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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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Laura Krzywicki's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree that schools need makeovers. I try to keep my classroom as clean as possible. Just today I was able to get in my room, and really get rid of some items that have been in the room, probably longer then I have been alive. We are also going to be moving in 6 months to a modular school, because our current school is being remodeled. I feel that once we return to our school, after it has been redone with new furniture, and supplies, attitudes of students and teachers alike will be better.

Laura Krzywicki's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with you. Like I said in a post, that just today I was cleaning my room, and I perged a lot of items. I spent a bit of time thinking if I was going to use it, but decided that since I did not use it this year, I probably won't use it next year. This was a hard task for me, but it needed to be done.

Dawn Dupree's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As I look at my room with novels strewn everywhere and papers stacked up on my desk to grade. I think am I ever going to make it through to last day. I agree with the fact that I wish our school had a place where we can go to relax outside to read a good book. When we have gone outside in the past, we have been attacked by fire ants. Our kids are forced to eat lunch inside the cafeteria; they never have an opportunity to enjoy lunch on a nice sunny day outside. My school is fairly old. Our walls in the corners are covered in mold. We are always short a janitor so the layer of dust in the corners is at least an inch thick. The walls are a pale blue, which makes the students feel like they are not in an institution of learning. Our school is currently being remodeled, but in the mean time from the outside it looks the parents are dropping their kids off at a prison camp. In the future, I am hoping for a school that makes kids feel like it is truly a learning institution. I hope it will be a place where children will love to learn. I look forward to our new school. I realize not all communities are able to afford a new school. I do feel lucky that our district started to fund the new school construction projects before the economic downturn.

Dawn Dupree's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As I look at my room with novels strewn everywhere and papers stacked up on my desk to grade. I think am I ever going to make it through to last day. I agree with the fact that I wish our school had a place where we can go to relax outside to read a good book. When we have gone outside in the past, we have been attacked by fire ants. Our kids are forced to eat lunch inside the cafeteria; they never have an opportunity to enjoy lunch on a nice sunny day outside. My school is fairly old. Our walls in the corners are covered in mold. We are always short a janitor so the layer of dust in the corners is at least an inch thick. The walls are a pale blue, which makes the students feel like they are not in an institution of learning. Our school is currently being remodeled, but in the mean time from the outside it looks the parents are dropping their kids off at a prison camp. In the future, I am hoping for a school that makes kids feel like it is truly a learning institution. I hope it will be a place where children will love to learn. I look forward to our new school. I realize not all communities are able to afford a new school. I do feel lucky that our district started to fund the new school construction projects before the economic downturn.

Dawn Dupree's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am trying to adopt that new mantra as well. Purge! Purge! Purge! I tend to want to hold on to everything. I think I will use it next year, but in reality I don't. Last year, I had some students help me purge old papers and books I don't use anymore. It really helped because they were honest with me about what had to go. I felt like I had Ty Pennington in my classroom or the lady from clean house. Many students are willing to help especially when they need hours for National Honor Society. It also counts towards volunteer hours for your school.

Katie Bennett's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I totally agree with the "throw it out" theory. I've been teaching for almost seven years (many of them as a substitute in long term positions). As each year went by, the teachers in the building would do the same things you are talking about. They'd go through what they had and throw out or give away whatever they hadn't used recently. I often took this as a great opportunity to build up my own collection of resources for my own classroom someday.

Now that I've got my own classroom, I find myself doing the same purge you do. Many of the things that I collected over the years are not worth keeping. I only realize this now that I've been teaching for several years. I am better able to tell what will spark a real learning interest in my students and what will simply fill up time with them. If it is a simple time filler, which most seem to be, I throw it out. I won't even offer it to another teacher simply because it has already been passed on once by someone who thought it wasn't worthwhile.

