Innovative Learning Spaces that Spark Joy and Learning
What if all teachers applied the KonMari Method to their learning spaces?
I, along with millions of other viewers, have been fascinated with Marie Kondo and her KonMari Method of tidiness. I have watched each show on Netflix and marveled at how by the end, people have changed their mindsets about their “stuff”. I even wondered if I could become the Marie Kondo of classroom tidying as my next career move. Here is a clip of Marie Kondo and her KonMari Method for those of you who have not experienced her “joyful” tidying.
Now you might be wondering what this has to do with innovation. School environments have often been neglected. There are classrooms that look exactly as they looked thirty years ago. There are classrooms that could be filmed for the TV show
Hoarders. We also have many Pinterest classrooms. The theme and design is evident and they look beautiful. But have we stopped and thought about what our students need in their learning environments?
A Moment of Truth
A few years ago I was teaching third grade and one of our special education teachers walked into my classroom and said, “Your room is decorated beautifully but it gives my students visual overload. My students can’t do their best learning in this room.” Her words changed me and challenged me. I also started reading about what a classroom should look like and how to have a balance between needed education materials and “stuff”. And so it began….
The KonMari Method
I had not heard of Marie Kondo when we did the tidying of our classroom. My third graders and I sat down at a classroom meeting and talked about what our classroom could look like. We talked about what we needed to be a community and to do our best learning. We brainstormed what was on the walls, what organization looked like, what seating was helpful and what spaces we needed. One of my students asked why they had to sit so much during the day? He even had a newspaper clipping with research about the learning effect of sitting versus standing. Together we designed our perfect classroom. I then wrote a grant and was given the money to redesign our room, use the 4 Cs within the curriculum, and deploy 1:1 Chromebooks with my students.
First of all, I moved everything — and I mean everything — except desks, chairs and curriculum, to a storage unit. When I realized that our classroom was over 50% my “stuff” I resolved to make it less than 10% my “stuff” and that almost every space would be available to my students. My desk went away. Changing where I worked to a learning table made that space a desirable place for my students to also work. The SmartBoard was replaced with two large screens to which we could cast our Chromebooks or my desktop. Suddenly, all my students had a voice instead of just the ones I called on. We did make purposeful choices about what came back into our room. The end result was a classroom that was organized, flexible, purposeful and student driven. It also was much less cluttered. My students decided where they would sit or stand. They had ownership and worked diligently to keep our space organized. They suggested changes and additions.
In the midst of all this change in classroom design, choices and technology use, learning happened in exciting ways. I changed my teaching practice from being “a sage on the stage” to a facilitator of learning. We didn’t have a front of the room. Whoever was talking was the teacher. We practiced the 4 Cs and we learned together. We became a true community. We learned that in order to grow, we make mistakes. Failure was OK because it was the first attempt at learning.
At the end of the year as we reflected on our process and our progress, my students spoke about how much they loved being decision makers, collaborators, and having choices. My students took on the challenge to be critical thinkers. One student in particular had a growth mindset and she tackled this challenge head on and by the end of the year she asked to take home the Critical Thinking Anchor Chart hanging in our room. She is now in seventh grade and when I saw her recently she was so excited to tell me that it is still hanging in her room.
On the Netflix show, when Marie leaves the home that now sparks joy, people’s lives are changed. It isn’t just the end result of an organized space but the process of deciding what stays and what goes. So is it in our classroom learning spaces. My students and I were changed forever. Was it the perfect learning situation? Was I the best teacher I could be? No. I made many mistakes but I learned so much that year. I learned that if I didn’t stay a life long learner my students would leave me behind. It was a humbling experience.
Today I am an Innovation Coach at four elementary schools and Early Childhood. I look back at that year of teaching third grade and I wonder what it would have been if I’d known about the KonMari Method. What if I’d known about Design Thinking? What if I had better understood student agency? What I do know is that our students are worth our changing mindset about classroom spaces, design and learning. They deserve to make choices about their learning and to be engaged in the process.
Marie Kondo would have us look at our classrooms and ask ourselves, “does it bring us joy?” If the answer is no, you may want to say, “ thank you” to the “stuff” and let it go. You may want to say, “ thank you” to rows and change to collaborative spaces. You may want to say, “ thank you” to hard chairs and welcome to flexible seating. Most importantly, you may want to say, “thank you” to the way you’ve taught and embrace a new way of teaching.
We would like to know your thoughts on the changing role of a teacher and student agency. How has this changed your teaching practice? We would love to see pictures of your classroom or your design ideas. If you are a parent of a student, what brings them joy in a classroom? Here is a Google Form to add your information, pictures, and ideas. I will share this information out with anyone who completes the Form.