Inspiration, Intelligence, erudition, enlightenment, creativity. These words are words commonly used to describe learning and are the qualities that all teachers strive to bring out of students. Dark, Uncomfortable, Dull, Cramped, Closed, Confining. These are words that students like myself use to describe the average high school classroom. Students often base their judgement on their classes based on the atmosphere and ambience that it provides. I believe that if you want your classroom to be a place for creativity and intelligence, then the classroom should physically show that. It seems that one of the life lessons that many teachers try to get across to their students is impression management. This is all about making yourself seem open, smart, and likeable to people within the first five minutes of meeting them. The issue I see with the average classroom, is that it puts of a gloomy and dull vibe to students, which is the opposite of what you want the students themselves to be.
One of my issues with public school today, is the drab and boring classrooms that my classes take place in. Even if a teacher is very warm with their students, it will be hard for them to be the same if they are sitting in a room with cold metal and plastic desks, gray walls, and the occasional “motivational” poster. It is vital for the productivity of students in class that they are comfortable, both physically and mentally. I find it very frustrating that many English classes (which out of all the core subjects is the most creatively driven) the environment yields nothing but tired and uncomfortable kids.
Would you rather work in a gray box, or in a place with options to choose from? Every student learns differently and has individual needs that help them work. Some students, like myself, work best in groups. Some other students would feel either uncomfortable in a group, or distracted. Therefore, I think that the arrangement of desks in the classroom needs to have some variation. For example, if you have a classroom of 20 students, you could have four groups of four desks, and then four desks in the corners of the room for independent workers. This set up will work in your class, but it needs to be free seating. A shocking number of teachers still used assigned seating in high school. That just makes students feel like they are being controlled by the teacher too much, which in turn makes them less likely to be open with their ideas and opinions in that class.
Another way to make the classroom more comfortable, is to simply put some amenities that you would find in your everyday home. This idea came to life in 2 of my English classrooms in the last three years, and it was great. We had couches, coffee machines, and coffee tables. This made all the students in these classes feel like they were in their own homes. One of the biggest objections to this idea, is that some educators believe that the comfortable setting will just distract students from their work in class, but from my experience it does the opposite. When my teacher made this change, students seemed more connected, comfortable, productive, and overall happier.
I know this isn’t a very practical idea for every classroom though, because most school systems do not have the budget to pull that off, but there are some cheaper alternatives to this. For example, instead of couches and coffee machines, it could simply be bean bags in parts of the room, to add to the comfort. Posters are also a good way to lighten up your class, but they shouldn’t just be simply space fillers. They should be an active part of class, and maybe even tie into a lesson or two. My history teacher does this perfectly. He teachers his lessons with a laser pointer always, and a massive map that takes up the whole back wall of the room. He will use that map and pointer to show the movement of people, or show imperial conquests. In that same class, the rest of the wall space is filled with interesting posters that all tie into either a lesson or activity at some point in the year. Another simple thing that can help your students feel more connected and comfortable, is to have a designated charging station for phones and electronics. In my math class, we simply have cubbies in the back with an extension cord, so many people in the class can charge their phone at one time. This also doubles as a way to prevent students from misusing their devices during class time.
But having an open classroom that encourages creativity is not going to immediately change with some objects being thrown in the room. Teachers need to make sure they are making themselves appear very kind and personable with their students. This will build on the connection between student and teacher, which you can read more about in my blog titled Building Real Rapport. When teachers tie in some of their personal life experiences, they will make their students have more likely to be open personally with teachers, which will help their well-being overall.
Classrooms should be places that a warm and open to students, but in America it has diverted from that. Classrooms now are boring gray boxes that seem to just drain the life out of the students in the class, and really have no positives. With the addition of some simple household objects, and a kind personality from a teacher, the productivity of students in the class will skyrocket.