There’s no doubt that how and where a teacher holds their class has a bearing on the level of their students' engagement. Educational research has pointed this out very clearly.
So here are my top seven tips for management on using effective ergonomics – aka, the design of your classroom – to enhance the teaching and learning experience of staff and students.
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Encourage the person in charge of accommodation to plan the allocation of rooms in a careful, measured way
There’s no doubt about it: organising rooming is a skill. It is not – and should not – be an ad-hoc thing you do at the start of term. Why? Well, it requires training. For instance, putting a disruptive GCSE resit class including a lot of socially disaffected learners in a small room that seats fewer students is setting the teacher and the learners up to fail. It’s an educational faux pas. Conversely, putting a small group in a large classroom – or worse still, a lecture room – can have the same effect. Everything should be geared towards enhancing learners' experience, and that means thinking about the way you manage space.
Ask the teachers to adopt the concept of ‘base’ rooms
Allocate rooms to individual teachers. Encourage staff to take ownership of their classroom and create a dynamic ambiance. Support them in personalising their teaching rooms in terms of display of information and students' work. However, also assist your staff to give learners some say in the design and planning. Ideally, students should have a say in how their classroom can be an interesting, conducive place for learning.
Urge teachers to change parts of their classroom display on a regular basis
Again this can be done through cooperative workings with students. But – and this is essential – remember that teachers must be given adequate time to do this effectively. Sticking this on to their existing set of duties/responsibilities will be little more than counterproductive. Allocate some staff development time for classroom design.
Ask staff to plan their room in terms of the seating arrangement
Your teachers should change the layout of the room according to the lesson plan and activities. They should think about rows, grouped tables, horse-shoe shape. Of course, it depends on what kind of a lesson they're delivering. Who is sitting where and why? Tell them not to allow learners to sit wherever they want. Consideration should be given to students with specific health or learning issues so that they are not disadvantaged. Ask the teacher to focus on them and ensure staff can help learners to feel comfortable. If a learner is not comfortable, it is highly unlikely that they will be motivated or engaged with the learning. So get your teachers to focus on heating, air conditioning and lighting. Warm, fresh and well-lit classrooms can do wonders for students.
Get teachers to think of other ways of motivating learners other than displaying class progress/achievement charts on the wall
Although seeing stars and stickers next to their names can motivate students, equally it can be embarrassing and dispiriting for slow learners. It can make young people very self-conscious and demoralised. It’s almost on a par with naming and shaming learners publicly. Ask your staff how they would feel if their lesson observation grades or appraisal reports were displayed for their colleagues to see. Why should your learners be any different?
Make sure teachers keep clean, tidy classrooms
There should be no clutter or rubbish lying around in classrooms. Messy or untidy classroom put learners off. So coax teachers to put this onus on their students. This will also help learners to develop a respectful attitude towards their learning environment and, indeed, civic spaces in society.
Encourage teachers to think about how furniture impacts on their health
Work-related musculoskeletal disorders are common amongst teachers because (often) institutions haven’t provided appropriately styled furniture – desk and chairs too low, too high, too hard, too soft; computers not of correct height, absence of screen filters. Unchecked, these can lead to headaches, neck, back and shoulder pains. Education institutions lose so much due to staff absence not only because of financial costs but also because learners' education gets interrupted. So support your staff by providing furniture that is conducive to good health and wellbeing.
Educational settings do have an impact in terms of whether students engage or disassociate ourselves from learning. And it is for that reason that management need to pay close attention to classroom design and structure.
Roshan Doug is a visiting professor, strategist and educational consultant at the University of Birmingham