Focus on Places, Spaces, and Boundaries
Throughout my educational journey, the classrooms I encountered were relatively similar to each other. Most classrooms consisted of rows of small desks with the teacher sitting at a larger desk either in front or behind all the students. This style of seating separated the students and didn’t allow for an easy transition into group work. This arrangement also was used to single out students. Teachers were able to make it clear who the “badly behaved” students were by where they sat in the classroom and used the threat of a seating plan to encourage good behaviour. These stereotypical, western, classroom layouts perpetuated the power dynamics and boundaries of the classroom. This was done by creating a space that limited students to their individual space as well as a situation where the teacher’s desk is in a spot that feels like they are watching over students constantly.
The engagement was very limited in classrooms of this style. When students were limited to a single desk, discussion only took place with those nearest to them. The opportunity to get to know each of your classmates was severely limited depending on the classroom space. Another issue with the stereotypical classroom space is its lack of adaptability for larger classroom numbers. When we had this model with larger classes, the students on the opposite side of the room didn’t feel like they were a part of your class. It was nearly impossible to engage with most of the classroom. One way this was helped was by teachers allowing us the option to leave the classroom to work, by frequently changing the seating plan, or by teachers being involved in the conversations and engaging with each small group work. These things helped lessen the boundaries created by the limited space of the classroom and helped engage the whole class in the conversation.
To help make classrooms more relational teachers can create a space that allows the students to feel comfortable as individuals but also allows the opportunity for classroom-wide engagement. Having options of flexible seating or being adaptable in your arrangement of desks or tables can help lessen the power dynamics of the stereotypical classroom model. Allowing choice for students helps them feel like they are a part of creating the classroom. Another way to make more relational classrooms is allowing students the chance to take control of their education and help decide what they want to learn and how they want to learn it. This freedom helps students remain engaged by allowing them to bring their outside knowledge into the classroom.