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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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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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mary's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I teach special education and am in my fifth building in 14 years. So, I am constantly cleaning out my stuff and throwing things away when I move into a new building. This past year I was transferred involuntary to go to a new building, and instead of packing an entire special education program, I could only take my things with me. I had a lot of personal things that I had purchased over the years. I took carpets, teaching supplies, games, puzzles and lots of other things. I was moved into a special education program that had a teacher who had taught for many years, who just gave up and walked away to a general education teaching position within the same district. I was appalled at the JUNK she had. There were yellowed mimographed worksheets and worksheets and worksheets. I threw away huge garbage cans full of worksheets that I would never ever use. There were so many books, and not enough book shelves or crates to put them in. I kept a lot of things for a year, and my philosophy was is that if I hadn't used it in a year, I was getting rid of it. Well, that was the case, and my room looks less cluttered than it did last year. I did buy a bookshelf for the room with my own money, but it is not enough. I did get the classroom painted this year, but you can't tell. The rooms other furniture is so mismatched, it is embarressing to say it is your room. I hope that by next year, my classroom is more mine than it was the previous teachers. It is just so hard to go into a classroom that was occupied by someone else for a long time.

Debra Esparza's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

One wonderful thing some parents did at our school is to form a "Greening group". Their goal was to spruce up our school while also helping it to become more green. They found out that our local electric company gives money to schools based on a point system for how "green" the school is. Schools earn points for turning off lights, recycling, etc. We earned $6000 our first year. We were able to use this money to buy a solar fountain,a new sound system for assemblies, plants for container gardens for our courtyard, and many other projects. The "greening group" has taught both students and teachers how to be more "green" as well as really spruced up our school.

Lenore's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

If it bothers you that all the furniture is mismatched, why not paint it all? This is what they do on HGTV. Perhaps you can get some discount paint. Someimes people get specialized paint and decide they don't like the color so it is put on special. I would even try to see if your district will paint the furniture for you. I'm in a huge district so they will grant request to paint furniture.

Marti Schwartz's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have a ten page paper about color and light in classrooms, whose author, somehow, is not noted (I'm very sorry!)....What it states is " the consensus from studies is that light yellow-orange, beige, pale or light green, or blue-green are good choices for three of the four wall surfaces. Pastel oranges promote cheerful, lively and sociable moods that are desirable in a college classroom. Pastel yellow has a similar cheerful effect. Greens and blue greens in pastels are calming and provide a good background color suited to relaxation into taasks that require concentration....If used over dominant room areas, deep color tones and glaring colors promote irritability. Deep reds, browns, and dark blues are particularly detrimental....the fourth wall, the fornt of the room that faces the students, should be a different complementary or at least a darker hue than the other walls. (It) helps reduce students' eyestrain and can reduce glare." The reference cited is "Mahnke, F.H. 1996, Color, Environment, and Human Response: New York, John Wiley & Sons."
Hope this helps!!

kathleen wright's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I love classroom design! I would give up teaching just to design and organize classrooms if I could find such a position. A classroom must be functional and organized, as well as attractive and conducive to learning. I have borrowed ideas from Montessori, Reggio Emilia, and the brain compatible learning experts. They have a lot in common, actually.
Although I love bright colors in general, I keep my room somewhat neutral-- grays, and pale blues, greens and purples. The teaching materials I put up in the room can then stand out as I want the kids to use them, and I keep them very relevant to what we are currently learning and almost all of the posted materials are student or teacher made. I love bins and organizers-- I have to be able to put my hands on things exactly when I need them. I have spent a fortune (my own money) on bins and shelves, keeping them handy but out of sight behind custom made "curtains" that hang from shelves-- it helps the kids know what they can use and what's off limits and cuts down on eye clutter. I keep lots of books in the room in all sorts of collections, all on their own shelves and carts. I have the room broken into areas-- block corner, science/math, imagination station, book nook, meeting carpet, writing center-- it helps the kids know what is expected of them when they are in different areas and helps our days run smoother. I love fabric, carpets and natural materials. My husband helped me install a fireplace mantle with twinkling "embers" and it is in the book nook with rocking chairs and a couch. I keep only one row of florescent lights on most days and rely on lamps and natural window lighting.
Not only does all this work for me and my kids, other district teachers, parents and neighborhood members stop by on a regular basis to "visit" and comment on what they like about the room. One of the highest compliments came from our new superintendent the first time he was in my room-- looking around he said he would just like to move in. I told him I thought of it as a home away from home. He said he could tell and my students were lucky indeed.
I think there is a lot more to it than just having a nice looking room. I think it is essential to best practice in teaching. I am well aware of the limits, but over the years your investment will pay off as you slowly build the best classroom you can. It sends an instant message to everyone who walks by that you take your job seriously and will do your best.
I teach kindergarten in Ann Arbor, Michigan, but I think the above described foundational elements are important in classrooms for students of all ages. Our fifth grade big buddies and our high school student mentors feel right at home, too.

