Alternate Title: Dear Dean Shareski, You’re LUCKY I want an A
Disclaimer: Dean Shareski did NOT require me or any other member of EDIM516 to physically suffer for the sake of this blog post. He did, in fact, advise us against it–I’m just allergic to listening.
It happens every summer; the custodial crew has such a big job to do all over my district. They deserve major props for all the hard work they do in buildings and grounds to get every inch of the district ready for the new school year. However, my first visit to my classroom after The Cleaning is always a bit of a shock. This morning was no different. I approached my doorway and was greeted with familiarity:
These are my #shelfies–pictures of me posing with all the books I read from spring until the last day of school.
Opening the door and stepping inside was quite another story:
Combine this with the fact that the air conditioning was off for the summer? Welcome to the 7th layer of Dante’s Inferno, Ladies and Gentlemen. I took some time to at least put the furniture back to what I consider home base. I’ve mentioned before, my school follows a blended learning model. I teach five, one-hour long classes each day during which the kids simultaneously cycle through three stations. A station for independent work:
A station for collaborative work:
And a station where small groups receive direct instruction from me:
Here’s what my classroom looks like during the year when it’s populated:
My classroom also has a very large free reading center in what would have appeared as a large blank space in my initial pictures.
People have said I’m nuts for this, but I usually have my phone out at the direct station where I use it as a timer or if we need a small secondary device for some reason. Inevitably, the students sneak my phone and snap selfies. I don’t particularly encourage them to do it, but I don’t stop them either. And by the end of the day, my camera roll is filled with something to give me a good laugh. As you can see, I actually keep a lot of the pictures. My building principal once said, “Kid pictures are completely different from grown-up pictures.”
The pictures you just saw are my “home base” set up. It’s how my school year always starts and it’s also my default mode for when we’re not doing anything super crazy.
Oh, but, sometimes, darn if I don’t go crazy!
I’m no stranger to flexibility in my set-up. There are times when I play it pretty fast and loose. In my last post, I mentioned my love of Genius Hour and other PBL endeavors. As much as I love my configuration for blended learning, it doesn’t work for some of my more intense creative projects. We move the room around to suit our needs:
The classroom configuration insanity doesn’t stop there. I have several videos posted to my Twitter of other snapshots of my crazy, beautiful, messy, Genius Hour life. In this Tweet, my students are hard at work on their breakout jobs for a larger project. In this Tweet, we are connecting via Skype with a sister class in the Dominican Republic–we’re all up front using the Smart Board as a video screen.
I’ve even dabbled in student-created spaces.
Near the end of the school year, my building got a VERY LARGE book donation from a local charity. The idea was to send the kids home for the summer with some reading material. I knew about all of this, so one day when my principal saw me in the mail room from her desk in her office a good 30 feet away, jumped out of her chair, and darted faster than I’ve EVER seen her move in my general direction, I froze, held my breath and waited.
“We’ve got to get these books out to the kids and FAST. Can you come up with something?” She asked.
“Give me 10 minutes and a quiet place to sit and think. I’ll come up with something,” I answered. I’m probably the reason she has to dye her hair BUT she knows that even if my ideas and projects sound completely insane, not only are they going to work, but the results are typically nothing short of amazing.
“All right. Let me know what you need and when. It’ yours.”
True to my word, ten minutes later, I asked for a vacant conference room and permission to pick a team of ten students. After getting her official administrative blessing, I set to assembling my team. What I’m about to say may seem radical, but trust me, it is the absolute truth. When I need a group of kids to come up with an innovative idea quickly, I don’t look to the straight A kiddos–the well-mannered cherubs who have become experts in the “game of school” (don’t mistake, I love these children, just like I love all the others!). When I need an amazing idea that sparks and pops? I raid the in-school suspension room. (Cue gasps from anyone who fears the unknown.)
Good, God, woman, WHY? Simple. These kids are the disrupters, the authority questioners, the can’t sit stillers, the your-rows-and-your-full-class-lectures-don’t-work-for-me-ers. These are the kids who think differently from everyone else. They are also typically the kids with whom I have the best relationships. Crazy loves crazy. We manage to find each other every year whether I actually teach them in class or not. Here are the specs on the team I assembled for this task: all were in ISS at least once this year, over half were OSS at least once, one was up for expulsion, one was a rowdier member of our self-contained emotional support class, and several failed a grade at some point in their school career.
