Caffeinated Candour

I love coffee. I also love my job. Sometimes, I will go to a coffee shop to work on my job.

I’m a High School English teacher, which means I have a lot of planning, grading, and moderating on my to-do list. I often like to take my work to the local coffee shop (I don’t want to mention any names, but it rhymes with Shmarbucks) and do my work there. It’s not because I can’t do it at home or while I’m at school; it’s more because there is something about being in a café, surrounded by the sweet smell of roasted coffee beans, that puts me into a trance. I will sit at a corner table, unpack my laptop, papers, and colourful pens, and begin an epic three to four hour journey into completing whatever it is that needs to get done. I don’t mind the music they play at the shop, but sometimes I will plug into my own playlist and listen to the soulful sounds of Chet Baker as I wade through a pile of Written Tasks.

I’ve always wanted to create this atmosphere in my own classroom, but I was never quite sure how to do it. I began the 2016-17 school year by creating a tea and coffee corner. I brought in a kettle and a basket full of various teas. I encouraged my students to bring in their own mugs and help themselves to whatever was available in the basket. A few of them took advantage of this, but the idea never took off the way I expected. I figured it was because regardless of my attempt at making a café corner, my classroom was still just that: a classroom.

My dream was to create a learning space that was conducive to learning in a relaxed atmosphere. Our Digital Literacy Coaches (DLC’s) helped to make this dream become a reality.

In one afternoon, Tricia, Keri-Lee, and Dave transformed my classroom into one with more space (how?), more options (what?), and more focus (where?). What was once a space full of rectangular tables and plastic chairs became a space full of individualised learning, mobility, and comfort. The aged and worn posters came off the walls and in their places hung images of coffee-related items that took on an air of literary discourse.

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A sample of one of my new posters.

This is just the beginning.

I’ve purchased (fake) plants for each pod area (I don’t have a green thumb), and have created a menu of literary terms to which students can refer when writing their assignments. I’ve also brought in floor cushions to match the decor of the room thus far. I’m not going to do much more right now; there are plans to knock out a wall, put up a window looking into the hallway, and add a bar-height table underneath along with some stools so that students can work “outside” but still be part of the classroom (does this make sense? it makes sense in my head…)

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Would you like to make a selection from our menu?

You may be wondering why I would even take up such a task. Who cares what my learning space looks like, amiright? But I disagree. If I feel more comfortable in a space that makes me feel welcome, relaxed, and safe, then wouldn’t my students benefit from the same thing?

If you are also looking to make some changes, you might want to start by watching these very short videos: one on classroom flexibility and one on designing learning spaces that build community. I think you’ll find that there’s just enough information here to make your classroom re-design doable without feeling overwhelming.

What changes are you thinking of making? How will you re-design your learning space? Finally, how important of a role does coffee play in all of this?

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4 comments

  1. The idea of your space being so important really came into focus for me last year when Paula Guinto showed up in Milan to run her Learning2 session, so it comes as no surprise to me to see this type of discourse happening between teachers in Singapore. All of my thoughts surrounding classroom ideas keep coming back to how we like to do things as an adult. Do I want to keep track of the exact number of pages I read each day? Do I want to walk down the hall silently at all times? I think about these answers when applying how I think the school day should be for students. How do I want to spend my day? How do I want the space to look and feel? If we as adults are bored by the lessons we teach or the space we work in that is likely to translate to the students as well. Using this idea allows us to create spaces and environments where learning is truly meant to happen.

    And, I’m a tea drinker at work…Tazo’s Zen (green tea with spearmint) every work day in my large American style coffee cup. I’ve also been known to spend my holidays tracking the nearest Shmarbucks (ahhhem) since there are none to be found yet here in Italy!

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  2. Dear Uzay,

    I love how you describe your new room and how lucky you are to have an entire team to help you with the design. I’ve seen many tweets this year from Tricia and Jocelyn about classroom and space design, and find it so inspiring. I think the space you’re in makes a massive difference in how you approach whatever task you are faced with. I would love to see photos of your new-and-improved classroom.

    What I find frustrating at my school is that we have to share classrooms to some extent and that limits both the ability to make the space your own and a sense of ownership to keep the space looking good. Maybe you can send Tricia, Keri-Lee, and Dave my way to help me with my room. 🙂

    Best,
    Valerie

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  3. Chet Baker playing in the background as I write this.

    Luckily we work in the same school and my classroom also had an extreme makeover and I feel that all of a sudden my teaching found its heart again.

    It is interesting to see the power spaces have on us, I guess this may well be the result of our very intrinsic relationship with the environment. We have learnt to adapt to it in order to survive and then we also have realised that we have the power to alter it or shape it. Some environments are easier to survive to than others, others force us to evolve and develop in ways we weren’t expecting.
    Sorry have been teaching about this in Psych and I am reading Sapiens at the moment, so I am connecting everything to it :$

    Your post made me think about the importance of knowing what kind of experience we want for our students. It is logical to think that as the role of the teacher has changed in the past years, so must the arrangement of tables and chairs should change. And I do not know about the role of coffee (hahaha) but I do know about the role of having something that allows something positive to happen, that either creates the atmosphere for change to happen or the resources for reflection to exist. It could be coffee, bean bags, music, windows, books or just fake plants. We need to use space as our ally, we need to let space help us do our job.

    Thanks!

    Sapiens: https://www.amazon.com/Sapiens-Humankind-Yuval-Noah-Harari/dp/0062316095

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