We know the classroom is more than a place for pupils to sit and the teacher to store resources. It is more than just four walls, windows, doors, a floor and a ceiling too. What makes a classroom is the dynamic way the resources it provides are used. This is why a classroom can be an open space or a piece of ground under a bridge. My view is that the classroom should say “Welcome to my world.” There should be something about the classroom that celebrates your passion for the subjects you teach and that shows you are a learner too. Here are some of the ways you can use your classroom to promote teaching and learning.
Promote focus by avoiding clutter. Clutter is things that you are not using, do not need to refer to or just don’t want to throw away. It is the last project outcomes, the broken chair or something propped in the corner out of the way. If you cannot bring yourself to throw it away box it and label it. Have only the things that are relevant out on show and in the room if you can.
Make the walls relevant by getting rid of “wall paper”. This is stuff well past it’s sell by date. There is nothing worse than having work on the wall from somebody who has left or was in the class last year. It is also stuff you cannot read if you are sat in the middle of the classroom without requiring the eyesight of Superman. Sit in the middle of the classroom and if you cannot read what is on the wall then bin it. If you cannot read it then neither can your pupils. If it is important then make it readable.
Make the walls a resource for you as well as the pupils. Teachers are adept at using the walls of the classroom to carry all manner of resources but what about using one wall for prompts and reminders for your teaching too. If when you are addressing the pupils you are at the front of the class then use the back wall for your own purposes. This is not as daft as it sounds; the back wall is probably the least viewed by the pupils. Here is an example of how you may use the back wall. Say you wanted to develop your teaching by asking more mindful[i] questions then you may have a large image of a brain posted on the back wall. Unless you explain to others what it is for then it is your own personal reminder to ask questions in a way that encourages rather than discourages responses. If anyone asks you do not have to tell them the reason why it is there, that is up to you.
Share ownership of the walls and encourage pupils to take ownership by displaying their own learning outcomes. You do not have to select every piece that goes on the wall.
Get creative when you need to and this includes using the ceiling, the windows, the doors, and even the floor. The classroom can be “dressed” in the same way as shop windows to promote a theme or support a topic. I have even seen Egypt complete with sand and pyramids appear in a classroom (just be sure to cover the floor in plastic first and get the cleaner on your side!)
Set the mood using technology. Projectors not only project images but hey can be sued to create blocks of colour and coloured light. This can be very effective at creating a mood, especially if you add in some sounds. Plain white sheets can be hung as screens and they do not have to be on the wall. Images can be projected onto them to create illusions of walls or the seaside or anything your imagination comes up with.
Consider the unusual. If you have ever walked into a bakery as the bread is cooling you will know the power of smell. Like music it can transport you both in time and space and lift your mood. Scented candles or perfumes can add that extra dimension. Just image the impact of a few stink bombs if you were studying the history of sewerage in the Victorian era! Having music playing alters mood and pace significantly, just the thing for creative writing.
Move things around, but only for a reason. Too many changes and too much change can unsettle pupils. Like everyone they like the familiar and may need warning about what you have planned. Just imagine how you feel if you cannot use your usual car parking space. Putting desks in rows just like a Victorian school may be a great way of starting off a topic.
Think about the entrance to your room, it is after all a portal to learning. How can you make it more effective? Remember that sometimes your pupils may be lining up outside your door and it could provide a useful opportunity to learn something or set the scene.
Be welcoming. It goes without saying but sometimes you may get carried away clearing up after the last session or in preparing for the upcoming one. Even if you are not ready take time to meet and greet. How pupils enter a room and even how they leave says something about the space they are in. Don’t miss an opportunity to use subtle influences to mark out your room as a place to learn.
Give it an identity so the pupils know where they are. There is nothing worse than bland teaching room after bland teaching room along a corridor. Think what the high street would look like if all the shops were the same. How would you know where you are or where to go?
Promote organisation. A place for everything and everything in its place is a very important adage. So is “Don’t put it down. Put it away.” Have systems that you use to keep your room organised. This helps you find things as well as the pupils and saves them waiting to ask you.
[i] Mindful questions are those that do not impose limits or require absolute understanding in order to answer. They can be satisfied in part or in whole depending on the knowledge and understanding of the pupil. For example if you ask pupils to name the three states matter can exist in then you are excluding those that can only think of 1 or 2 from answering and anyone who believes there are 4 (plasma) or even 5. A mindful question format may be formed in this way, “Who can name me a state matter can exist in?” . Now you have not set any boundaries and can respond to any “odd” or interesting responses you receive.
The DfE are consulting on the vision for a world-class teaching profession. The launch date was the 9th January and responses have to be in by 3rd February.
