For Our Kids
Environment, Environment, Environment
June 27th, 2011

I have been reading Debbie Miller's book, Teaching with Intention, to give me fresh ideas for the upcoming school year. Summer is the time when I reflect on my practice, recharge, and rethink what works and what needs improvement. I am currently obsessed with creating a new (physical) classroom environment worthy of the renovations that just took place this summer. I CAN'T WAIT to get back into my classroom (hopefully I'll be cleared to go in this week), unpack those 97 boxes I stuffed and stacked a month ago, and arrange our classroom.

Chapter 3 of Miller's book is titled, "Environment, Environment, Environment." Miller writes that it's important to create a classroom environment that reflects your beliefs, and suggests asking a colleague to step inside your classroom, look around, and answer the following questions:

* What do you know I value?
* What do you know about what I believe about teaching and learning? What's the evidence?
* What do you know about the kids in this room?

I will certainly keep this in mind as I set up the room, and will be taking photos to share with you! Here are some things I've been thinking about and would love your feedback on:
* How do you set up your desks to encourage collaboration but also to maintain focus during class discussions and independent work times?
* Where do the students' bags go?
* How do you create a "warm and cozy" environment?
* How do you organize your classroom library?

My classroom on May 29, 2011, right before renovations. Stay tuned for updated photos!

10 Responses to “Environment, Environment, Environment”

  1. Heather Hunter:

    Hi. I'm considering a move to Hawaii as a teacher and enjoyed this post. Is this a regular feature?

  2. Kristen:

    Hi Heather! Thanks for commenting! Yes, I will try to keep the blog going, though maybe not quite as frequently when school starts. I hope to blog at least once a week. Do you have any topic suggestions?

  3. Mr. B:

    @ Heather Hunter -

    Hawaii is certainly a beautiful place to live and work; however, before you move here, be sure you throughly research your potential job opportunities and, mainly, where you are going to be teaching. Many schools in Hawaii do not have the resources needed to support effective teaching. As you may know, we had to recently endure teacher furloughs - robbing our children of precious instructional days. There are many issues that still need to be resolved, as an article in today's Star-Advertiser reported.

    Combine this with the extremely high-cost of living in Hawaii, and paradise may not seem so desirable.

  4. HNL Educator:

    Hi Kristen,
    I recently helped a new colleague move into her room and right away she began getting rid of furniture and clutter... even donating the teacher desk and file cabinet to another classroom. I asked her why? She answered, "the classroom is an environment for the students and every bit of space I can use for their learning the better. I can do my work and check my e-mail from anywhere in the classroom..." It totally changed the way I look at the classroom environment. Teachers are always challenged for space... Centers are a great way to differentiate and focus on different concepts/skills and allows for independence and collaboration space space space...
    as far as the library.. I organize books by level... This allows me to differentiate, ( assign students a range) and also give the students a choice. I also think it's important for students to read a variety of genres..
    Bags are hung on hooks outside the classroom.
    I also use alternatives to the flourecnt ceiling lights. Depending on the natural light from outside I sometimes turn lights off and use natural light and other times I use floor lamps and string lights. This softens the environment and relaxes students. I mostly use these during independent and group learning... Not so much during direct instruction. Music is another great addition to the classroom environment... Cozy warm and kid friendly.

  5. Kristen:

    Mr. B- What I've learned from my time as Hawaii's TOY and from the opportunities I've had to engage in discussions with amazing educators from across the United States is that the successes and challenges that we see in Hawaii's public school system exist EVERYWHERE. Believe me, we are not alone in facing those tough issues that you refer to. We are making tremendous strides in ensuring that there is effective teaching and meaningful learning going on in every classroom across the state.

  6. Kristen:

    HNL Educator- what great ideas! Thank you for sharing and i will definitely keep them in mind when arranging my classroom. I definitely want to include more areas for collaboration. I wish I had hooks for bags outside my classroom- the bags currently take up so much space and the room often feels cluttered with them between desks. I'm still thinking of a way I can "hide them" during the day! Love your lighting tips- I just read about that in Miller's book! I was at Ross's today and was checking out their lamps :)

  7. Mr. B:

    Kristen - I agree with your comment - teachers face challenges in every state across the country; however, what makes Hawaii different is the high cost of living compared with the salary. I mean, when my friends from the mainland discover that a gallon of milk costs $6-$7 per gallon; a small studio for rent almost $900, and a small single-family home for $500,000+ they can't believe it.

    My parent's home in Pearl City is 45 years old. It's a single-level, single-wall home. It sits on a lot that is 60'X60'; Interior square feet probably around 1100. Homes around that area is listed for $550,000+!! Over HALF-A-MILLION dollars for a small, old home. I can go to Oregon and buy me a brand new, 5 bedroom home on an acre of land for that amount of money.

    I left Hawaii in 1999. In Hawaii, I was renting a tiny studio for $600/month. In Washington State, I got a 1-bedroom apartment for $380/month. I also got paid much more in Washington State.

  8. Mariane Uehara:

    Hi Kristen,
    Congratulations on your initiative! I am also passionate about creating warm, cozy and safe spaces, specially for kids:)
    I have couple ideas to share with you:

    first clean all the unnecessary items and furniture;

    use natural light, and fresh air as much as possible;

    clean the physical space with natural products;

    create tools with recycle products. For example use plastic bottles to place pencils and pens;

    implement a creative and educational recycling and waste management system;

    and...brainstorm with the students what they would like to change in the classroom environment. And whenever is possible, ask students to help you improve physical space, so they can feel a part of the change.

    I am the founder of Free Lifestyle, a sustainable consulting company that combines health, organization and sustainability to create positive environments. I will be happy to visit your classroom and find more ways to create a cozy classroom.

    Warm Aloha,

    Mariane Uehara

  9. NL:

    A bit off subject, but in response to Mr. B., Hawaii's high cost of living affect everyone in the state, not only teachers. All of us who love living in the Islands know that "that's the price you pay to live in paradise!" It's something that all of us accept and have chosen to sacrifice other things in order to enjoy the wonderful year 'round nice weather and the aloha spirit. Of course, I understand that it's not for everyone, so I'm happy that you found your niche in Washington State.

    Teachers in Hawaii and every state have difficult challenges that they have to face every single day at work....from the minute they step into the classroom until way past when the dismissal bell rings. I truly admire and applaud all of our hard working teachers whose job is literally a labor of love. Keep up the inspiring and wonderful job that you are doing, Kristen!

  10. Mr. B:

    @ NL. My response was to Heather's post about "thinking of moving to Hawaii." I simply wanted to warn her that Hawaii is not all paradise - as many visitors often imagine it to be.

    Yes, I agree with you that all people residing in Hawaii must deal with the high cost of living; however, unlike many local folks, mainlanders who move to Hawaii often have no family, living in Hawaii, to help them. Many of my friends living in Hawaii have so much support from their families - they often build a second story and move in with their parents. Or, their parents provide free babysitting for their kids (which would normally cost up to $700/month) - and they also take them to school, help with the homework, etc. This is a huge, huge help and a cost savings. Many people who move to Hawaii, from the mainland, are completely on their own - with ZERO help - huge difference.

    I just wanted to make sure that Heather checks things out thoroughly before making the move. That's all. Finally, here is a quote from this mornings Star-Advertiser: "Teachers Angered by State's Proposal."

    Starr Asselin, 4th grade teacher, Waikoloa Elem:

    "I'm not quite sure how long I can afford to keep this job. I'm really disappointed, sad, and frankly worried because it's already been hard to make ends meet."

    This is the reality that I am trying to communicate to Heather. We need to be real.