Regina Brinker's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Ask your students for their comments about the classroom. They know what is working and what isn't, and can make useful suggestions.

At least twice a year, I ask students to complete a class evaluation, and ask for their suggestions to make the room more comfortable. I also want to make sure that the plants, fish, posters, and changing displays in my science room aren't distracting. Students tend to like these new things, saying that they like "having something to look at". Fish are great. They've brought out comments and interest from some students who are otherwise quiet in the classroom. I try to change displays often by putting out models or items of interest. This adds a sense of curiosity as students come into the classroom. Keep them thinking!

Sandy Frakes's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I know that this is supposed to be a forum for the classroom but I am the PTA President of our elementary school and I would really LOVE some ideas from teachers on how to decorate the Teacher's Lounge and make it more inviting. What are some things that make it more comfortable and enjoyable for you to be in the lounge? I would appreciate any input, as I am going to re-work our Teacher's Lounge before school starts back in August. I would especially enjoy hearing about any themes you have in mind.
Sandy Frakes, PTA President, Simmons Elementary (Kentucky)

kathleen wright's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

We have a GREAT PTO. They do a variety of wonderful things for the kids and us, which sometimes includes doing something nice for our lounge. Appreciated touches have included occasional tablecloths, salt and pepper and napkins in holders on tables, new supplies of ketchup, mustard, dressings, water bottles, tea coffee, hot chocolate, occasional flowers, hand lotion and the oh-so-appreciated cleaning away of clutter that seems to collect everywhere. They have also painted walls; currently we have a flower garden mural that has all our photos (those little ones that come with school photos) in the flowers. They also give us a soup and salad luncheon in the fall, and a teacher appreciation breakfast and luncheon in April. Hint- if you supply food, don't do it on Friday-- there are almost always leftovers for a day or two which we enjoy just as much. Know that whatever you do will be appreciated!

Patt Hawkey's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I suggest you go and sit in your family room and look there to see what makes you comfortable and cared for. Use that as a guide. Don't use kids stuff or boxes or leave in view the stuff that is usually stored there. We did over our lounge with: warm colors and a small comfortable sitting area, cloth table cloth's (with a layer of plastic for ease of cleaning) matching center pieces on our many tables. Don't use the "inspirational verses" on the wall. I would suggest using cloth to cover the bulletin boards with areas for Staff Family pictures or pictures of staff at school events, why not ask staff to put up their graduation pictures or their colleges. I was at one school where each staff member shared a family picture with a short bio or informational questionnaire (like: hobbies, vacations, first job, the last book you read, etc.) Also make sure the coffee maker works and supply the coffee grounds, sugar and creamers. We also placed a small chest in the teacher's restrooms and have a supply of hand cream and lotions. Student gifts usually replace what is used in there. It's the little things that teachers appreciate!

Deb Meyer's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am right with you about keeping tons of files and having it all digitalized as well. I had over 70 notebooks full of my past lesson materials. Summer by summer I purged it out, but I have moved several times and each new school and each inservice or summer program contributed to the burdon of resources. I invested in a sheet scanner,a ScanSnap, and am converting everything to searchable PDF files. Then I am taking the 16 linear feet of notebooks to school to use. I still need that hard-copy security blanket, but after 22 years I am realizing that I still use too many worksheets. It's time to teach more with less! Are there suppodr groups for teacher-clutterers? :-)

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