They all very willingly assembled with me in the empty conference room and listened to the situation: we had HUNDREDS of books we needed to disseminate to the student body for the summer in such a way that said books would be loved and voluntarily kept and READ–without ending up in the gutter of the very busy street out front at our landlocked, urban school. Then I stepped aside and allowed them to puzzle it out. I answered questions when they had them and occasionally consulted, but the kids did all the problem solving on their own. The result? A student run free book room set up book fair style where classes or individual students could sign up for time slots to come peruse the selection and take as many free books as they wanted home for the summer. The student team would be there to help their peers select books and generally provide some good old fashioned customer service.
The set up was far better than anything I would’ve come up with on my own:
It was a resounding smash hit for the entire school. If I hadn’t been able to relinquish control and allow the students to do what they wanted with the space, it never would have been the incredible success it turned out to be. We had students taking home grocery bags and boxes full of books. Once school was out on the last day, there was a young lady pounding on the front door in tears, begging to be let back in because she wanted to grab just a few more books.
So, what’s your point, Mrs. Daubert? You’re already clearly doing some great things with flexible configurations…
This is where we all have to be careful as educators–when we think we’re good at something. It would be easy for me to say, I’m doing great; I can just stop here. But that would be a true detriment to myself and my students. There are ALWAYS things we can do to grow, learn, improve, and make things better. In these situations, it’s best to look for other experts. I’m the ONLY teacher in my building trying anything like this. Where do you get ideas when you’re an island? Well, thank God for them internets! I faithfully follow A.J. Juliani and in his fantastic blog post, Genius of Making: 5 Ways to Mash-Up Genius Hour and Your Makerspace, he talks about some practical ways to be flexible with your classroom set up. He mentioned something that rang really true for me, “We often have these grandiose ideas of makerspaces and fab labs in our mind. Forget that. Start a makerspace in your classroom so your students can use it whenever they want.” I don’t have a makerspace in my classroom all the time. Sure, I’ll completely overhaul the room for the sake of Genius Hour, but I don’t have a permanent spot for kids to freely create when it’s not a “special” time for creating.
I want that. I can do that. Juliani talks a lot in his post about how many kids never get a chance to play around, tinker, and create. I didn’t when I was a kid. I was a straight A honors path kid. I spent all my time sitting in rows, being lectured at, taking copious notes, and getting ready for what everyone told me college would be like. At home? I was constantly making and creating–burning myself with hot glue, getting covered in paint, hounding my dad until he agreed to show me how take appliances apart and fix things. It didn’t occur to me until a few years ago that any of that could or SHOULD have been part of what I did at school. I certainly have the room to create a permanent makerspace in my classroom, so that is definitely an addition to my configuration for this coming school year.
Still hungry for more fresh ideas, I hopped on to Discovery Education to see what I could see and was immediately struck by Kathy Schrock’s post, “Creative classroom configurations.” I mean, seriously? The exact thing I was looking for right there under featured posts?! It doesn’t get much more serendipitous than that! She is so thorough on the science of classroom design which gave me lots to ponder, but the thing I appreciated most was the concept she brings up right from the start: primary teachers are GREAT at designing flexible learning spaces for their students; middle and high school teachers tend not to embrace this. Perhaps they feel students at this level are too mature or that all of this is somehow “kid stuff.” I used to think that too. But I got over it. Middle and high school kids learn better in flexible, multipurpose spaces too!
Schrock got me thinking about a large area of unused space in my room. As you saw in my pictures, I have a totally baller free book space on one of my counters. This is awesome. Know what I don’t have? An equally baller space for kids to sit and read. I need that. And again, I’m fortunate enough to have the space for it, so that’s another addition to room 307 for the upcoming school year.
What might I do if I had $1000 to invest in my set up?
Honestly? Probably not much. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m equal parts pirate and hacker. Sure, I’d probably replace my collaborative desk groups with tables and chairs, invest in some arm chairs and comfy things for a reading area, and some cool things to punch up a makerspace. But generally, I’m really happy with the mix and match vibe my classroom has. It looks like me and more importantly, each year it looks a little bit more like the kids.
How about you? What are you changing in your room for the upcoming year? What’s staying the same? How do we get other educators thinking about this too?