A simple, uncluttered room can be a good way to let go of this year and begin to prepare for next year.
Katie Bennett
Middlefield, OH
4th Grade

Stephanie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with a lot of what is being said here. I tend to be a packrat when it comes to any educational supplies. I've only been teaching for 3 years, but I have files upon files of papers! I have drawers full of inspirational posters, bulletin board sets, borders, etc. This year when I was setting up my classroom, I went through all of my "stuff" and got rid of the things I hadn't used the previous year or two. I couldn't think twice about it, I just had to let it go. Even though I am a packrat, I'm also very neat and organized. I don't like clutter. I'm not sure how I have these two somewhat different qualities, but I feel that I have to find the happy medium between the two in order to have a classroom that is conducive to learning.

On another note, I teach in a school that is over 50 years old. We have mold, mice, old paint, smelly rooms, wobbly desks; you name it, we have it in our school. I think the students are affected by their environment. A lot of you are saying that your school is being remodeled. How lucky! Our school had the opportunity either be remodeled or put on a brand new addition. Instead of tearing down the whole school like they should have, they chose to just put on the addition. Now, I know this probably saved money, but now, students who are in the old wings of the school are jealous of those who get the brand new classrooms. On top of that, the county said that because we have brand new classrooms, all of the furniture needed to be brand new too. So we have about 8 brand new classrooms with brand new paint, furniture, etc. The rest of the school looks like a dump. How would you feel as one of the students who never got to be in a new classroom? They should have just torn down the whole school and started over form scratch. Our school definitely needs a "makeover."

Megan's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I was hired to take after a teacher who was a pack rat. She had everything you can imagine in her classroom. She was an avid collector of frogs. When I was hired in she had not moved out of her classroom and so I had about a two week waiting period when the principal told me she wanted me to come in. When I arrived I was a little nervous because I wasn't quite sure what I was meeting with her about. She pulled me into her office and told me she had some dissapointing news and some good news. The good news was that the retired teacher had turned her keys in, the bad news was she didn't take anything with her. When I went to the classroom I began to realize what a panic attack could be. I was so overwhelmed with the amount of clutter in the class. There was so many pieces of furniture, every piece of the class was covered with something. I had a new baby and three weeks until school started. I got on the phone with my husband, parents, and siblings and we spent the first weekend cleaning out. I ended up throwing out almost 2 dumpsters full of garbage. After going through the huge cleansing process I was reluctant to not have to spend too much of my own money because she had so much. There were endless amounts of classroom decorations, great books, school supplies, money and much more I don't even think she knew she had. In the end run I was so happy to be able to go through the process to make the classroom mine. I really cleaned every nook and craney of that room.

Now going into my third year I have set up a comfortable classroom with couches, soft lighting, bean bags, rugs, that make the classroom setting unique and inviting. I think it is important to put a little effort into keeping my classroom neat and tiddy like I try to at my own home. I think that when my students feel like their surroundings are clean they can be more at peace. Who doesn't like clean? I spend the last 10 minutes of each day wiping down desks, sweeping, to make sure my students take as much pride in the class as I do. When I change something in my classroom I always ask student opinion. I think it is very important to have nice surroundings so students feel more comfortable.

Carol Steele's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Heather, I believe the condition of the school affects how much students believe they are valued. Once I was doing a sociology study with my urban students on crowding and we visited a suburban high school to measure classrooms and get stats. The next day they were indignant that those kids had a nice school and they had a "crappy" one. They were resentful and angry that no one cared about them. It took a third of the class to get beyond that and work on the research.
Just think how much value business puts on a corner office with a window and you get an idea how people measure themselves by the envoronment they are in.
One year I made seat cushions for my students because the chairs were so darn hard and uncomfortable. I told them I thought is was the least I could do and they seemed to appreciate the effort.

bARB's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am in a unique position. I am opening my own school. The beginning population will be 15 - 21 yr olds. I have a site and am planning the physical make up of the rooms. I have ordered "sun - light" bulbs to replace the florescent bulbs. I am carpeting the entire space with a grayish-blue carpet.
Here's my question: what color do I paint the walls? Light blues and light greens have been suggested, but I would love to hear any suggestions you may have.
Thanks in advance!

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