I’ll never forget my first classroom. Walking into a first grade class as “the teacher” fresh out of college and wondering, “What am I going to do with these little children?” One of the first things I noticed was how uncomfortable they looked during Reading Workshop. Students were sitting precariously on chairs, knees up against their desks and or fidgeting around hardly focused on the books in front of them.
That night I went to Walmart and bought some bean bags, a few husband pillows and some long body pillows. My goal was to make the room feel more like a dorm room (my point of expertise at the time) and less like a classroom. The next day, Reading Workshop seemed to last forever for those little first graders. They snuggled, got comfortable and were able to focus on their stories that they picked out (more on that topic later).
I struggled for years to get my room to match the type of instruction and learning that was happening inside. It was always about finding a work around. I had asked to have my teacher desk removed when I moved to a new school. The idea of ditching that desk made me giddy with delight. That desk was a thorn in my side for years. When I presented my idea to not put the desk in my room, it was met with disbelief, why would I ever want to get rid of my desk? How would I work? Every room needs to look the same. So I shoved that desk off into a corner and let things collect on it, cleared it off, let children sit at it to work and never really used it as a “teacher desk”. I was over the teacher desk before I was 25. It just didn’t ever work for me or the way I worked in my classroom or the way I wanted my students to be able to work. I was trying to make it look less like a classroom and more like a space for children.
Every year, as I had new groups of students, I found new ways that worked for them to find comfort as they worked. I was always looking for ways to make it feel less like a classroom and more like a home. I was working hard to build a little community of learners who respected, card and loved each other. The best I could do for them was make their physical environment match that idea. I created, as many comfy nooks in the room, even small “cave” like areas for children to crawl into and work. I remember one of my second graders struggled to write one full sentence. He tried standing up, working at the counter, my big teacher desk, but nothing seemed to work. After a short conversation about where he thought he could work well, he asked to crawl under a little desk I had set up for the bathroom sign out. It had a pretty blue and peach tablecloth draped over it. It was small. It seemed claustrophobic to me! But I thought, give it a shot! That little second grader emerged with sentences! Beautiful, wordy, long sentences! It was a new day and that was the new spot for focused writing. That little second grader would grab a clipboard and dive under that desk for Writing Workshop and create stories that had voice and description. All because of the workspace!
When I first moved to a computer lab, I went to my principal and laid out a plan to create a more Starbucks-ish, Third Space room for students to work. My idea was shot down because there was no money in the budget to create it. OK, so I tried to work around it and make the computer lab look less like a computer lab and more like a interactive, collaborative workspace. I struggled with the rows of tables and giant desktop computers. The amazing IT at my school assisted me in moving tables and wires till I could at least get a few tables moved around to create a more interactive setting for students so they could talk across the table and with people around them. The day I found out I was getting laptops, those huge tables were out the door and I found some small trapezoid tables that we could move around and reconfigure in various ways to match the work we were doing.
Progress was made, but my dream was still not quite fulfilled. I really wanted a space that gave even more flexibility to match the tools we use and the work we do together. Over the course of a few years, I have collected some chairs, a sofa and a sectional. Tables have moved been moved aside to make room for rugs, pillows, and a scoop chair. I love that my students can come in and relax, share, talk and learn in a peaceful environment. We can move everything out of the way and have a large space to program robots and create catapults to shoot characters across the room.
Now I finally feel like my students have a place to work that fits what they are doing. It’s not finished but I love where we are and I think they do too!