Learning Environment

Classroom Power Positioning

Taking a cue from workplace design, classrooms are being re-imagined with an eye toward balance.

Is your classroom balanced?

For decades, classroom environments have reflected the spatial setup of a “department,” reflecting a singular pedagogic idea: teachers disseminate information and students absorb it. This lectured-delivery setup, echoing the Industrial Age hierarchy of management and labor, begins to appear more anachronistic the further we move into the 21st century.

Today, educators find themselves faced with multifaceted delivery options, mountains of technology, and the expectation of collaboration and inclusiveness. Constantly evolving classroom setups meet new teaching standards and configurations, like STEM/STEAM, 3-D learning, differentiation, and inquiry based instruction. It can be a little overwhelming to be sure, but design professionals stand ready to help today’s educators acclimate to these exciting new realities.

Hierarchy? What’s this about?

“It’s not just the technology,” states Jeffrey Haase, Associate Professor of Interior Design at The Ohio State University. “Technology is a really small piece of the dynamic change. It’s the collaborative nature [of classroom learning] that we now deal with. It used to be more of a ‘preach-and-teach’ situation, but now it’s not.” Business and office spaces over the last few decades have physically evolved into a more egalitarian and collegial atmosphere. Power positions are far fewer in number, while open-model, collaborative workspaces and pods of two, four, or eight have appeared in many of today’s offices. Yet in education, this evolution has been a much slower process.

Haase advocates for “a dynamically flat space that facilitates equality. Some classroom areas may use stand up desks for debates or lecterns for students who are not only fidgety but possibly shy and need a position of power or equality.” He continues, “If you think about positioning (do some kids sit at seats higher than others?) or take a look at how students congregate, notice the power structure. Examine classroom desks for equal height, seating that does not move one student into a ‘higher’ position of power or leadership. Look at your teacher space—your desk—and imagine it for inviting dialogue and collaboration as if you are part of the classroom equation.”

Imagine the possibilities.

Students learn a lot from their peers, but you as a teacher are the ultimate imparter of knowledge. So why not position yourself in such a way that students can feel as comfortable learning from you as from their “BFFs”? Where is your desk located? Is it the focal point of the room? Consider seating that has you as an integrated part of the classroom layout. Whether you’re working on labs, design challenges, or Socratic discussions, think about the details: are your desks of equal height? Are your rectangular tables properly sized for a collaborative setup? Check seating, height, size, and proximity to elicit equalized student interactions and equitable sharing. Imagine balance: a non-threatening, non-imposing spatial environment where students learn eagerly from a teacher to whom they can relate.

Resources

Teaching in a Multicultural Classroom
Learning Space Toolkit
Northern Arizona University: Learning Spaces
Jeffrey Haase, Associate Professor of Interior Design at The Ohio State University


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