(Originally posted on The Colorful Principal.)

By Ben Gilpin

2014 was the start of something special.  That something was #ClassroomCribs.  I’m a believer that learning spaces matter.  As we jump start 2015, I feel it is critical to talk about where we’ve been and what we’re learning.

This past summer +A.J. Juliani+Erin Klein and I began working on a new project.  AJ is the mastermind behind #ClassroomCribs, and I thoroughly enjoy collaborating with this wonderful group.  As we wrap up the 2014 #ClassroomCribsChallenge I feel compelled to go back to the beginning.  It was an exciting summer of listening and discussing learning spaces with Warner staff, and educators attending NerdCamp & @EDcampLDR.  The excitement to redesign was contagious!


During the entire challenge one other individual was key, +Tom Murray.  Tom is an intelligent leader in the field of education.  He has tremendous knowledge when it comes to technology, innovation and design.  I’m excited that Tom is now a vital part of the #ClassroomCribs Team!


Last August Tom, Erin and I led a discussion at @EDcampLDR.  The room was full of educators looking to learn more about redesigning learning spaces.  The discussion centered on three things: Materials, Money and Research.  After @EDcampLDR things began to really gain momentum.  The website opened up and the Challenge started.  So much of what was being discussed was positive. You could really feel and see a shift in learning spaces.


Then it happened…


It was a normal August day.  I rolled into Warner and talked to several teachers as they were preparing classrooms. Then as I began the trek back up towards the front office I got a ping. Innocent enough, just an incoming email.  I opened the email and read a sad letter by a fellow educator.  Her name will remain anonymous.  In her email she shared her story and described her classroom.  She told me what she wanted to do and that the #ClassroomCribs Challenge really sparked her.  Then she told me what her administration told her.  She was being stonewalled.  Her administrator mentioned money, time, policy…all sorts of barriers.  She felt hopeless.


At the moment I felt terrible for her, and I emailed her a few suggestions.


But then it happened again…


I received a Vox from a fellow educator who read my post onTransforming Learning Spaces.  The educator described a similar, sad scene.  A scene where administration handcuffed teachers and did not allow for classroom redesign.  At this point I knew that these two educators were not alone.  I investigated through my #PLN and found that many teachers are not able to redesign learning spaces. All I could think is, what is holding those administrators back?


Dear Fellow Administrator,
Each day hundreds of kids walk into the building.  They walk in wanting to connect, learn and experience joy.  What is unfortunate is that many of our students come from an environment that doesn’t allow choice and encourage creativity.  Our kids feel stifled, shoot our adults feel it as well.


As the students walk in I ask you, look at the faces. What do you see?  Do you see happiness?  Do you see the glimmer?  I hope you do, because our kids deserve to hold onto that glimmer for as long as possible.


I share that with you because I believe people get a “feel” or “vibe” at school.  I have walked into buildings that have felt very cold and sterile.  I have entered classrooms that have been overloaded with clutter.  These environments produce a feeling.  So often those feelings are anxiety, stress, depression and fear.  I, for one, don’t ever want our students to feel that when they enter a school or classroom.


I’ll now transition to a series of questions and statements.  I hope you will take the time to reflect and think about each one.


First, do you give teachers the autonomy to paint in the spaces they occupy?  If the answer is no, I hope you’ll take a second and check out the research – Color Sense.  I realize the common statement I hear is, the teacher doesn’t own the room, they may be moved the very next year.  That’s true, but if it occurs, can’t the room be repainted?


Second, are flexible learning spaces visible and evident in the building?  I sure hope so, but if the answer is no, you may want to check this out – Reimagine Classroom Design.  21st Century Education should be flexible.  Do you want to promote anytime, anywhere learning?


Third, when you are approached about redesign do you immediately think of a barrier?  Some administrators think of their budget, some think of policy, but, unfortunately you are focusing on the barrier, instead of trying to knock it down! I encourage you to check this blog out by +Angela Watson – Creating a Cozy Classroom


Fourth, what about “The Code” or the Fire Marshall?  Honestly, I have heard this from both teachers and administrators.  My first reaction is to sit down and talk with the Fire Marshall.  Explain the project and listen to why it violates code.  See if there is a middle ground.  But please fellow administrator, don’t discuss the issues unless you truly are advocating for your students and teachers.


Fifth, are you being told by the Superintendent or School Board that you cannot redesign learning spaces?  If this is so, I hope you will share a detailed document of the research – Active Learning Spaces.  I’m a believer that knowledge is vital to any change.  If you value the “feel” of the school you will invest the time to redesign learning spaces.


Finally fellow administrator, I want to encourage you to advocate for your students and teachers. When we at Warner Elementary started our journey we started small.  We painted bathrooms, visited other schools to get ideas and touched up our bad spots.  What we all quickly discovered is that the ownership and pride of the building increased for everyone.  This is our school, it isn’t perfect, but we love it!


I believe somewhere inside of you is the administrator that wants to positively impact students and teachers.  My hope is that 2015 is the time to begin transforming learning spaces in your building. Now is the best time to bring out the glimmer in their eyes.


If you ever want to talk I’m willing to listen and support.  You can find me on twitter at @benjamingilpin or you can go to the #ClassroomCribs website – classroomcribs.


Never miss an opportunity to make a positive impact in the world!
Ben Gilpin is an Elementary Principal in Southern Michigan. He shares his insights on his website, The Colorful Principal. Follow Ben on Twitter at @benjamingilpin.