The environment as the third teacher

In the educational approach inspired by the practices of Reggio Emilia learning centres in Italy, the classroom itself is considered to be the third teacher. (The first and second being the candle and the other students.)

Because of this, I curate my classroom aesthetic carefully.

I promote beauty by avoiding clutter. This means that I have high expectations for the state in which students leave their desks each break and at the end of each day. Desks are communal work spaces that should be free of detritus.

The walls of my classroom are used to document the learning journey we have undertaken. Student work is celebrated, and everything on display has its purpose. I don’t put up every single poster that relates to the topics being taught- I introduce them as they are applicable to student learning. And if anchor charts haven’t been actively used as a reference in recent times, they are promptly removed.

Unlike many of my colleagues, I actively try to avoid too many bright colours in my room. That’s because my goal is not to be an interior designer, but rather to allow students to remain calm and in control. The artefacts in the classroom should not be overstimulating, else arousal levels will diminish student ability to focus.

I prefer my students (and myself) to direct their energies towards acquiring new concepts and skills, rather than creating cutesy publications purely to meet my own OCD needs around things being “just so”. I favour student-made products over cookie-cutter teacher designs, published printed and laminated to the nth degree.

I encourage creative, unique artworks over one-size-fits-all, fit-for-an-art-gallery tasks that promote striving for perfection in a way that can actually do more harm than good to a student’s self-esteem.

And most of all, I value process over product. Any messiness in my room reflects the constant renewal of ideas and the sourcing of the most relevant materials to provoke student curiosity.

I don’t hoard sheets of paper in folders because I know that each year, I will be able to source different and better resources to meet the individual needs of the students in my class. Nor do I make all of the decisions about what should be placed where and why.

I’m only one member of the team that is my class, after all.


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