Phase I: Where Everything Becomes Real

After meeting with two of the members from The Third Teacher team for two days in July to discuss everything from space within the classroom to specific assignments for my class and everything in between, I returned to Atlanta after a summer of incredible adventures on Monday, August 6 with a great deal of curiosity and anticipation. My new room would be ready and I was totally open to whatever may have been come from our multiple phone conversations and our virtually nonstop 36-hour marathon meeting in early July. Literally as I was turning into the parking lot, I received a text from a former student asking “Have you seen your room yet? It’s bright!”. As I made my way through the building and up the stairs, I was surprised to find Melanie and Christian in my newly painted room on the floor assembling furniture that had been purchased from Ikea. The walls were in panels of various colors, light blue, a darker royal blue, a florescent almost highlighter green, and a light sea green and there were boxes everywhere. By midday, the tables and chairs were assembled and the room had hosted a meeting with several of the school’s administrators. By the end of the day, innumerable teachers, students, parents, and custodians had ventured into the room, walked it from wall to wall to take it in, sometimes commenting, sometimes not, but always reacting. This thing was creating some BUZZ.

Since then, I have spent the last three days vacillating between absurd idealism regarding the potential of the room and virtual insanity upon considering ALL the vast previously inconceivable formations and activities my classroom could now entertain. Ultimately I have settled into a confident optimism as I have begun to concretely conceptualize what I will do on the first two weeks of school rather than all that I could do. I am enjoying talking people from the Lovett community through the various themes of the room we have conceptualized as a team and exploring my initial intentions of how I hope to “activate” the room with my students.

We have created a threshold which invites students to enter the room and evokes a spirit of both imagination and responsibility. We plan to create a sign above the door with a quote from Kurt Vonnegut which reads “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be”. This will be visible while standing in the hallway and provokes students who may pass by the classroom but never even enter it.

From there, the far wall of the room has two large windows and will act serve as a hearth or fireplace. There is a mantle above a roughly two-foot high bookshelf which lines that wall and the sky blue paint along with the green foliage visible from the second-floor view creates a very light, airy, and calm feeling. The blue column between the two windows has idea paint and will house an iconic golden-trimmed frame which will serve to highlight key points during any given point in a lecture, lesson, or unit. The nine tables in the room can be pushed together to create a Harkness table thus calling into mind the idea of a dining room table, a banquet hall, or a conference room. I have some “props” I can use to further this dining room table motif such as trays or jars which I can use to serve up materials to class that might be relevant to that day’s lesson. Also, the top of the bookshelf, or mantle, can house accents, objects, or even be used as a seat where students could prop themselves up against the narrow wallspace on each end.

From there, the tables can be easily moved into various formations to recreate the environment of a studio or workshop. Here, students can easily work in groups or individually whether it is in a multitude of formations using the desks or by just sitting on the floor. The walls become a more integrated part of the room at this point, with the dark blues and highlight green being more centrally focused and accessible both visually and to write on.

The final third of the room can serve as a staging area where students can perform, present, or meet in small groups. There are two short chairs and a coffee table which recall the ambiance of an office or perhaps a television, and a three-bulb stage light can be turned on the evoke a theatrical element if students are performing or presenting. The light green walls which come to a triangular point also provide a calm or lightly neutral but mildly stimulating backdrop. They can also be written upon.

Finally, the threshold will be crossed again upon exiting the room and we have worked to create a very intentional ritual to exiting the room. Signage reading “Everything you can imagine is real”, a quote from Pablo Picasso, hangs above the door and students will read it every day upon departure. Here is where the secret handshake of adventure, imagination, and story that we are individually and collectively embarking upon becomes reinforced. There is corkboard surrounding both sides of the door which will act as a “refrigerator door” so to speak, and the items pinned to the cork can strategically change from day-to-day, week-to-week, or unit-to-unit.

Most of the walls are covered in idea paint which will allow me and the students to use the wallspace in thorough, innovative, and creative ways. Rather than hang a lot of pictures or posters that I thought were important which is what I have done in the past, this year I have elected to “curate” the room with my students. Since my English classes are interdisciplinary in nature and cover a lot of art over the course of each semester, I will challenge my students with considering what is important enough to go on the walls and encourage them to find images outside the classroom or draw them themselves in order to participate and have some buy-in with the aesthetics and overall environment of the room.

As I begin to concretely consider the various possibilities of how I will use the room over the first few weeks of school, I feel incredibly fortunate and consider myself very lucky to be in this position. I have been encouraged by my school and The Third Teacher team to take risks, to go beyond conventions, to approach teaching from a different point of view, and to include student participation and feedback in almost every single thing I do. This is a great privilege and opportunity to explore boundaries, both physical and psychological, and a week before school starts, I am hopeful that this adventure will produce some exciting, relevant, and transferable insights into how a classroom can act as an environment to facilitate communication and interaction to a greater degree than I would have previously thought possible. My nerves are mostly quelled and I look forward to seeing how the students will respond to what everyone seems to have deemed a very novel and unique classroom setting.

-Bennett

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