Why You Should Take a Fresh Look at Your Learning Space
Every teacher strives to create a welcoming space for their students. A classroom environment that is not only conducive to learning, but one that invites communication, collaboration, and creativity.
This goal of an educational oasis has led many teachers to take a new approach to classroom design. They’re making their classrooms look less like the school houses of the past—and more like everyone’s favorite coffee shop: Starbucks.
Yes, you read that right. Teachers are Starbucks-ing their classrooms!
The Starbucks Environment
Think about it. Who doesn’t love whiling away a day in the cozyness of a Starbucks (or the local coffee shop of your choice)? Whether you’re there for relaxation or work, these places offer a warm and welcoming alternative to the home or office (or even your home office!).
I travel a lot for my job. So I LOVE taking my laptop to Starbucks, selecting my own little space, and just losing myself for a few hours.
Sometimes I seek out the biggest, comfiest chair in the place. Other times, I try to find a spot with a soothing light source. If I’m really lucky, the Starbucks I’m in has a fireplace—talk about warm and homey!
See, thanks to Starbucks’ diverse seating arrangements, I have options. Depending on my needs at the moment, I can sit at a regular table … or claim an oversized couch … or lounge by a window so I can feel the sun on my face.
No one tells me where I HAVE TO sit. If I want to move around, I’m free to.
Leave Yesterday’s Classrooms Behind
It’s the freedom and diversity of Starbucks’ seating arrangement that is inspiring teachers to rethink the traditional rows of desks and to do a little redecorating.
I recently heard someone say, “You can’t teach wifi kids with landline strategies.” But that’s exactly what we’re expecting of our outdated classrooms.
Why are we teaching today’s students in classrooms that look exactly as they did 30 years ago? Why is the only seating option a desk—and the only arrangement, rigid rows? Why does the classroom still have that cold, bleak “institutional” feeling?
We want students to feel inspired and creative and ready to learn when they walk into our classrooms. But often, the environment is working at odds with those goals.
Bringing the Coffeehouse to the Classroom
This past spring, I presented an onsite training at Elkhart (IN) Community Schools and had the opportunity to meet a teacher there who has taken the Starbucks classroom idea to heart.
Melissa Cadotte transformed her elementary classroom to “Cadotte’s Café,” and she invited me to not only tour the space, but also agreed to entertain a few of my questions. Her answers make it clear that ANYONE can create a Starbucks classroom regardless of budget—so read on to get inspired:
Why did you decide to transition your room to alternative seating?
MC: I decided, after looking at the research, that I really wanted to try alternative seating in my classroom. I read up on it and discovered that the benefits were amazing for every child—not just the students that fidget! So I started formulating a plan. I read a ton of articles from other teachers that had tried alternative seating. Many of them were working with a large budget. I was not so lucky! So I had to get creative and seek out cost-effective ideas and materials.
What kind of materials did you have to purchase?
MC: Our PTO generously provided $300 for my project, and I used it to buy five swivel stools from Amazon. For everything else, I had to get thrifty and creative!
IKEA proved to be an amazing resource. I purchased four MAMMUT Stools at $5.99 each; four BUNSÖ Chairs at $14.99 each; three LACK Side Tables at $13.99 each; and two area rugs at $9.99 each.
From other sources, I found five exercise balls for just $5.00 each and four floor pillows for $26.00 total.
How did you get started transitioning your classroom?
MC: First I said goodbye to the desks and all but five chairs.
Now I had an empty room to work with! I decided that I would use one rectangular table and eight trapezoid tables. I took the adjustable part of the legs off of the rectangular table so that the top was only about 24 inches off of the floor. This became the floor table where kids can sit on pillows.
I put two trapezoid tables together to form table groups. One table uses regular chairs, another group uses stools, a third group uses exercise balls, and the fourth group uses a combination of those seating options.
I paired up three small tables with either a stool or BUNSÖ chair for additional seating areas. A cute $5.00 lamp on each table made these spaces extra cozy.
Do students pick where they want to sit each day?
MC: Students are allowed to come in each morning and pick any seat they want. They just place their name tag in front of the seat, and then that is their seat for the day. I also encourage students to move closer to the board when I’m in front of the class teaching. I have a basket of clip boards that they can use when they sit on the floor.
How do you explain the new seating arrangement to a new class of students?
MC: Day 1 is all about setting the rules! I go over each seat with the students. I show them how to use each seat. I let them practice. I like to tell the kids, “You break it, you buy it!”—and I haven’t lost anything yet!
I also teach a mini lesson about “Best Learning Spaces.” Some students think that the exercise balls are the best (or most fun!), but they may realize that this option simply doesn’t work for them. That’s why I allow students time with each seat the first week of school. After that, I tell them that they need to pick a seat that will help them learn the best.
It has to feel “just right!”
So where do students store their supplies if you don’t have desks?
MC: I give each student a plastic shoe box that remains on a bookshelf. The box holds all their supplies like crayons, pencils, and scissors.
Where do you keep the books?
MC: I use bookshelves for those too. I also have two baskets on a counter where students’ morning work folders are stored. I like to keep the room as neat as possible. This way there is more room to move and the students can spread out.
What is the biggest change you’ve noticed in your classroom since making this transition?
MC: My students’ behavior has definitely improved! They’re not forced to sit next to someone they don’t “like,” so that cuts down on a lot of disruptions. Plus, they’re able to spread out and move around which helps create a calmer atmosphere.
Alternative Seating at Any Grade Level
Melissa’s classroom transformation is a great example for elementary school teachers. But if you think this can’t work with older students, you’re mistaken.
Katie Weyer is a seventh grade science teacher at Tell City (IN) Junior-Senior High School. She took a look around her classroom and decided it was far too stark and boring. Coupled with the fact that her students were mostly already sitting on the floor during science lessons, it was an easy decision to Starbucks her classroom.
She spent around $100-150 on new additions to the classroom. But the biggest help was donations of beanbags, video game rockers, a couch, and pillows from friends, parents, and community members.
Katie even covered the pillows with a sturdy flag material so they can be easily wiped clean!
The result, as you can see, is a classroom that is bright, inviting, inspiring, and fun—a classroom that kids are eager to enter every day!
Is it time for a change?
You’ve seen what it takes to “Starbucks” a classroom. You’ve heard from teachers who’ve made this transformation explain why it’s so worth the effort. So now what?
The learning space should be one that is comfortable and welcoming. It should feel good to use—for both students and teacher.
Take a look at your own classroom. Is it telling you it’s time for a change?
SHARE WITH US: Are you a teacher who’s made the transition to alternative seating, or who has Starbucks-ed your classroom? We want to hear your stories and see your pics! Share in the comments below or over on Facebook and Twitter.
This is SUCH a great idea! My wife is a kindergarten teacher and I will be showing this to her later!
Eric, thanks so much for your note! Appreciate your sharing and all of your support.
I think this will greatly benefit my classroom. There are a between 27- 30 students in the classroom and just everything seems to be crammed and misbehavior results. I am a bit hesitant too ask the principal or assistant principal. I think this will be a wonderful birthday present for me. Just seeing the students have more space and be calm while they learn.