So much more than four walls...


I am into the last unit of the school year.  I will be leaving this classroom at the end of the year and heading off to a new adventure in Germany.  My family and I are incredibly excited.  And busy.  Those of you who teach in international schools know what I mean.  Boxes, forms, contracts, stuff, stuff, stuff....

I will miss this classroom.  I grew immensely as a teacher and a human being.  These kids have taught me so much about learning, playing, knowing, and being in the moment.  Our classroom is so much more than just four walls.   This space has changed a lot over the course of two years.  It feels like a home.  We are all comfortable here, we can share our feelings, celebrate our victories, and reflect on our defeats.

Looking at pictures, the class seems like a mess.  Truth, it is.  It is like a tangle of branches, wrapping itself around an abandoned building.  It is not neat, it is not clean, it is not organized.  To me, it represents the best of thinking in action.  At times manic, and at other times completely calm and focused.  I have cleaned up a lot of the clutter (it was hard to get rid of the tire, but it has found a new home in the garden) and I have organized most of the rest.  And it still looks like a rose brush with no owner.  Wild.

Even the furniture is mostly spur of the moment stuff.  I find an old sofa that is destined to be pitched, so I adopt it.  The chairs used to be up in storage, covered in dust.  We cleaned them off and got rid of those horrid wooden torture devices.  We use markers on the tables, and sometimes we make a mistake and use the permanent markers.  It gives the table a bit more character.  I got rid of my desk and put my computer on a shelf and stand all day.  The lack of desk opens up more space.  We find an old shoe cubby and fill it with art and math supplies, because we don't like the plastic drawers.  You can't see inside them, and when you can't see something you tend to forget about it.  

Stuff just finds its way in here.

I'll admit, sometimes the mess in here goes too far.  The picture above is AFTER a big cleaning.  It can be a bit of a mess at times.  We get involved in something and we tend to forget about how quickly the floor is filling up with little bits of paper or soil from the garden.  However, when it gets bad, we stop, take a break, and clean it up.  If it stresses anybody out, they are free to say so, then we ALL stop and clean.  We have a cleaner who comes once a week, but I like the kids to do it.  In Japanese public schools, the kids are responsible for cleaning the entire school, top to bottom.  Cleaning and organizing together creates a real sense of community.

My wife, who is a constant visitor to my class, commented that, "it looks the inside of a ten year olds brain".

"Thank you." I replied.  That is exactly what it is.  It embodies the values of the people who inhabit it.

I didn't plan it to look that way.  It just kind of emerged.  It kind of took on a personality of its own.  I think all classrooms do that.  I think all classrooms are beautiful in their own way.  I would love to see a book published of classrooms from around the world.

We try and design our living environments, or learning environments.  We try and customize them to be perfect.  Engineered.  Custom-fit.  What if we let the environment flow with the people in it?  What if the environment, instead of being this thing that was handed down to the group that inhabit it, were free to grow?  Start the year with an empty slate, and then be open to what emerges.  Is your classroom, the way it looks, a reflection of you as teacher, or is it a reflection of the group of learners that flow through?  


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