All grades (ECE-12)
Applicable to all
Denver Center for International Studies - Montbello (DCIS-M), Positive Refocus Education Program (PREP) Academy, Beach Court Elementary, McMeen Elementary
To involve students in personalizing the classroom to:
Allow students to physically see themselves in the space and be involved in the design of the classroom.
Increase student ownership of the space as well as engagement and connection with the teacher and their peers.
Incorporate students' backgrounds and cultures into the class to increase representation.
"Why would people who look and dress as fly as me and my team want to be in a place that looks like this? It's boring and I feel like I'm in jail." (Emdin, 2016, p. 169).
This student, who dislikes the contrast between the way in which he dresses and the way that his school is decorated, conveys a common problem in schools today. Instead of trying to create a space that students relate to and feel at home in, schools create a space that feels oppressive and deters students from wanting to come to class. Students don't feel welcome and they don't feel like school celebrates or recognizes their cultures.
In his book For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood...and the Rest of Y'all Too, Dr. Christopher Emdin details how many students feel oppressed within the stark confines of their school, making them less likely to feel comfortable and engage during class. He found that classrooms that are artistic and aesthetically inclusive of neoindigenous culture make students more likely to engage in class discussions (Emdin, 2016, p. 171).
Personalizing classroom aesthetics is important for making students feel at home and like they are part of the school community. In order to achieve this, teachers can involve students in personalizing the classroom with posters, artwork, lighting, seating, and scents that they like. This can make students feel valued, as their input is being taken into account in designing the classroom.
Teachers in the Denver metro area have been able to learn more about the practice of personalizing classroom aesthetics, as well as other strategies to connect with youth, through Growth Through Connections (GTC).
Meet several of the teachers from GTC and learn how they personalized their classrooms:
Laura Huber Ballou, Beach Court Elementary
In her early childhood education (ECE) classroom, Laura incorporates pictures of students throughout the classroom to show how certain spaces are used. This increases students' accountability and makes them feel like part of the space.
Ashley Reel, PREP Academy
Ashley uses flexible seating and time to create a more comfortable classroom culture. She also asks students what they want the classroom to look like and incorporates their feedback.
Shannon Good, McMeen Elementary
Shannon tried to make her special education classroom as inviting and comfortable as possible for her students. She changes the lighting and adds music to make it feel more welcoming to students.
Stephanie Smekens, DCIS-M
In her US History class, Stephanie has a wall of student photos that show what each student's academic goal is. This increases their representation in the space and serves as a reminder and reinforcer of their goals.
Kevin McNulty, PREP Academy
Kevin asks his student for input on how to design the classroom. He asks them what he should put up on the walls and they can send him things that they'd like to see in the space.
The Imaginarium, with the generous support and partnership of the Janus Henderson Foundation, created the GTC program to combat inequities in education and to find innovative solutions that benefit students nationwide. The goal of our GTC collaboration is to equip educators with the tools and knowledge to:
Stephanie has adapted her classroom to better fit her students' interests. She asks students what music they want to hear and makes a playlist for the class to listen to during work time. This year, she started doing a talking circle at the beginning of the semester so that students can share about themselves and their culture. She also has a wall of pictures of students with their academic goal so that students see themselves represented in the classroom and are reminded of their goal throughout the year.
Ashley is implementing flexible seating in order to give students more seating choices during class. She hopes to create a good culture by creating a comfortable atmosphere where students feel safer. Because of this, she has seen more students taking academic risks because they feel more comfortable and safe in the environment, which has laid the foundation for creating stronger relationships as well. She feels like building these relationships has made her job more meaningful and made her class feel more like a family.
Kevin has been incorporating student input more into his classroom. He's asked them about what they want to see in the classroom and printed pictures that tap into their interests. He displays these around the room so that students feel more comfortable.
Here are a few ways to personalize the classroom:
Territoriality is the idea that cultivating a safe, clean learning environment that students feel proud of can reduce school violence and crime (Crowe, 2000). This involves increasing students' connection to a space so that they feel more protective and less likely to vandalize or degrade the space. This might be evoked by:
Laura Huber Ballou, Ashley Reel, Shannon Good, Stephanie Smekens, Kevin McNulty and the Janus Henderson Foundation for engaging in this challenging work to close our persistent achievement gap and to help every student succeed.
Report by Molly Baird, Danna Ortiz, and Sophie Gullett.
Crowe, T. (2000). Crime prevention through environmental design. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann.
Emdin, C. (2016). For white folks that teach in the hood ...and the rest of y'all too. Boston: Beacon Press.