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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Building a Creative Classroom Environment

By Peter DeWitt — August 28, 2011 2 min read
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You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” Christopher Robin

As our new school year approaches, I inspect the building to make sure everything looks fresh and clean for our students and teachers. My custodians, Maggie, Mary and Garry, work hard during the summer cleaning, painting walls, stripping the floors, waxing the floors, and working on countless other jobs. A school right before the school year begins is a very exciting place.

This summer, many teachers spent countless hours (on their own time I may add) to get their classrooms ready for the new crop of students they have coming. Many spent their own money to buy brand new nameplates with numbers and the alphabet, bulletin board cut outs, and they worked like interior designers to configure desks to accommodate cooperative learning. The last week of the summer is always spent putting finishing touches on their classrooms. Teachers work hard to find creative ways to welcome students and parents.

I used to teach in a small city school and my classroom was known as the smallest room in the building. However, although small it was mighty! It was on the second floor overlooking the tiny playground without much equipment, and one large Oak Tree. For me, tree can be a source of inspiration. Perhaps it’s that they are a sign of life.

At the time I was teaching in the small little, tiny, minuscule room (you get my drift) I always read the Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne to my students. I asked my principal if I could paint a large tree and tree house on the back wall, which was just a plain shade of white. Fortunately, he agreed and I took it a step further by writing quotations on the walls and I hung pieces of rope on the lights that hung above our tables; that was of course until the fire inspector told me I had to take them down.

The classroom, once white and boring, was transformed into a creative learning space. When I became an elementary school principal in my present district, I was excited to see that my teachers have creative classrooms that spark the imagination, but they take it a step further. Below are some of the ways they decorate to fascinate.

How We Create Creative Spaces for our Students

Some teachers have ball chairs instead of regular chairs. It's a privilege, not a right and students have to earn it. Members of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) Lighting Research Center came in and did a lighting study and gave us insight into how we can lessen the anxiety our students feel when they come to school. If you have local colleges and universities, partner with them. We have theatre gels in our lighting units, which are blue, yellow, green and a soft red. They colorfully block the fluorescent lights and make the classroom lighting softer. Teachers have lamps and use soft lighting which makes the classroom more intimate. We use turn off half the lights in the classroom and office and use half-lighting. Natural lighting through the windows is much more student-friendly. We hang up lots of student work in the classroom and hallway. There is nothing better than seeing student work in the halls. We play soft classical music in the classrooms and office. It is soothing for children and adults. If you have the ability (and ask permission of course) write some poetry or funny quotations on the walls of your classroom. Some of my teachers have written great quotations, like the one I used at the beginning of this blog.

Schools should be a place that students want to run in to, not out of every day and most teachers and administrators do a fantastic job of providing that type of environment. Whether a child is a struggling learner, average student, or a gifted student, schools should be a place that exposes students to the magic of education.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.