover the white space, check out this DIY project that walks you through an inexpensive, quick way to add color to your walls.
Things to consider when revamping your classroom:
- Where will your teacher’s desk go? In some classrooms the teacher’s desk is a fixed piece of
furniture; however, if your desk can be moved, consider its the placement. How can we move the teacher’s desk to show collaboration and facilitation? Should we even have teacher desks?
- How will we arrange student furniture? With so many seating options, it’s hard to know where to start. Check out these before and after images of this middle school classroom. In addition to looking brighter and more engaging, the updated room is able to utilize the whole class space by switching from bulky desks to streamlined tables. How could you utilize the whole classroom for learning?
- Create a driving question. Just like the central questions for lessons, there needs to be a driving question for a classroom update. What message do you want your classroom to convey to your students? How will you know if your classroom redesign answers your driving question? Take a look at this creative classroom. What is the classroom design offering to students?
Involve the students. What better way to update your classroom than creating a student challenge based around interior design? Allow your students to research, write a proposal, and present their ideas while exploring the interior design and educational design industries. How would your students redesign your class space?
All of us are constantly thinking about how to more fully engage our students. So, think of Mr. Keating when you decide to revamp your learning space. What will you see when you stand on your desk?
Have you updated your learning space recently? Share stories, suggestions, and images below.
Haft, Steven, Peter Weir, Paul J. Witt, Tony Thomas, Tom Schulman, Robin Williams, Robert S. Leonard, Ethan Hawke, Maurice Jarre, Josh Charles, Dylan Kussman, Allelon Ruggiero, James Waterston, Alexandra Powers, Kurtwood Smith, Leon Pownall, and John Seale. Dead Poets Society. Burbank, Calif: Touchstone Home Entertainment, 2006.