Making Shared Classroom Space Successful
Most schools face limited resources. Physical space, specifically classroom space, is often at a premium. Where this challenge exists, teachers sharing space need to have thoughtful conversations about how to optimize its allocation. The cornerstone of making shared classroom space work is kavod, mutual respect, among the users of the classroom, as well as support from administrators.
Consider a situation where three teachers share the same classroom. A third-grade Judaic studies teacher uses the space in the morning. In the afternoon, a sixth grade teacher teaches history fifth and eighth periods and a third teacher has eighth-grade English during sixth and seventh periods. To make the sharing successful, the teachers need to meet well in advance to work out the logistics that will make the shared space appropriate for each grade and subject, proactively working out the details and putting systems in place to make the year run smoothly. Similar conversations also need to happen regularly during the school year so that issues that could cause resentment do not gain momentum.
The preemptive specifics should include how teachers and students will handle transitions, ways and incentives to be sure students take responsibility for their classroom, and teacher modeling of kavod. Pitfalls may occur if one of teachers had previously used the space for a long time and feels ownership of the classroom, or if the teacher who uses the space for the most instructional time justifiably wants more than a third of the space.
Teachers in shared classroom space should monitor whether their personal and pedagogical needs are being met by the environment each teacher encounters when entering and leaving the classroom. Open-ended questions such as “How is this working out for you?” can get a conversation rolling. It’s the little things that can be annoying. Where is each teacher’s personal space? How can teachers divide up the limited space for paperwork, lesson materials and personal laptops? Identifying specific work areas for each teacher and keeping those spaces reined in helps maintain organized space. Agreeing up front who gets which bookshelves and bulletin boards also helps. It is important to determine how common counter space is used and to determine which materials remain out, how long student displays stay on counters, and what is a reasonable way to keep long-term projects readily available. The school administration should be privy to these decisions in order to enforce them, if necessary.
In the same spirit, delineating specific tasks between transitions helps protect valuable class time. When younger students use the space, the teacher might opt for desks organized in pods of three or four desks pushed together. By contrast, the afternoon eighth grade English class may need the desks in a horseshoe or circle arrangement to generate more cross-conversations and less small group work. The fifth-grade history teacher might prefer rows for direct-delivery instruction and use of Smart boards or projected images.
It’s important during check-ins to determine who rearranges the desks between classes. Does the last class set it up for the next class, or does each class set up the space for itself? Who erases the board between classes? An elementary-level teacher might write out a daily schedule and a morning message, while the middle-school English teacher may need the board to write questions for editing or discussion. The teacher of history may write provocative questions that would not be appropriate for the younger students to read. These conflicts may seem trivial, but over time they can be irritating. Deciding upon the logistics ahead of time helps facilitate smoother transitions among the three different teachers and their three different instructional needs.
Successfully shared classrooms help students understand that everyone who uses the room has a responsibility to keep it organized, and to help ensure that the routines run smoothly. Making kavod explicit is both necessary and a valuable Judaic lesson. Everyone needs to feel ownership and pitch in to help. Jobs should be assigned and rotated: pencil sharpeners, desk movers, board erasers. Who puts the supplies away when class ends? Does each class have its own supply area, or is everyone sharing the same materials? If shared, who is in charge of replacing used materials, getting new ink cartridges for the printer, etc.? These are small details, but when students buy into the idea that it is expected that they do their part to maintain organized space and useable materials, it makes sharing classroom space successful.
Another consideration when sharing space among different grades and subjects is finding materials suitable for the age span. Younger students might have organizational baskets, funny posters and brightly colored rugs that scream “elementary classroom.” Teens may not appreciate being in a room full of “baby things.” It is important for all the teachers to use materials that are appropriate for all of the students sharing the room. This means posters of neither Kermit the Frog nor the Holocaust Museum are displayed. Instead, more neutral visual materials such as maps, charts and subject-specific tips are more appropriate.
Finally, each grade and subject needs space to celebrate its students’ work. Here, too, logistics need to be worked out. Some questions to consider include how long work should remain on bulletin boards, how often displays should be changed and how ongoing long-term projects should be stored.
There is no question that making shared classroom space work is challenging, but with solid administrative support, open and productive conversations and a lot of kavod, it can succeed.