What if classroom set up was seen as a community activity?

Maybe teachers don't need to work so hard before the student's arrive to set up their classrooms.

Photo of Mark Silberberg

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At my school (and I assume many others), teachers and kids pack up the rooms at the end of the year so that rooms can be used for other purposes (our summer camp takes over at my school). There then follows a tension around the start of the year to find the right balance between PD time and work time for teachers to set up their rooms.

What if we left the majority of the boxed content in the boxes as an invitation for teachers and students to literally build the classroom community at the start of the year? This would allow for valuable conversations about the content of the boxes, how they will be used and where they should go to best support student learning. I worry sometimes that even with the best of intentions, classroom design done only by the teacher is likely to put teacher needs ahead of student needs. 

How might the school year unfold differently if the building of our learning spaces becomes one of our important beginning of the year routines? Easy to see how this would resonate for younger learners, but I think that there might be an even more profound impact with older learners.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Brett Brownell

Hi Mark, I wanted to let you know that we were inspired by your contribution and we discussed it during our recent Interpret workshop, where we created opportunity areas (or "Missions") for the Ideate phase. Specifically, it helped us develop the "Changing Physical Spaces" Mission. We'd love to have you continue to be involved in the collaboration by posting an idea to the Ideate phase! It can be about space, or something else you think would help establish rituals and routines around innovation. Looking forward to working with you more!

Photo of Becka Nathan

This is such a great way to authentically incorporate student voice into the learning environment, and to challenge some teacher (and student!) assumptions while you're doing it! With my class last year we went through the design process in order to do this and it was definitely chaotic when we first started moving things around! The buy in from the kids was huge though and the problem solving within real life parameters (like, no you can't put the desks in front of the cupboards full of art supplies...).

I've just done it again this year with my students when we started back for the term last week. And, I hate the way they've chosen to set it up - ha! This is an interesting tension I think. What happens when student voice goes against what even us as future focused educators think or know is good practice? For some of our students, they don't have enough knowledge or ideas to draw on because up until now classroom design has always happened the same way. Maybe in order for this to work really well we need to immerse them in options and ideas first so they have things they can draw on when they start designing?

Photo of Mark Silberberg

I wonder how this might change if the set up of the classroom was seen as an evolving process based on the actual learning needs of a project. So instead of opening up every box and finding a place for things, the class would open up materials that they needed and then find the right place for them. This would probably require good labeling of boxes. As each new project would provide another opportunity to iterate on the design, the students would come to see the relationships between materials and how they use them and this would then inform the design of space. Designing space for materials on an as needed basis would also help to establish community norms related to the specific materials and their use.

Photo of Mark Carlucci

I really like the idea of developing the classroom collaboratively. I will be trying this out in the fall.
I wonder how well it will work with shared classrooms. There are many classrooms in my school that have two or three teachers in the room at different periods, many times teaching different subjects. Perhaps a modular setup that can be easily rearranged for various groups and needs?

Photo of Mark Silberberg

The shared space is a challenge, but also an opportunity: https://teachersguild.org/challenge/how-might-we-create-rituals-and-routines-that-establish-a-culture-of-innovation-in-our-classrooms-and-schools/discover/reset-mindset-frees-us

Photo of Elysa Fenenbock

This is great. Perhaps teachers could start the year by interviewing their students to learn what kind of classroom they want/need? In the spirit of prototyping and iteration, perhaps you could set a date where the space set-up becomes revamped.

Photo of Emma Scripps

love that idea

Photo of Jane Bain

Who owns the classroom environment if it is only set up by the teacher? I wonder how the classroom environment would change if it was set up collaboratively during the first week of school. Thank you for sharing this idea.

Photo of Sarah Burnett

I considered using the design thinking process for my students to design our class layout after the holidays. It didn't happen but something I would like to try after the summer holidays!

Photo of Michael Schurr

Hi Mark! Welcome to the Teachers Guild! I second Elysa's comments. I find doing student interviews about the wants/needs at the start of the year is always a great way to figure out how to set up the classroom. Revisiting the setup from time to time is key as well as the students will often find things that work well and areas for improvement.

I'm especially interested in this idea as we will be living in a "learning complex" (trailers) next year during construction. Everything my co-teacher and I have are in boxes. Great opportunity ahead!

I'm attaching a link to another article on the guild about classroom space setup. In the comment section, I have linked even more related articles. I hope they help!