Two years ago I stepped out of my comfort zone and applied for a new position in our district called Teacher Leader. The position had been around for a year and I had an idea of what was involved, but as with most things you never really understand something until you live it yourself. To my delight, the job is a perfect fit for me. A wonderful mixture of teaching half time and mentoring/coaching/supporting my fellow teachers the other half. I therefore have both a classroom and an office space, both of which are shared with a fellow Teacher Leader who works opposite of me–when she teaches, I am in the office and out in other classrooms. When I teach, she’s the one in the office and around campus. Sharing a space can pose some challenges, especially if one party lives by neatly-labeled file folders and the other prefers precarious piles of papers. Thankfully, we both share a penchant for cleanliness and organization–though her list-making and organizational abilities top mine–allowing us to focus entirely on our work with students and teachers without the nagging discomfort of an office/classroom mate who leaves things in shambles.
And that’s huge. Like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, my workplace Hierarchy of Needs must include a calm, clean space in order for me to feel productive and sane. This also drives my philosophy on how to make a classroom (or office) feel like home to all those who come to visit. A friend of mine recently said to me, “teachers are as much concerned with decorating their homes as they are their classrooms.” I find that so true. Taking the time to create a comfortable atmosphere could mean the difference between connection and separation between me and the students and colleagues I serve. I’m not willing to chance it.
In my classroom, students feel comfortable. Blinds pulled all the way up leave the wall of windows open to beautiful, natural light streaming in–a nice buffer to the harsh fluorescents shining from above. I begin each class period with a simple “Hello, how are you all today?” in an effort to set them at ease, to welcome them to my home, their home for the next 83 minutes.
In my office, a basket of snacks is always on hand to offer to a student or colleague who has come to talk–hoping that the simple gesture will encourage them to stay a while allowing me time to get to know them. This is how I work. Building relationships first.
In my classroom, collaboration happens. Desks are arranged in pods of four, encouraging discussion. Socratic Seminars invite thought-provoking viewpoints asserted from all sides of an angle. This is how we grow to understand each other.
In my office, banners and diplomas from both my and my office-mates’s colleges hang on the walls, with the hope that they might bring about conversation or even inspiration to the students who stop by.
In my classroom, former students come to visit. They talk to the current students about what to expect in college, and how high school does prepare you for the next step–if you’ll just pay attention. They visit to connect again with me, to delight me with stories of their successes, and to touch my heart with kind words of gratitude.
In my office, I read. I read to learn and think and grow. I read about programs and initiatives that have worked with other Teacher Leaders and I think about how I could make the same ideas work for me.
In my classroom, we read. We read to learn and think and grow. We investigate patterns in text and attempt to get into the mind of the writer. We think about the effect of those words, and of our own words. Through much discussion, we come to understand that words have power.
In my office, we have difficult discussions with students and colleagues, carefully peppered with hope and support. Just as often we celebrate successes and victories big and small. When a novice teacher has success with a new behavioral management plan, we applaud their innovation. When a student comes by to announce they did well on the ACT, we say bravo!
The arrangement of the physical space of both the classroom and the office impact the distance that can be travelled between two people. A clean, carefully arranged space with inviting decor and lighting are the first step in making connections. Setting a person at ease–whether it be a student or a colleague–helps us begin right away with the important work of relationship-building. Without that, my work cannot reach its full potential. My classroom and my office are my foundation.