What does your room say?
Note: I wrote this in 2018. I have done very little to change it in 2020 because it is still applicable for today's crazy classroom of the 2020-21 school year. No matter whether you are teaching remotely from your home or if you are back in the classroom, look around at what the students will see when they are with you.
Let's celebrate our differences
Several years ago, I was working on my master's degree and one of my courses was Multicultural Education. After 30 years of teaching, I found myself questioning many things that I had never even thought about. One of those things was simple but also complex—my room.
What did my room say to the children when they walked in?
Did the students feel welcomed?
Were they able to relate to the wall decor, the bulletin boards?
Or was my room full of reminders and reinforcers of a culture which created negative feelings and an irrelevant atmosphere?
I'm sad to say that for so many years, I only had the instruments, composers, and music of the white, European culture. This is what I had grown up with and believed was Classical music. This is what I was taught in college.
The instructor of our class encouraged us to take a mental walk around our rooms. I was in a class of educators from all subjects and ages, not just elementary music. As I took my mental walk around my room, I saw my beautiful display of the classical composer pictures—Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, etc. I could hear their compositions in my mind. Next I saw the wonderful pictures of the instruments of the orchestra divided into the family groups.
Nothing wrong with these displays, except . . .
That's all there was. The rest of the things on my walls were cute, encouraging posters. But there was nothing on my walls to reflect the diversity of cultures represented in our school and community at large. Nothing to encourage students to learn about the music from around the world. And even though I used music from many countries in my lesson plans, I'm afraid my walls told a different story.
I was shocked to discover that, on every continent, "classical" means something entirely different than what I was taught. There are classical composers and instruments from all ethnicities and the history is fascinating. In our day of easy access to information, one can find pictures, artwork, and historical information about all of these.
So I started digging. I determined to pull down posters and purchased prints of quality artwork depicting the musicians and instruments from the many different cultures represented at my school. I put these in nice frames. I found wonderful artwork online. No more hot glue and rolled masking tape!! No more "cute" with no purpose. I did not throw away the composer portrait set or the instrument pictures. Instead, if I was using music from one of those composers or focusing on a family of instruments, I definitely would have the poster ready to show. And I also had the posters of instruments that the students could hear in the music from the various cultures we were learning about. I loved seeing a student's face light up when we began talking about his/her country of origin or when singing a song in that language.
The transformation in my room was phenomenal. Students noticed and asked questions about different pictures. Teachers and admin commented on how great my room looked. One state observer came into my room often and finally confessed to me that he was coming in because being in my room was rejuvenating and like a breath of fresh air. That was such a huge compliment.
Celebrate our differences!
As you prepare for the new school year, give thought to what can be learned by just walking into your room. Your walls, bulletin boards, doors, etc. will "speak" volumes to your students, parents, colleagues, and admin. And you won't have to say a word. I have always wanted my classroom to be a safe learning environment. That's actually part of my mission statement. But that won't happen if students are surrounded by posters, pictures, and "fluff" that have nothing to do with their lives.
Oh, one more thing. The instructor of this graduate class also shared that saying you are "color-blind," meaning you can look at people and not see the color of their skin is not a "good thing." Everyone wants to feel special and children are no exception. Recognize and acknowledge that we all have things that are different and things that are the same. We do not want to ignore these differences but, instead, be thankful that we can learn from each other.
As teachers, it is our responsibility to
instill and encourage these
character-building lifeskills in our students.
*Artwork from Fine Art America website. Fabulous prints for reasonable prices. There are many other websites where artwork is available.