Eyes Open Moment: Fresh Paint

Eyes Open Moment: Fresh Paint

I started teaching in my hometown of Buffalo, NY exactly 24 years ago. 

My classroom was on the second floor and had a beautiful wall of windows facing some fields. The light came streaming in. I decorated the far right corner with a rug and some plastic shelves. Wooden boxes, which once held mandarin oranges, were filled with books with easy access for my students. Two plastic statues of lions, in honor of Patience and Fortitude who presided outside the main public library in NYC, guarded the space.

Opposite this corner was a bank of lockers painted in drab institutional green. Despite my efforts, the hue seemed to suck away the brightness and optimism of the reading corner. With just 5 days before the students arrived, and a lot of preparation before me, I went to the local hardware store, bought some paint, and recruited my parents. Together we transformed that area into a swath of bright blue edged in yellow. Fresh. Energetic. Inviting. 

I acted on intuition. I believed the raw space would impact our learning and the mood of myself and my students. Years later, as my sister earned her PhD in Environmental Psychology, I realized that this field, [T]he scientific study of the transactions and interrelationships between people and their physical surroundings…”  (The Journal of Environmental Psychology, 2022) supported my inclinations. 

As that first year progressed, my students helped me make the classroom reflect our values and learning. Students transformed the lockers into a museum of their drawings, making the space burst with self-expression and personality. Their poems hung across the back wall where they could be easily read and enjoyed by the community. During Social studies we sat around a large New York State map, taped to the floor. The large size made for easy viewing and helped us build an understanding of the hills and waterways and cities that populated our part of the world.   

My role in schools is different now, but nurturing my environment remains a priority. As a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Coach I spend most of my school hours partnering with teachers in their classrooms. However, I’m lucky to have a personal space at school where we gather to debrief our instruction and determine next steps. Some might call it an office, but I will always work in a classroom. A place where we can learn and grow together.

Oddly, this year, I was back to the hardware store to paint again. This year I took on two bulletin boards covered in a dingy pink and dirty dishwater blue. I chose a deep purple to offset the charts and notes from planning meetings that will be captured here across the year. Rather than a blank slate, I started with a few reminders to ground me in this work. 

Years ago a dear former colleague took a note that always hung from her computer and left it with me. The quote from Mahatma Gandhi, “There is more to life than simply increasing its speed,” reminds me to stay present and create a sanctuary for myself, and those I collaborate with. To resist the frenetic pace that can crescendo in schools and stands in the face of thoughtful instruction.  

Another friend brought me a poster recreation of a sign women hung as they won their suffrage in 1920, “A woman living here has registered to vote thereby assuming responsibility of citizenship.” This keeps me steadfast in the strength of Democracy and the movement for social change. It honors the women who came before me that fought for my right to participate fully in my own citizenship. 

Years ago on a summer trip I found a store in Hot Springs, South Dakota called Lucy and The Green Wolf. The small space burst with local and fairtrade products that aimed for sustainability and balance between the earth and its inhabitants. A postcard I purchased there shows a young girl jumping over a cityscape, hair flying behind her, legs powerful and outstretched. She proclaims below, I’m in the world, to change the world. On the door of my room., she greets all who enter. She reminds me of the large intent behind every small action of education. We all work, within our sphere of influence, to make positive change in our community. 

There are so many considerations as you create your classroom space. Right now, walls are mostly blank, waiting to grow in response to student work and the ideas you build together. Visual space is a premium and anything that enters the eyeline reflects your values and intentions. The beginning of the year is a fresh start for everyone. Think about some things that will capture your energy and spirit and signal to students what you’re all about. 

What elements of your physical teaching space

reflect your goals and intentions for the coming year?