Saturday, April 15, 2017

OUR Classroom

When I first started teaching I used the words MY in the classroom. 
I was concerned where MY desk would go, about the use of MY time, and about MY classroom set up.

At the time I never thought that the classroom was a collaborative effort that the students could take part in.

As I’ve listened to Jon Harper’s, My Bad Program on Bam! Radio Network I realized that I had a major mistake my first years of teaching: The belief that it was all about me.  

In the past I would be embarrassed to state this, but I have learned it is through great mistakes that we can become the people we’ve always wanted to be. It is in sharing this mistake that I am kept accountable. I have always and will always be on a journey of growth.  It is in the journey and not the destination that I have found joy.

The past two years I have become overwhelmed by the feeling that it is not about me, but about the needs of my students. My new mantra has become OUR Classroom. I use the word OUR instead of THEIR because I am a part of our class family too, but I am only one piece.

Two years ago my school became a Project Based Learning model for our county. Teachers around the county visit Mulberry Elementary, to see what PBL looks and sounds like. I attended The Buck Institute when we started PBL to learn how to implement this into the classroom. Learning about PBL naturally helped me find interest in flexible seating.

This is where my mind and heart really began to change.

The past two years I have noticed that I have become uncomfortable to make sure my students are comfortable. One question I continue to ask myself is, “How can I make OUR classroom a place where students have ownership?” Ownership in their learning, in their behavior, and in class responsibilities.

Through the mantra OUR Classroom, I reflected on how I could take the backseat and allow my students to have ownership of the entire room.

The set up in my classroom this year is flexible seating, but with a twist. The entire classroom is theirs to use. This includes the cabinets, the shelving, the filing cabinets, and the learning spaces. I have no desk in the classroom, but at the end of the day when the students have left I do choose a learning space to finish any work.

My students help set up the classroom. Each 9 weeks or whenever needed the students rethink the room. We decide what needs to be moved, what needs to be added, what needs to be taken out, and where everything is placed. My friend Blair Smith @mrsmiths56class taught me that students can be a part of these decisions. I have realized it is the students who need to make the learning environment. This helps them feel empowered, which helps them take ownership in all that they do.

After reading the book, The Gift of Failure by Jessica Lahey @jesslahey I also discovered my students need to own the responsibilities of the classroom. I used to spend 20 minutes after school preparing the classroom for the next day, now the students have that responsibility. The students clean up the room, write the board information, make any updates, set up the sections, and make the room a second home. Every student picks and owns a section of the room for 2 weeks. At the end of the day we play fun music and clean our sections together. I say together because I also have a section. This helps my students see I am also taking responsibility for our room.

The students have loved this new change. They are truly owning the classroom. Throughout the day I now find students checking their sections. I even had one child this week let two students know that this was his section. He asked them to please make sure they cleaned up after themselves before they left. My students love their classmates and always go out of their way to take care of each other. After hearing this child say this, those students made sure they cleaned up!

As I end my 12th year teaching I use the words OUR in the classroom.  I think about OUR responsibilities, OUR activities, and OUR classroom set up. Again I use the word OUR instead of THEIR because the educator is not out of the picture in the classroom instead it is a collaborative effort we participate in together.

It is an honor to be a part of OUR classroom each day. As I have gradually released the many responsibilities I had, I have found that my students are more confident and responsible.

I hear many educators discuss the idea of student ownership. In order for ownership to happen in the classroom, we as educators have to change our mindset from MY to OUR. In this thinking our classrooms can become a place where students truly become leaders who own their actions and their learning.

As I continue to teach I will continue to question how I can make OUR classroom a better fit for my students. I cannot wait for this journey to continue.

And if you are reading this right now, I personally want to thank you. You have pushed me to be better and helped me grow my students. And for that…I am grateful. Thank you!


  1. It's crazy because I am working on the same concept for my (excuse me) "our" room now too :) I implemented what I thought was flexible seating earlier this year with the hopes that students would pick where they sat based on what they learned. They didn't and I realized that I was still running the learning and telling them what to do and when-how could they take that kind of ownership if I still saw the learning as mine to control? I too am continuing to learn and have plans for how to make OUR classroom a place of mutual learning for my students as well as myself

  2. Bret I am continuing on the journey every day. I am so glad I am not alone and have PLN like you to keep reminding me to continue to try again. Thank you!

  3. Great reflection! We grow each year as a teacher if we are willing to learn from our mistakes and put the students first.

  4. Love your inspiration Alana. This is a powerful post! #imaginED!

  5. Thank you very much Beth. I am finding that reflection is key!

  6. Gillian thank you very much. You always inspire!