Get Your Learning Spaces Ready for School

August is here and so is the start of school.  That’s always a special time filled with a little bit of apprehension and a lot of excitement.  That also means getting ready for your kids and the start of a great new year.  This year, take some time to ready the spaces where you and your kids will work together.  Here are my suggestions.

  • Develop your vision of the student learning experience.  Schools have mission and vision statements.  Consider developing a more specific set of statements that describe what learning looks like and what kids will experience as learners in the class(es) you teach.  Once this has been done, start thinking about how learning spaces can be created to help realize this vision.  Start with the desired experience first, then get the things.
  • Read The Third Teacher. Cover to cover.  If you don’t want to buy the book, download the 79 Third Teacher flashcards that provide the basics. 
  • Think about the invitation your classroom offers. Does it say “you”?  Or does it say “them”?  Who owns the space?  Talk with your kids about their perceptions of the space and what could be done to improve it.  Ask them about the spaces they learn in at school that they like and ask the same question for spaces they inhabit beyond school.
  • Visit non-school locations to gather ideas.  Go to co-working locations, libraries, and other informal locations where people do work to gather ideas that could support the student learning experience.
  • Begin the school year by creating a new “default” classroom arrangement.  What can you differently than rows of desks?
  • De-clutter.  De-clutter.  De-clutter.  Most classrooms have too much “stuff” in them.  Most walls have too much “stuff” on them.  How can your walls become learning surfaces?  Take a look at Wizard Wall to be able to create quick temporary writable surfaces on your walls.  
  • Do a learning space inventory - what does your space do well, and not so well?  Use the vision of the student learning experience you developed to serve as your assessment metrics.  Use the outcome of the inventory to drive your redesign work.
  • Rethink your teaching space.  Do you really need all of the space?  How can you be more mobile?  What can you do differently with respect to how you interact with and in the classroom space?  What can you do to reclaim space and repurpose it?
  • Get rid of things that shouldn’t be in classroom spaces.  Couches, futons, drapes, lamps, and your college dorm refrigerator that you brought into the classroom most likely do not comply with your local fire code.  Avoid the ugly conversation with the administrator that just had the ugly conversation with the fire marshall.
  • Create micro-spaces in your classroom.  Can you create 3-5 areas besides your main classroom arrangement that gives kids options for self-selection of the space they want to work and learn in?  For ideas, watch the Remake Class videos from The Third Teacher.  Get more ideas for creating affordable, collaborative solutions by reading the terrific book, Make Space from the Stanford d.school.  Go to Pinterest and search “learning spaces” for ideas.  
  • Become a designer and ethnographer - constantly assess your spaces (consider using Google Keep as a way to document your growing understanding of space and learning), develop goals, implement strategies, and evaluate and adjust where necessary.
  • Share all of this with your colleagues.

Rethinking the spaces where you ply your craft with students can take you and your kids in interesting directions.  Do some simple things to get started. Learn and build on your experiences. Working with spaces is fun and there are opportunities to do some exciting things without much expense.  Most importantly, add a new dimension to how you help kids learn.

Have a great start to the school year!