I don’t know about all of you, but I love to decorate! Whether it is decorating for my home, a birthday party, or just plain ole window shopping for decorations, I’m in. When I was a classroom teacher, I would begin my decorating process months before I stepped foot into the classroom. I would spend hours scouring stores for the best classroom finds, digging in dollar bins, wiping out the clearance section of Holcomb’s teacher store, and mapping out my classroom on paper. I eagerly anticipated that first day of school so I could unveil the design and capture reactions from the students. The whole ordeal was a costly adventure and most items were unusable for the following year’s design. Yet, I looked forward to this joy every year.
However, I will never forget the day that I started a new job at a new school. This was truly a turning point for my educational career. I would be team teaching for the first time and joining a school community that was vastly different from my previous places of employment. Sharing a classroom required deep commitment and joint decision making. During the first week of meeting my new colleague, I remember being so excited to share my materials and décor and put together an amazing classroom theme. I brought in two large plastic tubs of classroom goods, and we started sorting through the materials together. After removing 10-15 pieces, I remember my colleague saying, “We might be able to use this.” It was at that moment that I understood that she might not like any of the belongings I brought to the table. I remember feeling an immediate sense of uncertainty about team teaching and whether or not my new school was the right fit. Before coming to my new school I had confidence as an educator, but this feeling of defeat quickly humbled and motivated me to learn more.
Fast forward a few months into the first year. I swallowed my pride and only utilized a few of the selected pieces from my bin to dress up our classroom. Although I was unsatisfied with my stand down attitude, I was open to learning more about why my materials were not up to par with my new teaching environment. I quickly learned that it was not preference of my co-teacher to reject the commercialized paper products that I brought to the table. Rather, the school as a whole had a different approach to décor. In fact, most classrooms were white and uncovered during the first weeks of school. Most educators grimace at the sight of white walls in their classrooms. The initial notion of white walls is usually marked with the connotation of a doctor’s office, a prison, or an uninhabited space. But, in the field of interior design, white is the most commonly used achromatic color in design spaces. White walls reflect light, usually make a space feel larger, and put attention to the pieces that reside in the space.
I finally started to understand the reason that white walls were popular and why the teachers in this building did not welcome new students with a fully decorated and polished room. The school’s intention was to build the environment with the students so that students had ownership of their space. Interesting concept, right? It finally made sense to me and sparked further interest into learning about classroom environments. I learned so much from my colleague that year and deeply thank her for the wisdom she provided into the world of learning spaces. Although my present-day conviction does not solely lineup with the “build with the students’ theory,” I do believe it was better than my previous approach to décor and it peaked my interest to study classroom environments in more depth.
We often hear the saying, "a book should not be judged by its cover," but in reality most people do judge a book by the cover. It might not be the art on the book sleeve, but usually the cover is part of the reason for selection-whether that be the book synopsis, the reviews, or the graphic and visual appeal. Book sleeves and classroom walls do matter. They are not the sole factor in what makes a book or classroom great, but visually setting the stage can matter a great deal to what happens next. It is one piece of the puzzle, but an important one indeed.
P.S. The colleague mentioned in this article was an outstanding educator and mentor. I am forever thankful for her wisdom and motivation.