Welcome to room 313!
One of the best compliments I’ve ever received is a student telling me that my classroom felt like home. A colleague was running a workshop with my students, and they had to fill out these little color coded cards: light orange for important people in their lives, dark orange for important goals for themselves, green for important memories, and a peachy shade for important places. As I walk happily gallery-walking around the space to check out their lists, I halted when I saw this particular line of squares:
“My room?” I questioned, blinking uncomfortably fast to keep from showing that I was tearing up. “Yeah,” the student replied. Another student called, “It’s on my list too!”
The fact that a classroom can make a list of important places is important to me. Over the last ten years, I’ve become increasingly interested in classroom space and how a classroom’s look and feel contributes to students’ socio-emotional health and academic success. I grew up with the inspiration of my mum’s amazingly decorated third grade classroom. I know how I felt special and excited to learn in her room, and I wanted my own students to feel the same way. But yet, when I Googled or Pinterested (is that a verb yet?) “classroom decor,” 97.8% of the examples came from elementary and middle school spaces.
High schoolers deserve non-sterile and creative spaces to learn just as much as they still deserve scratch and sniff stickers (although the other week I accidentally gave them stickers that smelled like dirt, and I had to beg them to believe that I didn’t think their work was dirt).
And so I improvised and modified. At first, I decorated with mostly things that I loved. I put up pictures of my favorite books. I decorated entire walls with zombie memorabilia (did you know I have an obsession with zombies?). I hung postcards of my favorite places that I’ve traveled.
But you know what I realized? The classroom isn’t about me. In fact, I should switch the pronoun from “my classroom” to “our classroom.” If I want to support the multiple identities of my students, I need to make sure that the objects in my classroom reflect that value. And so, I started putting up things my students liked, as well as their work. I hung up gifts that they gave me. I handmade mailboxes so that each student could have a space to hold their journals and important papers. I now change my classroom each year with each new group of students, and it also changes throughout the year as we evolve throughout the year.
It’s made all of the difference. It used to be that after the bell rang at 3:04, my room would whoosh into silence after being filled with so much student chatter. But now, the voices and laughter can be found until I put on my coat, sometimes at 5:30 at night, while I exclaim, “I love you, but I really do have to go now!”