The start of another school year has come and gone. Anxious freshmen have navigated routes from one class to the next. Most can open their locker on first attempt. We have spent the first month building relationships and establishing routines in the classroom. For a seasoned educator, this appears to be business as usual.
But this year has a different vibe. Our building has undergone major renovations since last year. The second floor got a complete makeover with new math rooms and science labs. First floor boasts modern common spaces, clean hallways, and inviting entryways. Brand new facilities for tech ed and physical education, including a fitness center, second gym, and locker rooms. Upgrades throughout our district are really impressive and long overdue. Final touches will likely continue for several months, but that has not stopped us from getting the school year underway.
Although the building is transformed, not much has changed in the Communication Arts wing. The number on my classroom door changed from A15 to Room 16 and the lighting is enhanced (with a dimmer switch!). Our department smart boards and projectors were replaced by large monitors on mobile carts thanks to a generous grant from our Education Foundation. Renovation meant eliminating any excess clutter from our work spaces. Dumpsters were stuffed with an end-of-year (era) cleansing. Good-bye, old files, dusty anthologies, student projects. Sentimental keepsakes.
No worries. Classroom 16 will forever be known as The Clubhouse—our space to learn with a purpose and create memorable experiences. Ralphie still provides inspiration and the sexy lamp glows brightly on special occasions. And the legendary white couch continues to embrace readers with worn-to-form cushions.
Unlike years past, teachers had no building access over the summer. Consequently, this year’s back-to-school inservice week became move-in week. (Physical) Labor Day weekend was spent unpacking, organizing, and planning for students. Without the typical August preparation in the classroom, I had to plan my classroom setup from home.
As I reflected on last year, I knew I needed to make several changes in my approach to the learning environment. I am always mindful of the physical layout of the room and flexible seating options. Unfortunately, with choice of seats everyday, creatures of habit grow complacent in where they sit, by whom, and for what purpose. I am at fault for ignoring the mindless patterns of students entering the room, dumping their backpacks and slumping into seats. Waiting for something to happen. When I would intentionally move students from their comfortable rut (for instructional purposes), they would question my intentions or wonder if they were being punished. Addressing the issue became one of my top priorities of the new school year.
One simple adjustment I’ve made is dividing the space into zones. I named the sections and refer to them daily. Removing the smart board and projector eliminated the “front” of the room, allowing me to deliver information from all over. I am free to move around. Students may find a comfortable seat, but they cannot hide. The Clubhouse accommodates flexible groupings and is ideal for station rotation. (visit Catlin Tucker’s site for more about station rotation grouping strategies)
Enjoy a Tour of The Renovated Clubhouse
The Learning Center
Every learner deserves a daily dose of TLC. The Learning Center is a space for guided instruction and small group conferencing. Two large tables accommodate 8-10 comfortably. The mobile video screen is primarily stationed here allowing me to display instructions and cast visual models. We also have access to a whiteboard and a cart of 15 Chromebooks. Soft seating for three is available on the futon. A tall counter for 1-2 to stand (or sit on stools) extends from the wall and encloses the zone. If no one wants to stand, I often set up my computer control panel here.
If I am leading an activity or instruction for half the class while the other half works independently, The Learning Center can be expanded to accommodate our needs.
The Innovation Zone
The Innovation Zone is an ideal space for collaboration, creation, and design. Shelves of resources are stocked with art and office supplies. The space seats 8-12 at a round table, a rectangular table, and a small table (shared with The Study). Learners have access to a large white board and several mobile white boards. Located near the door, this zone provides space to move around or access collaboration rooms attached to the media center across the hall.
The Study — Featuring The Den
The most appealing area is The Study. Nestled within The Study, The Den offers a comfy corner, featuring carpeting, the popular white couch, and a classroom library. The Study surrounds The Den with a round table, two white boards (on the wall that used to be the front of the room), and the small table behind the couch. The Den provides an ideal space for independent reading or quiet study.
The Office is tucked away in the fourth corner of the room. The smallest zone houses my desk and instructional resources but is primarily used for one-on-one conferencing. The Office is isolated far enough from others to respect the learner’s privacy while I provide individual assistance; however, I remain in position to view the entire room. If I need to conference with a small group, I use the round table from The Study. This corner also features a white board and a bench window seat (padded yard box used for storage of props).
Renovate to Educate
Learners continue to be invited to sit where they can learn best from day to day. With some minor renovation, life has been restored to the learning environment. By designing more intentional work spaces, I give each zone an identity. Choice of seating is more purposeful to impact learning. The Clubhouse is open for another school year. You are welcome to visit anytime.