This post might be more than you bargained for. It is obviously a personal reflection on learning spaces and classroom redesign. But it definitely dovetails into how we talk about classroom design, and more importantly, how we interact with the teachers leading this important work. (I am going to include a photograph or two from a "Lounge Makeover" we did to ground the rest of this reflection...the pictures will come in handy in a minute.)
Unless you've been living under a stone tablet, you've probably noticed a steady stream of flashy photos involving classroom makeovers in your Twitter or Pinterest feeds. And if you're really paying attention, you might have seen some comments underneath the photos in your favorite social media app. The comments typically come from well-intentioned educators who are asking about important things like purpose, research, and intentionality.
I see these questions as important, but the word choice and underlying assumptions in some of the more critical comments leave something to be desired. The implication seems to be that if an educator posts a picture of a classroom makeover that is "Pinterest Pretty" their process must've been uninformed, shallow, or less than intentional. This has not been my experience, and I'm willing to bet that 99.9% of teachers on the planet put more thought into every single square inch of their classrooms than I have into my entire office.
This got me thinking...
How might we lean into classroom redesign conversations in a manner that celebrates the small steps and incredible strides teachers are taking to create "learner-centered" classrooms? Here are three suggestions to push past the "Pinterest-Pretty" narrative.
1. Start by assuming positive intentions.
I tend to believe that the educators who are redesigning learning spaces are putting a lot of thought into the process. But admittedly, I am biased. I work in a school and have the opportunity to see and hear the conversations and intentionality that teachers dedicate to classroom design on a daily basis. I hear how they're engaging with students and colleagues to collect data on the changes they're making so they can best support the type of pedagogy their students respond best to.
When we created our Lounge Library, it wasn't to make the walls in our staff lounge look "Pinterest Pretty." It was to support the culture of literacy that our team is committed to. It was to improve upon how we were previously sharing professional journals and books. It was to increase learning and conversation about our instructional practices.
2. Avoid using terms that might demean the work.
When I hear the term "Pinterest-Pretty" I start to envision a teacher feeling as if they're expected to justify a photograph or classroom design decision. Call me old-fashioned, but what if we replaced the term "Pinterest Pretty" with a sincere acknowledgment that a design element in a photograph has a positive aesthetic? After that, we could seek to understand more about a professional's process or pedagogy.
When we added the floating shelves and supporting signage in our staff lounge, the last thing on our mind was how the makeover photos would look on social media. Our decisions were driven by a desire to provide teachers a visible and convenient way to access and request books. We also thought that we might be able to save teachers a few bucks by sharing new releases that support our school district's vision.
3. Always lead with the heart of a learner.
Whether you choose to share a small classroom makeover project online or simply enjoy commenting to other educators who are sharing these photos...always lead with learning. Our students notice how we interact with one another in person and online, and they frequently follow our lead. This doesn't mean we should stop asking questions of ourselves and each other; it just means that how we ask the questions is important.
The giant Scrabble tiles below may look nice...especially if you're into Scrabble...but they are intended to be so much more. They represent who we are and who we hope to become. They are aspirational, but they were also plucked right from the hearts of the people who break bread together underneath those words every day. The next time you stumble upon a classroom makeover picture on social media, I hope you understand you could be staring at a classroom or teacher's heart.
Treat it accordingly.