What Meaningful Classroom Design Looks Like

You may see a pattern emerging. Last week I shared how our “Village did” Back to School Night differently, and as time should have it, this week we are also beginning to “do” classroom design differently as well.

Think about your last Back to School night. When you walked into your traditional school’s classroom you probably found that all of the desks were already aligned…by the TEACHER. The bulletin boards were already designed and decorated…by the TEACHER. The theme (if there was one) of the room was already selected…by the TEACHER. I think you see where I’m going with this.

But if we really consider what the purpose of classroom design is for – to aide in STUDENT learning – then why would we ever think it is ok to design the room without STUDENT input?!

That’s not to say that teachers aren’t experts and that they shouldn’t plan to have a quiet area or a place where kids can work together. Or that Kindergarten teachers shouldn’t have a place for art supplies. But in reality, it makes absolutely no sense to have a teacher design a classroom (which often doesn’t change from year to year) without the input of the students or their families as THEY will change every single year.

It hit me a few months ago when our staff took some time to walk through one another’s classrooms. It was almost nauseating when you realize how similar they all were. Same colors, same content, same design. Think about what that would feel like for you seeing the same set up every single day for 6 years in a row. It’s essentially like being forced to work in a cubicle as a child-clinical.

You may think it’s just an elementary school issue but after taking my final Pinellas County training (there’s something else that we will gladly do differently!) at a local high school a few weeks ago, I can assure you that it’s not. 35+ of us were crammed into a high school science room and after sitting in the exact same spot with little room to move for hours on end, I perused the halls during a break to see that every single room was aligned very similarly. Are you really telling me that ALL high school kids need or want that in order to learn?

Which is why Indi-ED is happily and intentionally, doing classroom design differently this year!

We have decided that if we want our kids to own and become accountable for their own learning, then they better start investigating what environments work best for them.

If we expect them to collaborate and value each other’s differences, then they better start considering and sharing ideas.

If we want them to feel capable while respecting themselves, each other, and our space, then they should be a part of designing it and watching their ideas actually come to life.

And wouldn’t you know it, again, it turned out better than anticipated!

When we met to brainstorm ideas they decided that they wanted an “Inspiration Room” where we could have art supplies, instruments, journals, music, quotes, etc.

They wanted to use bright colors in our “Kitchen” area and they thought about using chalkboard paint to have an area where we could have two boards to write on. One to write the positive things that were going on and another (a “Resolutions Board”) where we could write problems that we were having but with the intention of discussing them over lunch so that we could solve them.

They want to have a Science Lab with a reptile. (Not one of my favorites but if I’m committed to doing what’s best for the kids, then it looks like we’ll be having a snake in our lab.) Thanks Ms. Heller. 😉

They want to create a joint mural of our logo. They want to have a Gallery for our Showcase Evenings. They want to make it “homey” and have comfortable seating, and yoga mats, and standing desks, and want to bring in board games.

The list goes on but I don’t want to spoil too many of their ideas before you have a chance to see them for yourselves, but the point is to show you that when the kids own the ideas, they gain more as a result. (TED talk reference.)

Will they make mistakes? Perhaps. But then we simply change, shift, and problem solve as necessary.

Not to toot our Village’s horns again, but our parents and teachers understand the value too!

These families brought their children to brainstorm at a coffee shop this week. These families brought their children to paint our walls. These families thoughtfully brought snacks and drinks for others.

One father even took his son to a high end furniture store to see if he could get some furniture donated for us. (Whether they agreed or not is not the point.) His son was enthusiastic about a real world problem, his dad empowered him with real life negotiation skills, and then ALLOWED him to give it a shot and experience it for himself. Meaningful experience to build off of, you bet!

Another father has volunteered to bring our students to his work space and actually show them how to build a bookshelf for themselves. Expert, caring leadership-check! Children who can now feel empowered and proud of their accomplishment, you bet!

Ms. Heller came multiple mornings…early…and even on a Sunday to help.

(In case you forgot, it is the summertime.) None of these families or teachers HAD to do any of the above. But they CHOSE to.

I get it, teachers are judged often and one thing that many believe defines us is our classroom. I’ve always been a believer that my classroom should reflect my STUDENTS and if anyone actually asked me about what they saw, I’d be happy to share the intentional purpose of it.

But it is even more so this year.

I mentioned that you’d be able to come see if for yourselves which you can. You are all invited to our initial launch fundraising event on Saturday, July 23rd at 11:00am at our space. We are hosting a scavenger hunt around downtown St. Petersburg and our space will be our launching point so you can come see for yourself what a student-designed school looks like and so that the kids can tell you about it themselves!

Please ask us about bookshelves-we built them.

Please ask us about our walls-we painted them.

Please ask us about our seating-it’s what we feel most comfortable learning in.

We said that we believe that in order to truly learn, that kids need to be able to experience, to DO for themselves. We’re happy to walk the walk, and this is just the beginning!

Here’s our scavenger hunt’s event page on our website.

As well as the facebook event page.

We hope to see you there!

Also, if you’re looking to get rid of any bookshelves, cabinets, tables, etc. we’re happily accepting donations as we continue to repurpose and transform our space. Many Thanks!