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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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Lauren Tyner's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

My school was just "modernized" thanks to a grant and it has made SUCH a huge difference. When I first started teaching there three years ago, I couldn't even find the front of the school; the whole thing looked abandoned. After moving everything into the gym for storage at the end of last year, and then into a temporary portable in August, and then back into our "real" school in March, I can say that I have gotten rid of anything not deemed "absolutely necessary." One of the most memorable moments in this whole move was when I was finally able to take my 5th graders in for a tour of the new building. There was no furniture in there yet and they were just so excited to see everything. One of my students walked in, turned to me with the biggest smile on his face and said, "We go to a rich kid school Ms. Tyner!" Priceless.

Terry Rogers's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I will try to remember to send pictures. Because spring/summer/beach things are going on clearance right now, it's a good time to find some bright cheerful colors in flowers, storage boxes including the crates as well as table runners that I use on top of bookcases and placemats for little tables by chairs where my students read during independent reading! Hopefully by the end of next week I can get in my classroom!

Jennifer Mullins's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have been teaching for 3 years now, and have moved spaces four times. In moving each time, I had purged supplies, but also stowed supplies that I couldn't find later. I have learned a few things about managing materials. I keep like things together and mark all of my boxes and drawers. If I havn't used it in the past year, I tossed it this spring. I liked what the two sisters said about defining the walls. I have purchased material to cover my bulletin boards. THis makes it easy to put them up and take them down, and they look great all year. I bought bright, bold colors that coordinated with the bright red cupboards and carpet I already had. I use simple, bright borders with a patterned theme. I do not fill those bulletin boards until the learning takes place though. I keep anchor charts up for Reading, Writing, Math, Social Studies, and Science. Kids love helping create these charts that stay up all year. Hope this helps.

Lara's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

After reading your blog, I am very inspired to redecorate my classroom. Thanks for all the tips and additional websites for ideas. They will surely come in handy. I think it is important for student to have a sense of pride in their school.

Mariann's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

In my district, we have to take everything down and put it in storage for the summer, so at the end of the year, I am able to go through things and get rid of things I don't use. I have a rule for myself that if I have not used something in the past month, it must be something that is not that important to me. When we go back in August, it is the opportunity to redecorate every year.

I like having things that show my personality to my students in my classroom. Pictures of myself and my family, along with my traveling experiences and interests. It puts a personal touch on the classroom and shows the human side to the teacher.

Debbie Cowden's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I appreciate your encouragement to fix the clasrooms and schools. It is very important to clean up the sites where our learners spend their days. I change my walls yearly. I like to start fresh each year, and put up student work from assignments or charts from teaching. I like for new students to take ownership of the classroom, rather than coming into previous year's "owners."

My perspective is that schools are a community problem, and the community is a county concern, and the State would be concerned only if the first two were not responsible for their children. Still, improvements and responsibilities of a community are shouldered by a few teachers, trying to do their best and usually using their own money. The problems you described are too big for a teacher to manage alone: desks, grass, major clean up. Communities need to come together. And with the networking of the internet, the borders of community could reach far beyond the lines on a map. It doesn't seem that we, as a civilization, are "there," yet, though. We seem to have a foot in each century and not clear how to procede to truly impact situations that you described. Thank you for offering this need.

Ms.Garcia's picture
Ms.Garcia
High School English Teacher from Navajo Nation

This was such a sweet anecdote that I am tearing up at my desk. I am so happy for your students, and I hope they know that they are so worth it.

Sara McCormick Davis's picture

Many of you may be familiar with the Reggio Emilia schools of Northern Italy. Their environments are very child friendly and focused. There are some elements of classroom design that they use that could help with rethinking your own space so you should check out pictures on the web of Reggio inspired classrooms. One of the things I really like is how the background in the classrooms is kept very neutral. Organization is apparent, you can tell that children know exactly where things are kept and each item is appreciated for its own beauty.

Pamela Smith's picture

Last summer I redecorated my room. The biggest obstacle was to get a whole new floor. Once that was accomplished, I started looking up information about using Feng Shui in the classroom. It was awesome. I found so many great sites that helped me make my room new and fresh. Most of it was a matter of paint. I also moved the cabinets from where they had been sitting for about 30 years to a new location. I got some new bookcases from a local "big-box" store, and had one whole wall covered with white board. The kids love it. The colors are comfortable, and they have more room in which to move about. (In the mean time, I had to move everything out of the room, which gave me the opportunity to down-size all those materials I never use any more. WHEW!)

Janice Holter Kittok's picture
Janice Holter Kittok
World Language Education Specialist, Consultant, Speaker

I couldn't agree more. This spring I have been visiting several urban classrooms. We can't control the chaos in the lives of some of our students. We can control the chaos I see in many schools and classrooms - visual chaos of clutter, faded colors, disorganized. This is something we can control. I've been wondering what a difference it would make to come to a clean and peaceful space to learn, to reflect and to be inspired.

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