Environment is Everything

Environment is Everything

Our first week in the school was exciting! There was so much to do and so much to learn! I know at Johnson School of Excellence we were taking advantage of every free moment to beautify our classrooms. I really wish I had taken a “before” picture, but since I did not, let me paint you a picture. Our classroom (that’s room 408: Mrs. Ray and Ms. Ohannes, woohoo!) had student desks, bookcases in a corner, and some dust. The transformation was amazing!

Let me start by saying AUSL’s Classroom Environment Checklist has covered all the bases. It’s broken down into 3 sections: Classroom Set Up, Materials and Supplies, and Routines and Procedures. Under classroom set up, there are 18 items. The big items being classroom and school rules and procedures (posted on the wall); bulletin boards, classroom library, and items that contribute to a warm and welcoming classroom feel.

The rules and procedures were just as expected from what we had covered in Lemov’s “Teach Like a Champion.” Voice levels, consequences and incentives, signals for when a student needs something. There were also the school’s mission and vision stated in our “Wildcat Ways” (we are the Johnson Wildcats). These covered 4 areas: Safe, Respectful, Responsible, and Ready. Again, the poster states directions in a narrative similar to what we learned during Teacher Moves sessions.

The bulletin boards were what we tackled next. One board will showcase the students pictures and a small paragraph about their goals and dreams. We highlighted selective and magnet high schools in Chicago on the bottom of the board. We are teaching 8th grade so this is a big year for our kids! We also have a board that will highlight all the classroom and school events and due dates. This is nice because it is centralized in one place for the students. Last we did a makeshift board for our Data Wall. Here we will showcase the students B.A.G. (behavior, attendance and grades).

The last two, classroom library and items that contribute to a warm classroom feel were interesting. Having a classroom library really adds to the environment. It’s not only where we keep books for classroom reading, but a space where students can go for rewards or free time that is positive and productive. To add to that, each classroom has a rug, curtains, a flower or plant of some kind and a lamp. As I walked around from room to room to see other colleagues classrooms, I was really amazed by what a difference these small additions made. It may sounds cheesy, but adding these warm touches to the classroom creates a welcoming environment and tells the student we want you to be here! There is plenty of creativity, each room had it’s own look and feel, but the warm, welcoming vibe was extremely present in each classroom. This spilled over into the hallways as well where very civilized furniture was set up for small group work or discussions. Here you will also find college banners, on every floor, from around the country.

The expectation at AUSL is that each classroom will be clean, neat, organized and send a consistent message. Our students spend more than half of their waking hours in our school for 10 months of the year. We owe it to them to create a warm, nurturing, inviting environment in which to learn. I am proud to work at a school and for an organization that believes our kids deserve nothing less!

Posted on August 29, 2013 by Carrie Ohannes

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About Carrie Ohannes

Carrie Ohannes is a resident in the AUSL Chicago Teacher Residency program teaching Middle School Language Arts at Johnson School of Excellence in Chicago's North Lawndale neighborhood. Carrie is originally from Chicago, Illinois and a graduate of DePauw University. She also received her Masters in Business Administration from Loyola University of Chicago.

The Chicago Teacher Residency is a full-time, yearlong urban teacher training program that equips residents with the training, skills, and strategies that will empower their students to pursue their dreams.

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