At one point last year, during a meeting of my school’s leadership team, referred to as a Curriculum Area Leader meeting, I said “Sign me up.” This is the kind of statement I have been known to make when somebody throws out a wild idea that fits my educational philosophy. Implicitly, I attempt to express support for an idea in this manner. Explicitly, I agree to take part. Which is why I now teach in a classroom twice the size of any other at my school, and why that classroom has no doors, separated from our giant hallways, known as coreways, by a partial wall of glass.
This has positives:
- Amazing space for flexible furniture arrangements, including a couch and a tall round table with stools
- An open classroom fits my philosophy and approach – come on in! We’re a community.
- Classrooms are awkwardly small in our building, which was built to encourage breaking out of classrooms into the gigantic hallways. We get the best of both worlds with the new room.
- Lots of light!
- We now have a water fountain in my room, which is great. Hydration is life.
- We get to play with a new generation Smartboard projector. After three years of trying, I get a regular whiteboard to use! Wahoo!
- The downside is that I keep tapping the whiteboard with my finger when the beamer is on. The pen is an awkward tool thus far.
Drawbacks also exist:
- The classroom can become suddenly swamped by noise. For some reason today, the PE teachers were rocking out to AC/DC and the door from the gym to our floor was open. Loud. Two teachers choose to communicate between stairwells – loud. Giggles – loud.
- Somebody overheard me talking about 50 Shades of Grey in AP Literature, which led to some light teasing. I was making a profound point about genre… 🙂
- It is now totally impossible to do any high quality recording in our classroom for digital journalism purposes. The ambient noise is too unpredictable.
The coolest thing about this classroom is that it is a leap toward a more open school. I am always surprised by the reticence of some colleagues to have others enter their classrooms; I understand concerns about interruptions, but have never found this to be an actual problem. My guess is that my classes will grow more and more comfortable with class that isn’t behind walls, less likely to be disturbed by people wandering in and out, and immune to the ambient noises. We’ll see.
The coolest thing that happened today, tangentially related to the classroom layout, was that a student asked to sometimes drop by the new Digital Journalism 2 course for help with her writing. We discussed how she could choose to write for some editions of the student newspaper, stopping into the class (which coincides with a free period for most 11th and 12th graders) whenever she wanted feedback from a peer or from me. She was stoked enough by the idea to join in for class today and get a preview of our Basecamp setup for managing the paper. The open classroom sets a tone, reinforced by students opting into some sessions of the course during their free periods. I can’t help but think this sends a cool message to the kids who are enrolled – others want to be here, too!
Certainly, this is a bit of an experiment at school, and I’m honored to be leading the charge. Another colleague teaches two courses in the space, while I teach a full load of five courses there. I will regularly reflect on our experiences as they accumulate.