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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
I'm lucky to work at a school that provides a patch of green, fixes the broken windows, and washes off graffiti when it happens. But I've worked at the schools that smell of urine, at the sites that lay forgotten by funding but are still expected to succeed.

According to one fashion-makeover television show, a makeover does wonders for your confidence, your pride. Another TV series -- this one about home rehabs -- says a makeover can even renew your hope in life.

Popular hosts from these reality series need to come to schools, slap some paint on the walls, and work their magic. Where is Paige Davis, from Trading Spaces, or Xzibit, from Pimp My Ride, when you need them?

Teachers need help. They need someone to clear out the clutter and piles of supplies left behind by those who inhabited their rooms long ago. They need someone to build bookcases, replacing the gimmicky gutters bought at Home Depot and stuck hastily onto walls. They need carpets -- now held together by duct tape -- replaced, and cabinets, long since stripped of paint, reborn. They need cubbies. They need shelves. They need supplies, more diverse than even Staples could provide.

Schools need desks designed to allow students to move into groups, rows, columns, and pairs. They need chairs balanced on all four legs. They need windows without webs of cracks, and faucets that turn off once used.

Students need green. They need patches of grassy squares where they can relax and read a good book. They need a tree to eat lunch under.

Schools need to be freed of police tape, freed of asbestos, and freed of the landscape of concrete and asphalt that make learning feel more like a prison than a future.

Our schools need makeovers. We talk a lot about deeper makeovers, ones that reflect true reform. But they also need physical makeovers -- a metamorphosis that allows students and communities to have some pride in their schools.

Yes, we all know that change happens from within, but we can't deny what can happen from simply improving the environment.

If you were to make over your classroom or school, how might it look? What changes have you already made? In what ways did they improve student learning and motivation? Please share your thoughts.

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Deb Meyer's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

How nice for the PTA to think of their teachers! It would be nice to have made observations on the way the lounge is used by teachers to help you customize their lounge. Some people need quiet space and room to spread out their work. Some people need a cushy chair and some relief time from standing all day. A lot of us need a space near the phone where we can lay the gradebook and take notes as we talk to parents. Often the phone is on an end table and if we want to both sit and talk, we can't write.

I think it is really helpful to have some bulletin boards for posting information and a few shelves, hooks or cubbies for getting purses and bags off the floor. We appreciate a refrigerator, cupboard and sink with a microwave so we can store our sack lunches, heat and eat them in the same place, as well as clean up the containers. Teachers who work in the lounge always appreciate a few basic supplies such as staplers, scissors and rulers that are dedicated to the room. A basket with a salt/pepper shaker and extra forks and spoons is also a very much appreciated. I am not a coffee person but most places I have worked had a machine for people who did drink it, usually with a system for sharing the cost of the materials.

Nowadays, it's all about the access to electronics, so workspaces that have power strips up on the top would be a great blessing. I hate plugging in the laptop by standing on my head to reach behind or under a table. A reliable clock is a must-have, big enough to see from the whole room.

Hope this helps!

Jesse's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I'm a teacher in Washington, and a staff room makeover is exactly what our PTA did for us last year! This was our gift for Teacher Appreciation Week. The first thing they did was to paint it a neutral color - beige/tan/light brown (to replace the light teal walls and yellow cabinets, yuk). Then they got rid of the 1970's couch with a rip and a sink hole in it and replaced it with a dark leather couch and loveseat set. Finally, they bought two small, black, square tables and a couple of end tables for us to use during lunch time. We now have a little water fountain in the corner for a nice sound effect and a reading lamp for quiet time. The entire atmosphere changed and we love it. It is a little more masculine for the guys, and much more comfortable for everyone!

Carol Christ, teacher, Rosedale Elem. (Salem, OR)'s picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Two years ago several families worked together to transform the staff lounge, as part of Teacher Appreciation Week. The French cafe theme includes red and white striped "awnings" above the windows; I think they're made of lightweight metal. Tables are painted black or deep red, and assorted wooden chairs are painted black, some have upholstered seats. Slate countertops are new, plus some molding, black paint, and new knobs changed the plain cabinet doors. Fresh paint on walls is warm and inviting (caramel on top, black below the chair rail.) A tired storage cabinet has new molding and deep red paint. The PTA also revamped the bulletin board and black chalkboard. They added two comfortable armchairs, an espresso machine, some baskets, silk plants, a large clock, and other Parisian decor.
Whatever themes you might consider, I hope that you find others to join in. Knowing that so many people helped with the redecorating made it all the more special.
If your PTA members don't have access to a lot of donations, deals, or discounts, it will still be "the thought that counts." Staff will appreciate fresh paint and any caring touches.

