By Jessica Craig and Kirsten Sola
Coming from a family of educators, Jessica taught in Illinois before moving to her current district in Colorado, where she developed a passion for personalized learning and flexible spaces. She now works as a Strategist in the Curriculum, Instruction, and Professional Growth Department, supporting teachers in implementing innovative practices through coaching and professional development.
Kirsten has 14 years of classroom experience, including 9 years of teaching Gifted & Talented students. While teaching Gifted & Talented, Kirsten saw the importance of voice and choice in the classroom, which sparked her passion for personalized learning. Kirsten now works in Curriculum, Instruction, and Professional Growth as a strategist, and loves supporting teachers in their journeys toward personalized learning and future-forward instructional practices.
Our team, the Curriculum, Instruction, and Professional Growth department in Douglas County School District in Colorado, works closely with schools to provide teachers with various types of professional growth opportunities in all areas, including personalized learning.
Teachers often consult with our team about implementing flexible seating, creating student-centered classrooms, and re-imagining physical learning environments. We know that flexible seating can be an entry point to personalized learning, and we’re always eager to help teachers get started. Thus, after discussing this as a team, one of our biggest projects of the year was born: #DCSDRmDesign, a flexible seating classroom makeover contest for our very deserving DCSD staff.
Taking it to Twitter
In April, our team helped us launch a Twitter contest. We asked teachers to tweet about the positive impacts of flexible seating and describe why their students deserved a classroom makeover.
The responses came pouring in and we noted how each response considered:
- student voice and choice in the learning process
- the impacts of movement on learning
- emphasis on collaborative spaces for students, and
- the need for an instructional shift to a more student-centered environment and teaching process.
Eventually, all qualifying responses were put into a drawing, and five teachers were named winners.
That’s when the real work started.
We met with each teacher individually to learn about their instructional style, student needs, and hopes and dreams for their classroom space. We took them to other schools to look at flexible seating ideas and options. We crafted a personalized classroom plan for each teacher, including furniture to move in, furniture to move out, furniture to be purchased, and overall design including colors, lighting, layout, and purposeful spaces. We collaborated with principals, the district warehouse, the building engineers, and our teammates to finalize our plans.
Getting to Work
In July, our entire team headed to work in the classrooms. The teachers worked alongside us, painting, assembling, rearranging, and discarding. It was a lot of work, but the teachers were thrilled with the results and excited for the new learning environments their students would get to experience. Many of them stayed late into the night after we left or came in on the weekend to further settle into and soak up their new space.
They considered the learning opportunities that would arise from each area of their new classroom: students creating prototypes in the new makerspace, communicating their thoughts and learning via the visible thinking walls, independently researching and synthesizing thoughts and information in the library, and collaborating on a project in one of the many group spaces.
Why Flexible Classroom Spaces?
Flexible classroom spaces create a cognitive shift in which teachers begin to see that as a space can be transformed to better meet the needs of students, so can instruction. In switching to flexible seating, there is no longer a frontal focus in the classroom. It no longer makes sense for all students to do the same work, at the same time, in the same way; instead, flexible seating opens up new ways of looking at teaching and learning.
The new environment encourages and requires the teacher to adapt and make use of the new space, dropping the lecture and instead brainstorming with students at the Genius Bar, consulting with students in a collaborative space, sharing data and goal setting with individual students at a small table, encouraging students to problem-solve an issue with their prototype in the makerspace, and more. This is where the true power of the classroom makeovers is taking shape.
Throughout the school year, our team will support the teachers as needed to ensure the space is meeting their instructional and student needs. In the meantime, we will be furiously seeking out ways to fund more of these projects and spread more inspiration throughout the district, knowing the drastic impact it can have on shifting instruction and generating student-centered learning experiences.
Are you looking to make a physical change in your classroom in order to support instructional change?
Some considerations to get you off on the right foot:
- How might taking away the teacher-centered front of the classroom impact your instruction?
- What changes will make the space more student-centered?
- What spaces might I need to support various types of activities?
- What will be the impact on classroom management?
- What might I need to consider in order to meet the needs of different types of learners?
- How will I “roll out” flexible seating to students who may have never experienced it before?
- How can the new space encourage mindfulness and movement in the classroom?
To see more photos of the classroom makeovers and follow the rest of Jessica and Kirsten’s projects in personalized learning, follow them on Instagram @athomeintheclassroom or on their blog at www.athomeintheclassroom.com.
To learn more about the great work happening in Douglas County School District, visit the DCSD website.