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Ditching the desks in second grade

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The layout and design of any space can impact the mood and productivity for the individuals intended to use the area. Prior to becoming a teacher, I studied interior design at Michigan State University for three years. I have come to learn how critical ergonomics and aesthetics can be when designing a space, especially for children. For those interested in reading more about how the brain relates to design in the field of education, I recommend checking out the work of Susan Kovalik at The Center for Effective Learning.

When I thought about my own classroom space, I went to sit in one of my student’s desks. Though I’m larger than the average second-grader, it was soon easy for me to realize how the furniture and layout did not lend itself for collaboration and comfort. I wanted my students to gather on the carpet, sit in nooks and work with one another. I had a vision of children using the space freely, as needed, to do meaningful work with one another. However, I had not given them a proper space to facilitate these sorts of activities. Instead, the over-sized, cold and hard desks were taking over every square foot of my room. This furniture was chunky. Even though I had the desks in groups to encourage discussion, they were still so far from one another just due to the sheer size of the table tops. When children tried to turn eye to eye and knee to knee to work with a partner, they were separated by the massive, steel desk compartments. Why can’t my classroom look like a creative play space in a museum or the children’s section of a Barnes and Noble?

The more I thought about why my classroom couldn’t resemble a space like that in a museum or a bookstore, I began to realize that in order for this to happen, I had to be the change that sparked this idea into motion. Instead of wishing I had a classroom space that my students would flourish in and appreciate, I had to design it, find funding, and get ideas from the clients (my kids!). How often are students asked how they would like their classroom set up? After all, who are the ones who will be using this space the most?

As I got more serious about the idea of changing my classroom space, I committed to the idea of making this vision a reality. I knew this would be a wonderful change for my students, so I had to support the idea and make it happen. I was speaking at The Connected Educator’s Conference in Jackson, Mich., when I said aloud that I would not have any desks in my room next year. I knew in my heart that I wanted to believe that, but something about saying it out loud to an audience made me know that I would make this happen.

I attend a lot of conferences, workshops, Twitter chats, Google Hang Outs and meetings. I often hear friends and colleagues discuss change they would like to see in education or in their own schools and classrooms. They seem to have brilliant ideas that the students would benefit from. However, one word seems to stop many from taking that first step: No. They’re afraid of being told “no” or that they can’t do something. I challenge those who have a brilliant idea to reply with one word: Why. If you know your idea is good for kids, get to :yes” …  because :no” is no longer an acceptable answer.

If we don’t make the change happen, who will? We are not just teachers. We are responsible for supporting all children so that they can be the future. That is a big responsibility, and I do not take it lightly.

Erin Klein is a teacher, author and parent who has earned her Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction and currently teaches second grade. She has previously taught first, sixth, and seventh grades. Erin is also the technology chairperson for the Michigan Reading Association, a national A Plus Workshop Presenter, SDE Extraordinary Educator and Presenter,  Scholastic Top Teacher,  SMART Technologies Exemplary Educator, Really Good Stuff Monthly Blogger, Edutopia guest blogger, Edudemic guest blogger and magazine contributor, National Writing Project member, and award-winning EduTech Blogger at Klein has most recently appeared in the Scholastic Instructor Magazine and co-authored Amazing Grades with experts from 13 countries around the world.