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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.

Comments (61)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Charlene's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree completely. I just moved for the fourth time in four years, and I once again have to go through and disgard items left by teachers long before me. The room has stains on the ceiling tiles, rips in the carpet, and is full of resources that are out of date. My plan is to take care of what I can and try to build an environment that is inviting to students. I feel that taking the clutter out, and bringing in things like lamps and plants will change the room in a much needed way.

Tyson's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree that a makeover can do wonders in a classroom. I teach junior high and high school, and I have a different classroom for each. It's the same building, but two different classrooms. Next year, we are starting to add on to our high school so some teachers had to move rooms because of construction issues. Well, my high school classroom will be taken over by another high school teacher so I will be in one room for both junior high and high school. I decided to totally redo my classroom - paint, shelves, clean out the mess, etc. I am excited to see how my students react and how they will feel in this new environment. I love it and hopefully they will, too. I know that the environment will affect student learning because it affects their attitude. Students need a place to feel safe and a classroom should be that haven for them.

Jessica Castro's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

My name is Jessica and I teach third grade in Spartanburg, South Carolina. My elementary school is a rural school that brings in a lot of country kids with some city kids. Our school is currently undergoing a major overhaul. We added on 2 wings to our school. With over 800 students from K to 5th grade we are busting at the seams. We have added at least 4 more classrooms, another computer lab and a science lab (which I am the most excited about). We have extended our cafeteria by adding a stage, added an extra music room, and another gym storage unit. This will increase student learning but there are more opportunities to move about the school and more hands on activities for our students. Our students will take pride in our school because it's a new and exciting thing happening in our school. Not only are all these additions happening but some grade levels are switching halls. This means that all teachers are having to clean and pack up their belongings before the last day of school (which is Thursday). I have heard many teachers complaining about moving and cleaning out(especially those that have been teaching for 30+ years). I agree that it does stink that this is one more task you have to take care of before summer break but I do believe that half the teachers DO need to clean out their closet and their junk they no longer need. When I moved into my classroom I found items from the 70's stuck at the back of the closet. I believe mid-year and end of the year teachers need to clean out. Clean out the closets, clean out the cabinets, and clean out the desks. Weekly my students clean out their desks (it's amazing the things they find). When a classroom is clean and organized, the students are more organized and take more pride in the classroom. When a classroom is less cluttered, students are more able to focus and operate. Switch up the seating and movement in the classroom. I have noticed that this makes students more flexible and adjust better to last minute changes because we all know that almost always happens in a classroom. Bottom line-a cleaner organized classroom means a better way of learning.

Jessica Castro's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

My name is Jessica and I teach third grade in Spartanburg, South Carolina. My elementary school is a rural school that brings in a lot of country kids with some city kids. Our school is currently undergoing a major overhaul. We added on 2 wings to our school. With over 800 students from K to 5th grade we are busting at the seams. We have added at least 4 more classrooms, another computer lab and a science lab (which I am the most excited about). We have extended our cafeteria by adding a stage, added an extra music room, and another gym storage unit. This will increase student learning but there are more opportunities to move about the school and more hands on activities for our students. Our students will take pride in our school because it's a new and exciting thing happening in our school. Not only are all these additions happening but some grade levels are switching halls. This means that all teachers are having to clean and pack up their belongings before the last day of school (which is Thursday). I have heard many teachers complaining about moving and cleaning out(especially those that have been teaching for 30+ years). I agree that it does stink that this is one more task you have to take care of before summer break but I do believe that half the teachers DO need to clean out their closet and their junk they no longer need. When I moved into my classroom I found items from the 70's stuck at the back of the closet. I believe mid-year and end of the year teachers need to clean out. Clean out the closets, clean out the cabinets, and clean out the desks. Weekly my students clean out their desks (it's amazing the things they find). When a classroom is clean and organized, the students are more organized and take more pride in the classroom. When a classroom is less cluttered, students are more able to focus and operate. Switch up the seating and movement in the classroom. I have noticed that this makes students more flexible and adjust better to last minute changes because we all know that almost always happens in a classroom. Bottom line-a cleaner organized classroom means a better way of learning.

