Educators recognize the importance and impact of fostering connections with each child in their class. Through the process of building relationships, we learn the stories and unique potential of every student. What can we do with the stories we learn? How can our understanding of each child enrich our practice? How can we be responsive to our developing connections?
One meaningful way we can respond to and represent the warmth and connection flourishing in our classrooms is by cocreating hallway bulletin boards with our students. By championing the diversity and individual learning pathways of every child through these bulletin boards, we can embody and share the richness of classroom relationships and differentiated learning processes. Cocreated bulletin boards reflect a classroom’s emerging identity, and the process actively nurtures inclusion and belonging.
Shifting Attention From ‘What’ to ‘Why’ and ‘How’
Hallway bulletin boards capture the attention of passersby much like highway billboards. Rather than promoting a rising real estate agent, hallway bulletin boards often showcase teacher-created displays of results or products of classroom curriculum. Many bulletin boards share the “what” of our teaching: what topics we have covered, what skills we can perform, what art project we have produced. It’s important to realize that our hallway bulletin boards have incredible potential to share the “why” and the “how” of student learning and to illuminate the diversity and connection within our classrooms.
When I see a bulletin board that showcases 25 strikingly similar cut-and-paste scarecrows, for example, I think the board tells the story of a teacher who likely spent an evening cutting out 25 sets of trousers and straw hats for the children to glue together. The teacher also likely gave up their lunch break to carefully staple the scarecrows onto the board.
What would happen if we spared the energy spent on preparing pretty displays of student products or replicas and committed to utilizing our bulletin boards as an integral space for sharing how we are learning and growing together? We could show how we exercise our imagination and express our thinking in varied ways.
By cocreating board displays with our students, we actualize the voice and choice of the children. Hallway bulletin boards can tell the story of the learners and their learning, rather than telling the story of the teacher and their teaching.
If we hope to be responsive to the connections we’re fostering, if we wish to truly affirm each child’s unique story and learning pathway, our bulletin boards can play a significant role in representing these intentions. To me, 25 similar items on a bulletin board represent sameness, whereas a board that the class has collaborated on and cocreated represents student agency, self-expression, and relationships. Cocreated bulletin boards honor the multiple ways of thinking, meaning making, and connection making within our diverse classrooms.
Cocreated Bulletin Boards Help Build and Embody Connections
Teachers go to great lengths to build strong connections with their students. The relationships and feelings that fill our learning spaces are a fundamental and immeasurable facet of classroom learning. A teacher’s perseverance in discovering and nurturing personal and academic variabilities can be a complex process and is at the heart of a 21st-century classroom. As we discover each student’s strengths, we begin to consider multimodal ways to invite individual learning.
I wonder how our hallway boards can exemplify the intricate, multidimensional dynamics of a modern classroom experience. It seems to me that displays of teacher-directed products adorning the hallway boards misrepresent differentiated classrooms.
When students have the opportunity to engage in shared decision-making through cocreating a bulletin board, they not only are empowered by choice but also experience the virtues of collaboration and teamwork—which hones their self- and social awareness. While students and teachers work together to communicate the story of the relationships and identities unfolding within the classroom, their reciprocal connection is further strengthened.
Recently, I saw a bulletin board that read, “We Belong.” Underneath the title, the teacher had created a large paper Earth and a giant heart. Instantly, I was hopeful to learn what strategies were being used to foster belonging. I wondered if the children had decided on the message as a class or if the board was the educator’s sole endeavor. I was curious what the children’s perceptions of belonging were or if they knew what belonging was or felt like. I asked myself, “What is the story here?”
Imagine if that board shared the same message, “We Belong,” but the children had cut out or written the message themselves. Imagine if they had created artifacts or written statements of why they felt a sense of belonging or how their class nurtured belonging. Each student would be empowered by sharing their own unique experience, and a genuine sense of belonging would be fostered through the respectful process of shared decision-making and collaboration. As a result, the board would in fact embody belonging. Onlookers could learn from and share in the story of discovery and feeling that the board expressed.
Let’s take notice of the importance and impact of our hallway bulletin boards and ask ourselves, “What is the story here?” and “Whose story is it?”