Thursday, September 5, 2013

Take a Seat, It's Time to Learn

How was I to know what a significant impact an old sofa would have on learning? A few weeks ago I saw a tweet proposing that a few comfy pieces of furniture in a classroom had cured habitual tardiness. I then found several blog posts that explained how student behavior had dramatically improved with the introduction and strategic placement of comfortable furniture and soft lighting. Well, if a comfy couch modifies behavior, and helps improve learning in the classroom, could it do the same in an office? The answer, based upon just a few days of empirical evidence, is yes.

As school technology coordinator, I have committed myself to support professional development this year using two avenues, individual or small group training sessions, and crowd-sourced, social media interactions. The problem with option one was, even though the office door is always open, very few individuals would step in, sit down, and discuss instructional technologies with me. I could take my show on the road, but I also wanted my office to become an inviting hub of learning for both teachers and students. I began to take the isolation personally until Chuck, a fishing buddy and favorite custodian, pointed out that my office was rather cold and uninspiring.

"Oh yea, how would you make it better?", I asked.

Chuck accepted my challenge and said, "First off, I would dim the lighting in here and I'd get some furniture that didn't leave bruises on my backside!"

I laughed a hearty, "you don't know what you're talking about" laugh, and told him that his fishing pictures were faked. I snickered as I walked past him down the hall to fill my water bottle, show my face on the surveillance cameras, and consider what my elder colleague had so emphatically suggested.

The following day, I asked my student workers to grab my parents' old leather love-seat out of the back of my SUV and bring it up to my office. The day after that, it was the coffee table, followed by the mini-fridge, the lava lamp, and a small LED monitor connected to Apple TV. My wife, Natalie, sent me to work this morning with a decorative bowl, and a bag of candy orange slices. She proclaimed that a coffee table without a bowl of snacks, or a ceramic animal on it, was just another slab of wood to bash your pinkie toe into. She just knows these things.

As it turns out, both Chuck and Natalie were correct. A steady stream of teachers and students have stopped by to rest their legs, eat some processed sugar, and discuss iPads, SAMR, and social media. A more comfortable environment is helping me nudge sometimes reluctant learners in new directions. The regulars stop in too, but now they smile a bit more, and they stay a bit longer. Selfishly, it means that I learn more too, and if that means staying up a little later to catch up on email and reading, so be it. Last time I checked, education is still a people-based industry, and it's relationships that make the difference between being a worker, and being a contributor. So come on in, let's talk Dweck, November, and Pink. And your toes.

Related Reading

For Back to School, Reimagine Classroom Design - Mindshift

Building a Creative Classroom Environment - Ross Crockett, 21st Century Fluency Project

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