Classrooms in Crisis: Manage the Physical Space First

What does your classroom look like in the fall when you return?  Will you return to a classroom with half the students?  Will you teach fully online?  Fully live?  A hybrid model?  Will you have to address the issue of a 2-meter distance between each desk and each student?  How will you teach group work?  Will you have barriers in place around each desk and workspace?  Will students wear masks all the time?  Will you school take care of your own health and safety needs? 

These are just a few of the questions that teachers are asking right now as they prepare to return to school.  They are legitimate and important questions to ask.  However, they only address part of the problem that will be in place in some schools when students return.  It is important that we take time to rationally think through what our fall classes will look like to be the best managers of our classroom space.

As I look at classroom management, it is not just a set of rules and consequences that one puts in place to ensure discipline.  For me, classroom management is everything that you as an educator do to ensure the class runs smoothly, procedures are clearly in place, and the students feel safe and build positive healthy relationships.  A well-managed class allows the teacher to provide instruction, address issues as they arise, and transition more effectively from one part of the class to the next in as smooth a manner as possible.  To that end, let us look at your classroom as you may be teaching in the fall.

First, it is important to acknowledge a few very vital issues.  Much of your classroom set up may be out of your control based on the school policies that will be implemented for health and safety reasons.  The number of students you teach, and whether you teach live, online, or a hybrid class will also be out of your control.  There will be fear about the return to the classroom that will impact how you teach on your return.  Finally, there will be a high possibility that you will transition from live to online teaching at least once during the school year.  Much of this will be out of your control, but you can plan for it now.  So, how can we prepare for the uncertainty of the Fall?

Manage your classroom space first.

Your teaching space will be dictated by the health and safety requirements of your district.  I realize that this seems ominous to consider since your classroom is probably too small for all your students to physically distance.  If we dwell on this basic issue, we will never move forward.  So, acknowledge it, and work with what you have.  Make sure you document this and address it with the administration and save this information and any responses for late.  Now, let us move on.

What can you do in your space?  How many students will you have?  Will they have their own materials?  Will they have isolation or cubby type structures that are physical barriers?  Will the class look welcoming?  Will they be sitting in row?  Facing the wall? 1 or 2 meters apart?  How close can you get to them?

I would strongly suggest you draw a map of your classroom on larger paper to get a sense of what the room looks like.  Include all the desks, any group teaching space, and where you will teach. Also include doors, storage, power outlets, water faucets, and toilets if they are in the room.  Last year, these could be afterthoughts, but this year, you need to consider everything.

Here are some questions to ask about the physical movement in the classroom by your students:

  • How and where will students enter the room?
  • Where will students store their items when they enter the room?
  • Once in the room, are students allowed to move about or will they be required to sit down at their desk?
  • Are all students able to see the teaching area?
  • Is your teaching area or desk cluttered and a distraction or tidy and organized?
  • Does the physical space feel inviting or isolating?
  • Do the students have their own material at their desk?
  • How does a student get water once at their desk?
  • How does a student go to the toilet if necessary?
  • How does a student sharpen a pencil or get a new pen if needed?
  • What if a student can not see what is written where do they move?
  • What if a student has a question how do they ask it?
  • Will electronic devices be used during class?  Where will they be stored?  How will they be used?  How will they be monitored?  How will they be cleaned?
  • How will students transition in and out of the space during normal times of movement to lunch and recess?
  • How and where will you teach the class?
  • Does every student have a line of sight to the teaching space?
  • Will you teach in small group settings?
  • How will you move about the room to check students based on distancing?
  • If you must teach both live and online, where will you place the camera?

These are just a few of the questions you need to ask yourself about your teaching space as it will be vastly different than last year.  If possible, walk through your room like a student.  Enter as they would.  Sit in their space.  Think like a student.  Think like your best student, your most challenging mobile student, your quiet introverted student, and your most extroverted student.  Then, plan based on what you know about each of them.  This year will require a great deal more planning than in previous years.

The physical space of the classroom sets the tone for the students as they enter the door.  Remember, they may be excited to return as they have been isolated for months.  They may be nervous about catching COVID-19.  They may have been in exceedingly difficult situations socially based on their home life.  Every one of them will be in your class and they need to feel welcomed.

The class will not be the same.  You will be required to manage the space differently.  This is the first step in effectively managing your classroom space, addressing the physical area.  You cannot return to what you did before because students will return under vastly different conditions than before.  It is imperative that you spend time considering the physical layout, travel patterns, and issues with the space of the classroom before you can move on to addressing student needs.

In future writings, I will discuss other considerations for the management of the classroom from my perspective as an active educator working in a classroom space.  Until then, please continue to add constructive thoughts to the conversation for the safety of our students. 

As a side note, if your school administration or district are not providing for the health and safety needs of your physical space, you need to document this, report it through the proper chain of command, and keep copies of everything.  Your health and safety are also a priority as is the students.  I fear that this year will be one of litigation based on the spread of the coronavirus in schools and teachers will bear the brunt of these issues.  Protect yourself legally and, if these concerns are not being addressed, use the proper legal means to find an appropriate resolution.

If this interests you, please take a look at other writings on this site or #classroomsincrisis articles at Medium.com/@everettis

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