They are wishing to use Twitter too using the hashtag #worldclassteachers.
“We would also like to stimulate a debate through social media channels, and would encourage use of the Twitter hashtag #worldclassteachers. This hashtag will be monitored, and a digest of relevant posts will be included in the evidence summary.”
There is a feedback meeting leading on from the consultation taking place in Nottingham on the 7th of February.
Details here: ow.ly/HChTh
Advocating Creativity has made a response and I thought you may like to see it. You can download it here: A_World-Class_Teaching_Profession_download_response_form Kevin Hewitson Advocating Creativity Ltd
The value of the staffroom in schools (FREE CPD!)
There may be two polarised views about the staffroom in schools. On the one hand a place for gossip and rumour and possibly dissent to thrive and on the other hand a rich source of informal professional development, somewhere to unwind, and a communication centre. Of course it can be many things to many people but where does the balance sit in your school?
[There is now a shorter version of this post available on TeacherToolkit website. The link is https://t.co/6f2aHXvmBH ]
I was once told by a wise bursar that you can tell a lot about a school by the staff toilets. I think the same is true of the staffroom. In my experience you can make an initial guess at what the staffroom is to a school and what it provides by seeing who is there are key times of the day. If it is like the Mary Celeste for most of the day and you only find people there at time required by SLT and certainly not after the bell has gone at the end of the day you may decide that the staffroom is a waste of space. On the other hand if as soon as you open the door to the staffroom you are hit with a wall of chatter, people meeting and greeting each other and the smell of coffee you may regard it as one of the most important rooms in the school.
In my experience any school that abandons the staffroom does so at the risk of losing a great deal both in terms of staff cohesion and informal CPD. I know that in large schools travel to and from the staffroom may take some time and with short breaks and almost none existent lunch periods it is much easier for staff to ‘stay local’ as it were. Easier is not always better though and I would urge that arrangements are made to make the opportunity available for staff to get together in the staffroom once a day or at least a couple of times a week. Of course with social media, texting and e-mails available people may argue the staffroom has had its day but where else can you inadvertently pick up what can be valuable information about what is going on, student issues and offer your help or advice to those staff facing challenges that may be new to them.
Staffroom dynamics have always been an interesting reflection of the attitudes and values of a school too. At one school I worked in each member of staff had ‘their seat’, and subjects ‘their corner’ of the staff room. Crossing these invisible boundaries was unheard of and on one occasion where I ‘mixed it up’ it caused some concern for a little while. I some schools it was seen as a sanctuary away from the leadership of the school and went strangely quiet if they entered and in others a collegiate melting pot where position or rank was regarded only after experience and value of advice or comment.
Fun, the lubricant of the teaching and learning engine.
One great advantage the staffroom has is that it can allow people to let their hair down a little and have some fun. Here are two examples from my own hands of using the staffroom for a little fun.
Imagine the summer term and the end of the academic year. Students started their holiday on Wednesday and teachers returned on Thursday for two days of training. Imagine how staff must have felt coming back to school on that first training day. L
Now imagine turning up to the staffroom to find a beach scene with palm plants (Blue Peter style), paddling pool, a crazy golf course, tunes of the Beach Boys playing and a certain member of staff in ‘wild’ Bermuda shorts and shirt with a drink in hand sitting under an umbrella. Well the look on staff faces as they came up to the staffroom was priceless, from a frown into a smile in an instant. The mood was set for the two days. I really should have told somebody though because the Head was a little nervous about what our guests would think when they saw it. We need not have worried, one rolled up his trousers and went paddling, and the other had a game of golf. Both said what a great way to inject a little fun and admitted they had been a little concerned about how staff would receive them with it being the end of busy term and staff tired. Result J
At a particularly stressful time for all during the opening of a new school with unfinished buildings and temporary accommodation resulting in a split site, the staffroom was a very important place. However on any given day there is always something to celebrate if you look hard enough (a ‘on this day’ search). For one day each month I found something to celebrate and turned this into a one lunch period celebration event. The event and its requirements need to be published ahead of time to give people time to plan and to have something to look forward to.
One example was the forming of the Bank of England 1694. With only a little money spent on cakes and a few photocopies little preparation was required. The entry fee was by showing a pre decimal coin. This lead to some ingenuity by staff and forgeries were accepted!
So if you think your staffroom could play a much needed part in the life of your school perhaps you could start by celebrating something one lunch period each month and see how it goes.
If you want a few more ideas on how to make the most of the staffroom or want to share one of your own you can reach me at email@example.com
For more details about my LQ concept and any of my other ideas and strategies for school improvement, training, and teacher coaching then drop me an e-mail and I will contact you to arrange a time to discuss your needs.