Trading Spaces: How to Share a Classroom Mindfully
By ISJL Education Fellow Ava Gadon
In a perfect world, every religious and Hebrew school space would be fully customizable to the teacher and only house one teacher’s class. Unfortunately, in reality, many religious schools share space with preschools, operate in social halls, with or without dividers, or are located in community buildings like churches. These setups pose challenges, but with proper preparation and flexibility, they do not have to be any less conducive to learning. Without further ado, here are some strategies for teaching in shared spaces.
Setting Clear Boundaries
If you are in a space that has another classroom use, such as a preschool or youth lounge, it can be distracting and confusing for students to see all the other toys and supplies. In order to minimize this, from the first day in that classroom, make sure to set boundaries with your students explicitly on what is and is not for your class in the space. Explain to them what is off limits and why. There is an appeal to push past this to save teaching time, but by establishing expectations, you will save time and energy answering those questions or attempting to mitigate disaster later.
In order to really drive the point home, ask your director if you can tape out areas for the class to stay within on the floor. This is especially helpful for younger students.
Personalizing the Space
After defining the boundaries within the space, teachers can brainstorm some temporary changes that they can make to the classroom. Consider how furniture can be moved around or set up in a way unique to a class. Asking the students for help organizing the room can be a way for them to distinguish their specific learning space. One other idea would be to put up simple decorations that you can easily take down or put up for your class. Art projects, for example, can be used to make the space feel less utilitarian, or to cover up existing posters or distracting decorations. Also, remember to ask your director if there is anything you could use in the religious school’s storage.
You can also use decorations to keep your students away from other toys or furniture in the room that belong to other groups. Rugs or pillows can easily make your space more interesting and personal and provide fidgets to lessen the students’ desire to play with toys in the room that are off limits.
There are lots of ways to explore utilizing the space by altering teaching style as well. Consider leading lessons in a circle instead of rows facing the board to bring the class together and maintain focus. Teachers also can create stations for students to rotate through, which will ensure that they interact with a variety of different activities and are more occupied. Finally, staff can ask permission to use a social hall or foyer for bigger, more physical activities.
Sharing your space can feel like a handicap, but like most challenges, it also provides a great opportunity to get creative and break out of habits that you may have formed as a teacher.
One last tip: when in doubt, ask for help! This is an incredibly common situation, and by drawing on the experiences of others, you may try something that changes your perspective, your teaching, or your class for the better.