I remember once having this idea that I wanted to start the year with a totally empty classroom.
No furniture. No chairs. No desks. No displays. Nothing.
That together as a learning community, we would talk about how we liked to learn, what resources we needed in order to learn best and what furniture and layout best supported that. Together we would source the items and materials we were after and collectively create a learning community that reflected our needs.
What would begin as a blank canvas would become a masterpiece that we would paint together.
Somewhere in the middle of my dream though, reality set in.
28 students in an open space with nothing seemed like an invitation for chaos…. Or a great place to play game of gang up tiggy.
The principal taking school tours of prospective parents walking past beautifully arranged classrooms; sending out an unofficial message of ‘calm and order’ to only to arrive at my room to see an empty and unprepared space.
The logistics of storing all the furniture that was in the room previously. Where would it go when storage in most schools is already at a premium?
And what if they ‘got it wrong’? Previous attempts at having students ‘design their ideal classroom’ lead to them arranging the desks in rows. Because that’s what a classroom ‘should’ look like (according to American movies and TV Shows). Aren’t I supposed to be ‘professional’ here? Shouldn’t I be the one with the knowledge of learning theory and what works best? Not that I’ve been to hospital, but I can’t imagine going into operating theatre the day before my operation and rearranging the layout of the room based on my needs.
I’ve probably gone to the extreme here and I’m certain somewhere in the middle is a ‘happy medium’. For example, while I arrange the tables in our learning space I don’t believe in having ‘set seating’ arrangements for my students; I’m one for allowing students to choose where they sit. If someone is annoying them or disturbing their learning, they then have the choice to move and find somewhere else they would like to work. Part of this process centres around choosing ‘good’ locations for learning and what this looks like (ie: not always next to your friend). If this continues to be something students have difficulty with, I will then let students know they need some help to make a good choice and offer 3 of my own suggestions.
Like most changes in education, until perceptions change around what ‘should be’ we continue to do what has always been done. Maybe one day I’ll challenge this perception.