Some teachers have the classroom design for the year set on day one, others reconfigure learning spaces a few times throughout the year, and still others are in a perpetual state of redesign when it comes to building the perfect environment. Wherever teachers fall on the design spectrum, they need to ensure that students respect these spaces created for learning. While there are some unspoken expectations to being part of a productive learning community, there are a lot of cogs and wheels that need to be voiced to keep everything running smoothly. As much as teachers want that picture perfect learning experience in their head to effortlessly play out in real time, it is going to take some preparatory effort and maintenance to come to fruition.
Sharing the purpose(s) and functionality of spaces is step one. Is the space a reading nook, an interactive center for math or science, a research corner, a quiet work zone, etc.? Students need to have an understanding of the purpose of the designated space. Talking to students about what it should (and shouldn’t) look like and sound like when the space is being used is a great place to start. For some groups, it may be helpful to create a dos and don’ts list, or these guidelines can simply be discussed. Based on the activity or activities that will be occurring in the space and the materials used to complete them, a go-to guide for utilizing the space can be created. With these expectations clearly posted, it will be easier to get students back on track if off-task behavior should occur.
If a space is going to serve a variety of purposes depending on the day and/or activity, clearly posting any unique expectations is important. Students may need to rinse items used in an experiment, tack their completed work on a bulletin board, notify another student/group that it is their turn to use the space, etc., and when students have a designated spot where any special instructions will appear, teachers don’t have to hover and micromanage. This allows teachers to spend more time working with students, and it allows students to spend more time actively contributing to the daily operations of their learning community.
Any materials needed in a space should be easily accessible and clearly marked. The labeling of bins, drawers, folders, etc., allows everything to have its place. A label maker or a sharpie and some mailing labels are a teacher’s BFF. Whether students are tasked with tidying a space for the day or for the next group, time is saved when a space that starts organized can easily be returned to its original state.
Any space that is used by many is going to experience some wear and tear. The level of said wear and tear and the time spent maintaining a space can be lessened when clear expectations for usage have been set. While some teachers may think that it’s easier to simply do all the cleanup themselves, this is actually counterproductive. Having students take an active role in cleaning and straightening will likely result in more thoughtful usage of the space. Knowing cleanup is a part of the process when making the mess tends to lessen the mess made.
Time also has to be factored into the maintenance equation. The more students use a space and grow accustomed to keeping it organized, the less overall time will be needed to maintain it. The first few times a space or particular materials are used, teachers will want to be more involved in the cleanup process. A teacher can’t get frustrated with how students are leaving a space if they haven’t taken the time to share their expectations on how it should be left and allowed the time for those restorative expectations to be met. Tacking on cleanup time at the end of an activity or period needs to become a routine part of planning.
Creating the best learning environment possible is a team effort. Part of building a positive classroom community is ensuring that all of its members respect the learning spaces within it. Setting clear expectations for using spaces and involving students in their maintenance are integral parts of the learning process.