Leslie Keefer's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I can't agree with you more. I know myself how I feel when I clean my house, car or classroom. I feel like when there is clutter I can't think clearly and I am stressed compared to relaxing and energized. I believe the same goes for our schools. I know that when I see nice and clean rooms my whole attitude changes. These children want to come to a relaxing and interesting classroom, not a jungle of old papers and dusty furniture. My students are the first ones to see that something is missing, cleaned or organized. I believe you have more of their attention without all the mess and distracting damages that need to be taken care of.

I agree that what matters is on the inside and what takes place in your classroom, however you have a 100% greater chance of suceeding with a clean, safe and intriguing environment.

Leslie keefer
Walden University
Masters
Science of Education

Wendy Horner's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Two years ago our school worked through an arts grant to have a large section of our elementary hallway painted with a mural. The thing that I loved the most about it was not the bright colors that it added to our building, but the fact that each of our students and many of our staff had a hand in creating it. Our guiding artist laid out the basic design, but each student and teacher was able to design their own image or animal to add to the mural. Now when walking down the hall I hear students saying that's my sister's squirrel or there's my drawing. They have a new sense of pride in the building. I think it would be wonderful if we could have those same features in our classrooms.

If I could have a makeover of my classroom, I would want storage behind my white boards, color on the walls, computer tables that allowed multiple students to work comfortably together, and a reading nook with bean bags for the students to curl up with while reading. I would like desks that easily slide to new locations and are easily adjustable. Chairs that could change between being stable or being able to rock would also be fantastic. These are just a few changes I would make to my classroom if I were to get a makeover.

Wendy Horner
Grand Canyon Elementary

A. Lonon's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree that a makeover for the classroom can help the students and teachers feel better in their classroom. I remember when I started teaching I was assigned a classroom mid year in which the previous teacher left dust and junk everywhere. It was horrible until I had an opportunity to scrub and clean my classroom. The students were excited and thanked me for taking down an old bulletin board and cloth that smelled as if it had been hanging for years. I think a clean classroom needs space to allow the students to work together, nice walls, and displays a clean learning environment.

Rick H's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am pleased to be in a very modern three-year-old, state of the art facility. Our entire staff moved here all at once after it was built. The best teachers from the old building were still the best. The ones with good attitudes and team spirit remained. The ones with clean, well-decorated old rooms had well-decorated new rooms. The teachers at the other end of the spectrum remained as they were as well. Student achievement did not change significantly. The parents and community members were equally supportive at either place. I'm all in favor of modern classroom environments, but a makeover might ought to include something fresh besides carpet and paint.

Karen's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Throw It Out! This has become my mantra. When I first started teaching 12 years ago, I kept everything. And I mean everything. New supplies I purchased with my own money, things left behind in the closets from earlier teachers in earlier decades, and things passed on from retiring teachers. Each year, my collection grew until my closets were overthrowing with teaching supplies and resources. I eventually realized that these things I was saving were cluttering my room and cluttering my thinking, too.

Now when I clean out my room at the end of the year, I truly clean out my room. If I haven't used an item during the current year, I think seriously about whether I still need it. If I haven't used it in 2 years, I throw it away. I have never missed anything that I threw out. Not one thing.

Sometimes letting go can be hard. In this case, letting go is liberating.

Karen Gettel
Tampa, Fl
5th Grade

Nova Jones's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I teach at a low income school, south of Seattle Washington, whose success rate has varied over the years. An emphasis for me this year has been to differentiate the materials and method of instruction. Our class is rapidly moving into a new unit in math, Decimals. We'll be having nightly homework covering a concept studied during the day. Our class is set up to differentiate learning so that all children are learning at their own pace and in their own unique style. Our 90 minute math block in broken into rotations where small groups and I work together (4:1 student to teacher ratio) on the day's material. Our small group dynamics allow for children to ask individual questions that won't get lost in the business of large group discussions. The groups also offer me the chance to individually assess progress and to tailor instruction uniquely for your child. When not in small groups, pairs work together on the computer accessing many online learning activities. The activities are drawn from the context of the day's lesson and serve as an additional means to instruct. When not online or in small groups, the class is working in a student notebook. This math work offers another self-paced exploration into the unit and is complete with daily work and Mastery Tests opportunities. All math activities are tied to our weekly class assessments.

I'm interested in learning if anyone else has experience with differentiation in this mode (or a similar fashion. I am at njones@fwps.org.

Nova Jones
NBCT

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