We’re In This Together: Student Ownership in Classroom Spaces
I love visiting classrooms at the start of the school year. Everything is fresh and waiting and smells like crayons. *inhales deeply* (Doesn’t everyone love that smell?).
Planning the physical space in a classroom at the beginning of the year has always made my organizational heart sing. Once I swallowed the deep-seated bitterness I felt every time I thought about spending my own money, I skipped joyfully down the aisles of Staples, Michaels and…Target. Oh, how I love Target during back to school season! The baskets, the labels, the Flair pens…I have to stop or I might pass out.
But here’s the thing. As I grew into being a more skilled teacher, I recognized the need to create an organized space that was more than simply gorgeous. The jaw-dropping beauty of my bulletin board aside, I worked to create a space that promoted student independence and a sense of ownership.
I went on Instagram the other day to look at classroom set up pictures. Because, well, social media is a rabbit hole we all fall down sometimes; don’t judge me. As the images filled my screen, I may have gasped an audible, “What the f*$#%?” Again, don’t judge me. These pictures a) made me feel bad about myself and b) seem to indicate that the ultimate goal seems to be to create beautiful spaces that are complete without students. Signs, written in this impossible-to-recreate font, demand that students “Dream Big!,” “Take Risks,” “Embrace Challenges,” and “Be Kind, Rewind!” Fine. I may have made up that last one, but still. Why so bossy? I get that we want to push students to have a growth mindset, to be kind to one another and blah blah blah, but why do we, the teachers, get to do all the deciding and goal setting? What do the kids want their classroom to feel like? What are attitudes and mindsets that are important to them? How might they represent these goals in the classroom? Basically, the classrooms I saw on Instagram were gorgeous. I mean, kudos to you #teachersofinstagram, but I am curious if all those inspirational quotes and picture perfect charts quickly become wall paper?As in they are more decoration and less inspiration.
Might I share a different source of inspiration? As many of you know, my Minis recently went back to school. You possibly heard my sobbing from your house, but that’s another story. I put on my big girl panties and some fresh mascara and went to Back To School night. Mini Me’s classroom was simple. Organized. Quirky yet adorable fonts did not scream out to me as soon as I walked into the room. You know what did scream out to me? Examples of student ownership. Charts, made and inspired by students, hung everywhere. An example: Evidently, one of Mini Me’s classmates grew excited when the teacher brought up the idea of idioms. Instead of moving on, their teachers seized the moment and asked this little friend to create a chart to share his knowledge of idioms as well as allow the entire class to chime in. The result? Everyone is jazzed about idioms, the author of the chart feels like a rock star and poof! The classroom becomes a space where everyone is learning from and with one another.
I know this is a small example but I think it speaks of big things to come in this classroom. Not that I’m watching. Or judging.
How do you inspire your students and help them take ownership of the classroom?