Auditing Your Classroom Environment: What Does Your Space Reveal About Your Values?

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classroomWhat we believe about children and teaching and learning is made visible in the way we design our classrooms. Instruction isn’t the only way we influence learning. The choices we make about classroom environment reveal much about the difference we’re trying to make for kids.

Have you ever audited your space and considered how your design choices align to your beliefs, your values, and your vision? Consider using this protocol.

Audit Your Classroom Environment with the Define, Notice, Align Protocol

1. Define: Before you begin, take some time to articulate the vision of the teacher you hope to be and the learners you hope to shape. What are your values? What do you believe in? Who do you want your students to become, as a result of your relationship with them? Craft a vision statement that makes these answers transparent.

2. Notice: Grab a camera, and give yourself a bit of time to work when the room is empty. Begin with a wide lens, taking a photo of each wall of your classroom and the way the floorspace is divided and filled. Then, zoom in a bit: shoot the contents of your bookshelves, bulletin boards, centers, and any other space that has been defined with clear intention. After you’ve captured images of your empty classroom, be sure to take some photos of your students at work within the space as well.

3. Align: Once you’ve finished shooting your data, create a display of your photos. Then, use the questions below to think about how classroom environment you’ve created reflects your vision. Pinpoint where improvements could be made as well.

Improving Your Classroom Environment: Seven Considerations

1. Purpose. As you review each photo, ask yourself what the purpose of that particular space is. Capture your response on a sticky note, and attach it to the photo. Then, compare the information on the sticky notes to the vision statement you created. Are learners using your space in ways that align to your vision? How do you know? If they aren’t, what improvements could be made?

2. Usefulness: Once you are clear about the purpose of each space, take a closer look at each photo to determine how useful the space is. How will it help learners achieve your greater purpose? What could you change to increase the potential for this?

3. Accessibility: Ask yourself who is able to access and engage in each space and how often. How accessible is the space to those who might benefit most from it? What adjustments might be needed?

4. Functionality: Are the spaces you create malleable? Can they change shape in response to needs that emerge during learning? Do they? Why or why not?

5. Engagement: How does the space engage learners, and to what degree? Does this align with your vision?

6. Fluidity: How does the learning and the work of one space support the learning and the work that happens in others? Are learners able to move between spaces fluidly? If not, why not? How can you attend to this?

7. Ownership: Which spaces are owned and shaped by the learners? Which ones are owned and shaped by the teachers? What does this observation reveal about your values and your beliefs? Do your answers align with your vision?

The Define, Notice Align protocol came in handy when I left my public school classroom and began dreaming of launching a writing community for kids and teachers. I’m very thoughtful about the environment we create at the WNY Young Writer’s Studio and the influence it has on our learning and work.

It’s slowly evolved into something of a maker space for writers. This happened as we moved through a three layered design process that was responsive to the changing habits and needs of our members. Their feedback was significant.

How can you seek students’ input as you audit your classroom environment?

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A former English teacher, Angela Stockman is the founder of the WNY Young Writer's Studio, a community of writers and teachers of writing in Buffalo, New York. She is also an education consultant with expertise in curriculum design, instructional coaching, and assessment. Read more from Angela at Angelastockman.com.
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