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We all remember the days of sitting in the uncomfortable chair, attached to the desk that rocked back and forth on the uneven floor. Or was it the desk that was uneven? Regardless, a lot of mental energy was spent thinking about how miserable we were rather than on what the teacher was saying.

Fortunately, school administrators are starting to get it. It’s extremely difficult — if not impossible – to learn when you’re uncomfortable. The cold and stark institutional classrooms of yesterday are being phased out as fast as new schools are being built. In their place are colorful, warm and nurturing environments where creativity can flourish.

Of course money is always a factor. Some school districts simply do not have the resources available to buy new ergonomic chairs in appropriate sizes or comfortable sofas for reading areas. Yet there are several things that teachers can do themselves to improve the “learn-ability index” of their classrooms.

1. Desk Placement

Remember that where students are seated can affect learning. Make sure that all students can see the board and hear you from their desks. Consider special-needs students and where they may need to be placed within the room. There are several desk setups to consider: rows, doubles, tables, arcs and circles. Be creative, and use the style most effective for your students.

2. Group Learning

Designate an area where students can work in small groups or you can work with a group of students. This spot should be away from the desks. Have fun with the group learning station. Give it a monthly theme that can tie into lesson plans and enhance creativity. For younger students, create a safe and cozy gathering space complete with a rocking chair, child-themed area rug, and a chalkboard or whiteboard where thoughts can be shared.

3. Climate Control

It sounds like something a greenhouse worker would be more concerned with, but it’s very important. It’s difficult to focus when you’re feeling a cold draft. Make sure the little things aren’t getting in the way. Is the air or heat blowing directly on anyone? Is there a glare from the window? Is the old radiator buzzing too loudly around a group of students? Try to minimize these types of distractions with creative furniture placement.

4. Finishing Aesthetic Touches

The classroom is a “home away from home” for you and your students. It should be attractive as well as functional. Paint one wall a creative and calming color. Use colorful printed area rugs to soften the room and visually create smaller areas. Bring in several different types of plants – they make any room look more welcoming, and improve the air quality. And instead of the same old holiday themes that go with the standard bulletin boards, try something new and unique. Have students do an abstract portrait or painting of themselves in a lesson-related mural.

Enhancing a classroom can be fun. Get your co-workers involved. Brainstorm about new ideas. And of course, toss out that lop-sided desk if it’s possible. Your students may not think to thank you, but their overall concentration and creativity should improve. And that certainly makes your job easier!

Watch for our June post on greener schools!