March 2020 by Kathleen Brunelle
Creating your Classroom
On a very busy Monday morning several weeks ago, I hurried into my classroom and began filling out my board agenda for the day. Normally I complete this task ahead of time, but such was not the case on this particular morning and so I fumbled for a green dry erase marker while I tried to think: What block is my first class? Does my objective line up for the day? Where did this class leave off? Does this assignment date work? In between student questions, morning announcements, and homeroom attendance, I raced through my objectives and agendas for all three of my separate classes that day.
When I was done, though, I looked up at the snowflake sketch and frowned. My Type A tendency kicked into high gear. It was February 3rd — a new month. I decided to change the snowflake to a heart. I had to. I imagined what my seven-year-old daughter would say: You don’t HAVE to do anything. Are you going to die if you don’t change the snowflake? Would I die if I didn’t change the snowflake graphic? No. Does it snow in February, too? Sometimes. Yet I felt compelled to erase the snowflake and draw a heart — and not just any heart. Oh, no. A multilayered heart with pinks and reds and a purple outline. I told myself, even as I was standing on a student chair and sketching the outline, that I was crazy. I didn’t have time for such nonsense. I teach high school. Who cares if I draw a heart on the board? Well, apparently, my students.
As I hurriedly pulled my projector cart into the center of the room to begin my first lesson, I glanced at the opposite board for the first time. Something was different. I stopped and stared. Someone — with amazing handwriting — had left a message on my board. Who could have possibly used my classroom over the weekend, I wondered. And then I read the message:
Kate’s message could not have come at a better time. I was feeling so rushed and exasperated that morning, and her note made me stop to remember my role. I strive to make a difference in my student’s lives, even though most of the time I fear that I probably just annoy them. And though drawing a heart on the whiteboard might seem inconsequential, it’s not. I firmly believe that the atmosphere we set for our students either helps or hinders their learning. There are many ways to decorate your classroom for success, and paying attention to your white board is the first step.
As an English teacher, I draw and paint symbolism and scenes from the books we study to help students visualize the deeper levels of a text. Use your whiteboard. If you can’t draw, ask an artistic student to draw for you. Give them extra credit or community service. Let them paint on your classroom walls (if the school allows). Immerse your students in scenes of what they are about to study. They look, believe me. They ask questions. They make connections. Surrounded by the symbols and stories that define a subject, students become a part of what they are learning on a small but significant scale.
You can buy professional art, and I use some professional art throughout the room, but students really love to see the work of their teachers and/or their peers. Put it up wherever you can. Make it large. Make it colorful. Make it meaningful.
Kate has long since graduated and teaches a class of her own. As part of her class, she treats her fourth graders to amazing whiteboard art and shares it all on her instagram: @fourthgradeinroom210.
Take a look at your own white board. Ask yourself how you can use creativity to expand the reach of this important visual learning tool and change the vibe in your classroom.