Friday 5 September 2014

Reflective teacher - 30 day blogging challenge, day 5

Today's challenge asks you to post a picture of your classroom, and discuss what you see and don't see, that you'd like to.

I wondered about missing this one out, as I don't have my own classroom, or actually a permanent place of work - and also, these days a lot of teaching and work I do is on-line.  (I could post a picture of my office at home, but you really don't want to see that).  The same is actually true for most of the teachers I know these days; erosions of physical space due to cost-cutting, and changing work practices and patterns makes having your very own space unlikely. This made me question 'are physical classrooms that important?' but I really believe that they are; as Nancy Kline says 'Place matters because it says back to you that YOU matter.'

At the start of a new term I've noticed lots of school teachers sharing pictures of their classrooms (shared or not) on Twitter, and they really are things of beauty.  Design and intelligence about use of space and the impact on learning has moved on enormously and the rooms are bright, clean, informal and welcoming.  I would certainly feel that I mattered in places like that. The presence of light especially seems to a big impact on how people feel, and how able they are to concentrate and take in information.  The beautiful big windows in the classrooms at Northern College (usually open with the blinds up) seem to open up my mind too, and let new thoughts in.

I don't have much influence over where I teach, although I do try to reorganise the room layout whenever I can (often to people's annoyance).  During my time as a trainer at the Council, I had a sudden lightbulb moment when I realised how much an impact the spaces chosen for councillors and officers to 'learn' in actually had.  Most of the sessions were held in Committee Rooms - formal spaces, more appropriate for the cut and thrust of political meetings than relaxed discussion and group working.  People would naturally slip back into their Council roles in places like that - the physical barriers of static tables, microphones and heavy chairs also made teaching practically very difficult.  I'm not sure what those places said to us.  Not 'you matter', but 'process matters, tradition matters, the status quo matters'.  Once I realised this I did my best to find alternatives, settling finally on the Members' Lounge - a rather antiquated room with easy chairs, plush carpet and the air of an old people's home.  This room didn't particularly say ' you matter', either but it did say 'sit together; relax; talk; be comfortable.'  I would like to think that as a result of running sessions in here the quality of the thinking and discussion went up, although it isn't easy to quantify.

Although there isn't always much you can do to influence the spaces you're given, there are little things you can do (as well as rearranging the furniture) once you're in there that can help.  Getting light and air in are vital. Using posters, flipcharts, a welcome picture on the door (thank you @teachnorthern for getting me to see the importance of this), water on the tables, coloured post-its dotted around to brighten things up. Once students create their own work of course you can use this on the walls, too.

What do the places you teach in say to your students, and to you?  And what can you do to make them say 'you matter?'

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