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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Spring Cleaning Your Classroom

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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Camille Sproule's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

What excellent ideas! I have been teaching so many years, and I do find it overwhelming that I have things in my classroom that are cluttering it. I would like to conduct a classroom makeover, and I think it could be accomplished by just decluttering the room. This is the perfect time of the year to do such a project. I'm pumped! Thanks for the ideas.

Camille Sproule's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Thank you! This idea of cleaning out the old before the new year is an excellent one! I love the ideas that are generated here, and I know I'll get these things done in June, rest up in July, and be ready for a new class in August!

Adam L's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I love the method you described of throwing something out if you haven't used it for two years. I need something quantitative or I will keep it forever! It is also useful for me to hear that you have never missed anything, thank you. I still have things in my room now that were left there 5 years ago from the former teacher.

One thing our school does, at the end of the year we have a "garage sale." Teachers have a specific region in the hall where they take items that they no longer want or need. Other teachers are free to rummage through and take anything they think they may need. If the items aren't taken by the beginning of the next school year, then they are thrown away. This particularly helps new teachers who may not have all of the stuff that veteran teachers have collected over the years. I have found it to be a great way to "recycle" things and have also found some interesting items that I have used. Just a thought.

Adam
Beaverton, OR
6th Grade

Heather Wolpert - Gawron's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

...and just think that for many students, this is the only safe, comfortable place they know. You have clearly put time and effort and care into this forgotten element of teaching. And to think, it's standard to only give teachers one paid day to set up their classroom environment each year! We have to break down our classrooms, and when we return to the room in Aug, all of our furniture is stacked in the middle of the room for us to pull apart, shove, move, and clean. Growl.

My friend took over for a "worksheet teacher" after he retired.. We're talking closets and closets of fill-n-the-dots and sheets of mindless activities. When my friend left to begin a doctorate program, the teacher hired to fill her shoes still found drawers of worksheets from this original teacher. Unbelievable. It seems he retired before he ever even left the classroom.

Thanks for your comments and for visiting Edutopia.
-Heather Woleprt-Gawron

Heather Wolpert - Gawron's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

You know, I think we're pack rats due to mere tradition. I'm currently looking at my file cabinet which I never even opened this year. Why? Because everything's on my computer, of course! I mean, I gather student samples every year, but why the heck do I continue to keep hard copies of my activities that I design?! I tweak them every year, use fewer and fewer teacher-designed activities every year, and if I need something, I print them out because my computer is far more organized then my cabinets and drawers. So why don't I just clean sweep the darn room? Because I'm scared. I'm scared to lose my work. I'm scared to lose what's worked in the past. And I don't trust myself to keep what I need to do my job well. Why do we as humans build up piles when we clearly have the capability of loosing them? Security? Paper buffer zone? I don't know. But every year, little by little, I learn to lose some of my past, committing to a digital storage. Maybe teachers younger than I am are better at this trust in computers, but having not been brought up with computers (I'm a computer cusp kid, as it were) I still need encouragement to let it all go.

Ed tech isn't just about use in the classroom; it should also be used to make our lives breath a little easier.
Thanks so much for commenting. Pleasure reading your entry.

Take care, and check in again with Edutopia.
-Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Erin Tregloan's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I just finished my first year teaching and I can't wait to get back in there in August and give my room a makeover. I already have so many ideas to make my classroom environment more conducive to learning. It seems like there are so many unnecessary items in my room that I'm sure distract my students from learning. I think every teacher should makeover their teaching environment every year after careful reflection of the success or failure of certain classroom areas. I look forward to seeing the differences in my classes from year to year as I make changes in my classroom. Who knows? Maybe I'll end up putting everything back the way it was in the first place, but you can never improve if you're satisfied with the way things are. Why not give your room a makeover? You might be surprised in the end.

Heather Wolpert - Gawron's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Another thing to do is to allow this year's class to design the boards for next year's fall. I find it a great reflection exercise for the class to agree on what would have worked for them visually had they had it up in September. Last year, my class designed a timeline of the year and the days off and assessments dates that changes every quarter. It went above the board and we had a student move an arrow-shaped post-it to point to the day we were currently on. It allowed students to long-range and short-range plan visually. I will never be without one of those timelines now. It has been an awesome, interactive part of our classroom. Or, you can have your fall classes build your classroom as you go. I've done that before, and if you aren't freaked out by starting with bare walls, it can be very powerful.
Thanks for commenting and for checking in with Edutopia.
-Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Heather Wolpert - Gawron's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

What would it take to conduct a survey of the incoming students? Talk about school ownership! Either way, I am a big believer in themes. If you're opening a school, could not different different corridors, rooms, have different tones? Perhaps I'm in Disneyland here, but as long as it's not my budget, I say think out of the box!
My room, actually, uses darker hues because I love the idea of a rich, deep, tudor library. Maybe it's lost on the kids and it's just dark, but I find it soothing. And if I'm calmer, maybe that also helps translate to the students. I guess the question is then: what color appeals to you?
Hopefully more people will respond here. I'd love to hear what they have to say.
Thanks for participating!
-Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Heather Wolpert - Gawron's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

...is to actually do the whole paint and waynescoating (did i spell that right?) thing a la a tudor library. I have it in the colors right now, but I'd love to really go to town and costume the place up. Environment is so important. It's like Disneyland vs. Magic Mountain. At Disneyland, the ride begins as soon as you step onto the line. There's a story being told and you're engaged from minute one. At Magic Mountain, it's all about the ride only, and I feel the lack of enthusiasm even if they are great coasters.
Thanks for commenting on Edutopia!
-Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Kathy Lewton's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

From what I've read, there's definitely a psychology to wall colors. I appreciate your comment about the dark, calming walls - my great room at home is currently a rich chocolate brown.

But in my classroom, I personally don't want it too calm. I teach French and I love a somewhat noisy, active classroom filled with joyful fluency as groups or pairs engage in the world language. So in my classroom where the neutral cream walls serve as a backdrop, I'm decorating with the primary colors which I find to be "happy." I have red cafe curtains on the windows, navy area rug, navy on the seats and back of the student desks, some goldens as bulletin board background and on posters. Also lots of real plants and French realia and knickknacks on the window ledge. I recently had a preservice teacher come to observe and comment on the welcoming feeling in my room.

I teach at Wadsworth Middle School (Ohio).

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