Mary's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am sure the teachers in your school will be so very appreciative of the work you will put in make over the Teachers' Room. Our PTA did that for us last summer, and we were so happy with the result. First, WE WERE SURVEYED FOR OUR INPUT...what did we actually need in there? Most teachers actually work on there...so we are asked for a table that seats at least 10 to accommodate laptops, grading papers, as well as eating lunch, a comfortable couch, coffee table, microwave, coffee machine, toaster, water cooler. Our school is 100 years old and the Teachers' Room actually has a fireplace with a mantle! The room was painted, curtains hung, new rug, and each of the items teachers asked for were in place when school started. By the way...teachers "lounge" is a misnomer...there's no lounging going on...believe me! Mary Westfield, NJ

Terry Rogers's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have been in the same classroom since 1993, so I have to "make" myself throw things away. It has been a constant battle, but when it was time to close up my classroom this year which was the end of May where I live, I threw more away than usual and starting searching for classroom pictures of other elementary teachers. One of the best I came upon was http://www.realclassroomideas.com/163.html . It had several to look at and one in particular motivated me to continue the decluttering. So, I had a vision, but needed to keep my theme! I also found the "Two Sisters" http://www.choiceliteracy.com/products/item8.cfm (of the Daily Five)site that showed a clip from their DVD: Simply Beautiful: Classroom Design for Gracious Living and Learning and was motivated to make my room less "busy"! Then using my SMART Notebook software and a grid background I started creating a diagram complete with colors. Now, I'm obsessing about it and before I knew it I was hitting sales at Hobby Lobby, Target & WalMart to complete my new room makeover! I know from Quantum Learning that "Everything Speaks" and I am hoping my cheerful, more spacious classroom will set the stage first me to feel at peace and ready to learn and that will be contagious for my students! I can't wait for the waxed floors to dry so I can take my sacks of decorative items into my "new" classroom!

Amarilis (Amy) Ruggles's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I worked for eight years at a school where we had 6 microwaves in the teacher's lounge. The refrigerator was cleaned every Friday. We had two massage chairs for when ever stressed. Having a long table where everyone had to sit together instead of four tables kind of helped for socializing. Also writing the months and teacher's birthday in, seems to be welcoming and friendly. I hope this helps.

Debra Esparza's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a Kindergarten teacher at a small school. We completely renovated our teachers'lounge a few years back. Teachers and the office manager painted the walls a cheery yellow. One wall is painted a festive red. We added a donated, comfy, blue couch with pillows. Our theme is sort of Mexican fiesta so we renamed it the Cafe Ole. We even have a plaque on the door that says this. We added tropical themed pictures, Mexican accents and large silk plants. It really increased the number of people who eat in the teachers' lounge.
Debra Esparza
Sam Hughes Elementary

Sue's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Send us a picture of the finished product!

Susan Krevat's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

My elementary school is being rebuilt so we are being relocated to a swing space - which means I have to pack up the classroom. I have managed to weed through so much junk that I have needlessly held onto - no longer used textbooks, old and faded construction paper, etc. The purging has been a positive experience. I waited until 3 days before school to start taking down my decorations - the kids were crestfallen - "the room doesn't even look like the room any more." It was then that I realized that the colorful, cheerful decorations matter more than ever - especially when they camouflage the oldness and dreariness of the building. I actually packed my favorite decorations and plan to put them up in my new room.

I also agree with the less is more idea - clutter makes more clutter so I'm determined to trying to keep everything to a minimum - if I can figure that out.

Diane's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

One of my schools had a wonderful teacher's lounge. It was painted in cool, relaxing tones. Had many plants to hide the stark institutional walls. Pictures (not work posters) decorated walls. I even remember that there was s ome sort of colorful border around teh top of the walls. Tables were covered with colorful table cloths.

Separate the work area, first of all. Copiers should not encroach on the relaxation area. A place to relax is what you want. A message chair would be wonderful. A comfy couch serves as a wonderful place for an exhausted teacher to kick back during an all-too-short lunch break. Think of the many teachers who get stress headaches and look for a relaxing place to hide out. How can you help? ANy efforts will be appreciated!

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